Four great tidepools to explore
Orange County beaches are home to a deep well water systems to examine. Have fun!
Making his way along the slippery landscape of a local tide pool, Kasey Eunice hops from wet rock to wet rock. The world here, he explains, is as teeming as it is vibrant. Purple sea urchins sway with the roiling currents. Mussels and barnacles create a buffet for seagulls and, depending on the tide, fish. In the sun baked water of the pools themselves, fish and tiny crabs dart from shadow to shadow, momentarily safe from their bigger predators.
Tide pools serve several purposes. They’re an ecosystem that’s essential to a healthy ocean. They’re also a window into the health of the ocean. Eunice, a tech worker from Aliso Viejo, holds a degree in marine biology. As writer of two websites – lifeinatidepool.com and californiatidepools.com – he’s essentially the reporter covering Orange County’s tide pool beat for the entire world. Which tide pools are the best in Orange County? These are his tops:
This small spot in Laguna Beach has rocky tide pools to the north and south. The north location is a large bench rock marked by several deep channels. At the right tide, there are large pools in the rocks, covered by mussel beds, barnacles and rock weed. Marine life can be dense, including urchins, sea anemones, giant colonies of sand castle worms and varieties of algae.
The areas higher in the tidal area have numerous snails, hermit crabs and other marine life that inhabit small cracks and pools of water. The southern area has fewer channels, and the pools are large but shallower. This area is also a bit flatter and easier to traverse.
“To me, this is the best place in Southern California,” Eunice said.
Getting there: Shaw’s Cove is down a staircase close to Cliff Drive and Fairview Street in Laguna Beach. Parking is free, but hard to find during weekends and summer.
Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove has about five distinct tide pools areas, each providing a slightly different set of animals and plants to discover. The Reef Point area is at the southernmost part of the park, and is a rock and boulder field exposed at low tide with plenty of pools of water that trap seawater as the tide recedes. Sea anemones cover the lower sections of most rocks, and the rest are covered with mussels and barnacles. The tide pool area near the park’s entry point is larger and more diverse. The rocks that appear to be covered in shells are actually vast colonies of aggregating anemones that use the shells as sun protection to prevent drying out. (Visitors shouldn’t walk on them.)
In other areas, the mussel and barnacle coverage is so thick that there is no visible rock surface. This tide pool area also has large numbers of hermit crabs that are fun to watch as they endlessly swap out shells in search of the right-size home.
Getting there: There are three parking areas at Crystal Cove. The Reef Point parking area is the southernmost. Follow the road past the gatehouse and park as far north in the parking lot as possible. A pathway leads to the beach from this location. Several scenic pathways along the cliff top also lead to the beach from this parking area.
Goff Island is in south Laguna Beach, just north of the better-known Treasure Island. Technically, it’s not an island; it’s connected to the beach by rocks and is easily accessible to visitors. It includes tide pools surrounding the base outcropping. The water spots support all manner of marine life, from fish to urchins.
Getting there: Goff Cove is between Treasure Island and Christmas Cove, and is best accessed by stairs that lead down from the Montage Resort. It can also be reached by the ramp that leads down to Christmas Cove.
This small cove in south Laguna Beach offers rocky outcroppings north and south, as well as several in between. The best are the northern bench area and the rocky outcropping in the middle. The northern area is mostly flat and good for viewing a wide variety of marine life. There are often two large pools, one on the upper part that has lots of upper tidal zone creatures (snails; limpets) and a lower pool that has animals such as urchins, sea stars, mussels and barnacles.
The southern rocky outcropping is rugged and offers a variety of life, but it’s difficult to walk on and the least accessible. The rock grouping in the middle provides a way to see marine life clinging to vertical rock walls and large rocks. Note that the tide pools and cove are under water during extreme high tides.
Getting there: There are two entrances to the cove, each on Ocean Way on either side of Diamond Street in south Laguna Beach. Free parking is available on Ocean Way, but it is nearly impossible to find an available space. Metered parking is available on Pacific Coast Highway and the side streets. In summer, be prepared to hike a bit from car to sand. And there are no public restrooms.
You might see
Mussels: Commonly found in the intertidal zone. They can create vast beds; they are a common food source for many animals.
Barnacles: Barnacles are crustaceans and are one of the more common animals seen in a tide pool. They live in the highest parts of a tide pool that get just a splash of water each day. They also live in the middle and lower sections throughout the tide pool area.
Sea stars: Sea stars are one of the most widely recognizable animals in a tide pool, but they have essentially vanished. The various species of sea stars can be different colors and sizes. There have been a few sightings in recent months, suggesting they may be making a comeback.
Sea urchins: They are found in deeper pools in the lower portions. Most are the common purple urchin, but occasionally the larger red urchin can be seen.
Sea anemones: The sea anemone is considered to be the “flower of the sea.” Anemones come in different sizes and colors. They attach themselves to rocks.
Opaleye perch: A common fish species found in local tide pools, the perch uses the pools as a nursery, seeking the shallow areas as a protective breeding ground to keep away from larger predators. The fish have a dot – sometimes two – on their backs.