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The 3 Best Tide Pools in North County San Diego

tide pools san diego north county

Although much of San Diego’s coastline is long stretches of sandy beaches, there are also many rocky areas to spend the day exploring tide pools. Some of the best places to go tide-pooling are here in our own backyard.

The following are a few beaches where you can explore tide pools in North County:

1. Cardiff State Beach

At the south end of the parking lot at Cardiff State Beach near the bluffs is a nice tide pool area. You can get here on Pacific Coast Highway just north of Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Before you walk down to the rocky area you’ll see a sign with drawings of tide pool life. There’s a box that’s occasionally stocked with brochures about tide pools. The sedimentary rocks here are about 45 million years old with clams firmly embedded in them. If you’re up for some exploring, head north and visit the tide pools, at San Elijo State Park and campground, as well.

2. Seacliff Park (a.k.a. Swami’s)

North on Pacific Coast Highway from Cardiff State Park is Swami’s, easily located by the gold colored domes of the Self-Realization Center. The parking lot is small and there’s a lot of competition for space on a sunny day, but you can park along the highway to the south if the lot is full. (Note: On the Bluff side of the parking lot, there are two spots that are marked for Fire and City Vehicles. They are the first and last spots and Police routinely come through the parking lot in looks of finding some avid surfer parked in these spots.)

A wooden stairway that allows access from the parking lot to the beach at the bottom of the cliffs. The rocky area is a short distance to the north. As at Cardiff State Beach, there are 45 million year old fossil shells in the hard sedimentary rock, oysters being the most common ones here. During a good low tide, the tide pools are revealed on an extensive flat area, and you have a good chance of seeing brittle stars and octopi.

3. Carlsbad Tide Pools

The Carlsbad Tide Pools are located between the Power Plant and South Carlsbad near Cerezo and Pacific Coast Highway (Carlsbad Bl). Park on the street on Cerezo or along the highway. There are stairs just south of the last house on the bluff. Take those down and head to the right past the reinforced bluff walls.

Note: To the left of the stairs is also a great place to take family pictures in the fall when the moss is growing and changing colors. It makes a gorgeous backdrop an hour before sunset.

When to Visit the Tide Pools

Make sure the tide is low when you are there. A 1.0 foot tide or lower is okay, but you’ll have a better chance of seeing more marine plants and animals with a minus tide. Check the newspaper or use the tide calendar or tide tables available at surf shops and online. It’s best to postpone visiting the tide pools until calm weather if the weather is rough off shore or the surf is otherwise high.

Your Turn…

What’s your favorite spot to go tide-pooling?