Coastal Hikes Around San Diego

Cabrillo Tide Pools

Cabrillo National Monument, off Interstate 5 in San Diego
1 mile/30 minutes - mostly flat terrain
Everybody loves tidepools, and the ones at Cabrillo National Monument are some of the best in Southern California. There are only two things you need to do to optimize your trip: First, check the tide chart in the newspaper so that you plan your visit during low tide. Second, stop in at the Cabrillo National Monument visitor center to pick up literature on how to explore the tidepools and identify what you see.There are two low tides and two high tides each day, so do your homework and then show up at the tidepool area at the optimal time. With proper planning, you can walk the farthest and see the most sea critters. The tidepools are separate from the main part of Cabrillo National Monument-where the visitor center, lighthouse, and Bayside Trail are located-requiring a one-mile drive from the visitor center. It's often a bit more peaceful over in this section of the park.

From the parking lot, a fenced trail takes you along the tops of the bluffs for a few hundred feet, then you descend to the rocky beach and walk as far as you please. You'll get a peek at mussels, crabs, abalones, barnacles, starfish, anemones, snails, and limpets. If you're lucky, you might see an octopus or a sea urchin.

Tidepool Zones

Literature available in the park's bookstore explains the four central zones of a tidepool area. The first is the low intertidal zone, which is underwater 90 percent of the time, so you only get to see its inhabitants during the lowest tides of the year. This is where the most interesting creatures are: Eels, octopus, purple sea urchins, sea hares, brittle stars, giant keyhole limpets, sculpins, and bat stars. The second area is the middle intertidal zone, which is underwater only 50 percent of the time, so it's in between the low and high tide line. This area has the creatures we usually associate with tide pools: Sea stars, urchins, sea anemones, gooseneck barnacles, red algae, and mussels.

In the high intertidal zone (only underwater 10 percent of the time), you see the common acorn barnacles, shore crabs, black tegulas, and hermit crabs. These creatures can live out of water for long periods of time. The final area of a tidepool region is the splash zone, where you see rough limpets, snails, and periwinkles.

Armed with all this knowledge, and your tidepool identification beta, start wandering among the rocks and pools. If you have children with you, remember to tell them that they may look at and gently touch the sea creatures, but they may not pick them up or take them out of their environment. Because this is a national monument, every rock, plant, shell, and marine animal is protected by law.

Make it more challenging: Time your trip for a minus tide, which usually occurs in mid-winter. Then the largest strip of tidepools and beach will be exposed, and you can walk further and see more. Trip notes: A small day-use fee is charged per vehicle, and is good for seven days. A free map/brochure of Cabrillo National Monument is available at the entrance kiosk or visitor center. For more information, contact Cabrillo National Monument, 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, P.O. Box 6670, San Diego, CA 92106; (619) 557-5450.

Best season: Good year-round; best during extremely low tides, usually in winter.Directions: From Interstate 5 South (or Interstate 8 East or West) in San Diego, take the Rosecrans Street exit (Highway 209) and drive south. Staying on Highway 209, you will turn right on Caqon Street, then turn left on Catalina Boulevard, and continue to the monument entrance. After paying the entrance fee at the kiosk, take the right fork (immediately following the kiosk) marked"Tidepools Parking Area." Continue down the hill to the parking area.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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