How to make the most out of your California Tide Pool Visit

tide pool

Make the most of your California Tidepool Visit

Visiting the tide pools is a wonderful day-cation and fun way to learn about the ocean and marine animals.  There are few do’s and don’ts that I recommend for your trip to make it easier on you and your family.


Plan ahead

  • Check tidal charts (local paper or online) and go when the tide is the lowest for that month (our low tide was almost -2 feet & we arrived late & still saw plenty)
  • Talk to you child(ren) about tide pool safety (always stay near an adult, respect nature & do not remove wildlife or disturb the ecosystem).
  • PRINT OUT my downloadable Booklist and make a trip to the library (before or after) the tide pool & pick up some books for the location you will be visiting. I picked up general ocean books & it made it harder to identify what we were seeing. If you can’t find any resources for the specific location you’ll be visiting just take pictures & Google it.
  • Buy or Make a field guide for the beach/ state park you plan on visiting. Check Tidal Charts here.
  • Look for beaches that are kid-friendly (have smaller waves or less occurrences of sneaker waves & have a restroom). Toddlers may not be a good fit for certain beaches. Do your Due Dillegence on the location before bringing a young child to the tide pools and make sure there is one adult per child under 5 for safety.
  • Wear comfortable (layered for warmth) clothing & sturdy shoes you can get wet/ sandy


  • A magnifying glass
  • Camera
  • Buy or make a field guide (I recommend reading about Tidal Animals your guide BEFORE you explore
    • Take photos while you’re there and then identify the animals & plant life that you don’t recognize when you get home.)
  • Change of clothes (& possibly a towel). We went to the library and checked out several books on ocean creatures (none on plants) & half of the wildlife we saw was very well camouflaged we missed a lot.
  • Sturdy shoes (as you’ll see from photos we wore flip flops & even went barefoot. We were ok but I have had other trips where jellies washed up onshore. Sturdy shoes are recommended)

Respect Nature

Look but do not touch! I know it’s hard but it’s really important.

For preschoolers use phrases like “we looked with our eyes, not our hand”. It was hard for my 4 year old not to touch the mussels, barnacles and anemone beds, but he did it!  We saw the most wildlife in the crevasses of the rocks like Starfish, Anemones, crabs & other creatures.   We resisted the urge to pick them up to help support their survival after we talked about what these plants and animals need to life.

Tide Pool Field Trip

This trip was in support of our preschool ocean unit we had just finished. (This trip is great for kids of ALL ages.)

ocean activities

IMPORTANT Tidpooling TIP: Explore the lowest part of the beach FIRST!

The lowest part of the low tide zone often has the most sea life but as the tide comes up you will have less time to explore it. We didn’t arrive at the exact time of the lowest tide (it’s best if you do).  But we made the most of the time we had and went all the way down to the end of the cove and worked our way back up.

tide pool


  • Move creatures from where they are. They most likely are there because that spot provides exactly what they need to survive. Moving them to a different location may jeopardize that or hinder their survival.
  • Bring home any animals & don’t bring home shells (or limit the amount of shells your bring home). I didn’t think about this one until last year when I went on a guided tour of the tide pools (which I highly recommend if they are available in your area) and they discussed the nature of the ecosystem and how nature does not waste and other sea animals need the nutrients that the shells provide.
  • Leave trash behind.  There was some random trash on the beach today but the most obscure was this engine, not ok!

Turn your back on the ocean (ever)!  Even if they aren’t sneaker waves they can still sneak up on you and knock you over. 

I specifically picked our location because it is known to be kid-friendly (minimal waves AND has a bathroom) but there were still signs posted to never turn your back on the ocean, be careful of the rocks & that no beach is safe from waves.

Lose track of time

We were on a time schedule because the tide was already moving back in when we got there. I lost myself in the moment and we made it back just in time to not have to wade through water to get back to our car (not the end of the world but I didn’t bring extra clothes for me).  Above is the image of the cove we explored (after the tide came back up). I didn’t think to take a before photo but the rock jetty on the left is where we were looking, it was about 3/4 of the way down when we arrived and nearly covered when we left (about an hour and a half).

Tidal Zones-

Make a map of what you see. Our map is organized using the tidal zones. This helps kids understand where to look for the creatures they want to see next time.

Tidal Zones:

  1. Spray Zone-Sea Gulls,  Rock Louse, Periwinkle, Limpet
  2. High Tide Zone- Buckshot Barnacles, Chiton
  3. Middle Tide Zone-Mussels, Sea Lettuce, Hermit Crab, Rockweed, Acron Barnacles, Sea Star
  4. Low Tide Zone-Sea Anemones, Sea Cucumber, Brittle Star, Sea Star, Kelp/ Sea Algae

Not going to be in California any time soon?

No worries! Google Search Tide Pools near me to find the nearest tide pool locations.

Ocean Activity Calendar

To support our Ocean Homeschool Curriculum I decided to make and activity calendar to support our tidepool field trip.

Tide Pool Photos & Fun Facts

Sea Life:

Crabs (were the hardest to photograph!) & sea snails

Ochre Sea Stars are the most common of all sea stars. They eat mussels and barnacles by pulling the shells apart with their strong tube feet. Sea Stars Predators are sea gulls and sea otters. Sorry for the grainy photos- I have a newfound respect for nature photographers.

Sea Stars & Anenomes

Anemones protect themselves from the air (low tide conditions) by closing up. Sciencts believe they reflect the suns light which helps them stay cool.

Closed Anenomes can often be found with bits of shells sticking out. Scientists think this helps to reflect the animals cool by reflecting the sunlight.

The main predators of Sea Anenomes are nudibranchs, sea stars and some fish.

A closed Giant Green Anemone



Various Sea Plants:




Be careful if you are exploring caves. There may be predators in the area and if you aren’t paying attention the tide can come back up on you and you could be trapped. This cave was about 100 feet from the water, had no alternative water sources and is only accessible during low tide so I know big animals cannot nest there. I still checked it out first, just to be safe.

Underground Creatures:

What you see is not what you get when we are talking about underground creatures.  These cool formations are made by Ghost Shrimp.

Ghost Shrimp

ghost shrimp

Clams & Other Wildlife:

Tide Pool Field Trip

This is a bucket list trip for sure! You may have to get up up but it is totally worth it!


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