The expansive coastline in Santa Cruz County offers endless options to explore coastal environments for tide pool treasures. Exploring the tide pools of Santa Cruz unveils creatures like giant sea anemones, colorful sea stars, and dragon-like nudibranchs. Visiting tide pools during low tides or during the annual King Tides event is a wonderful activity perfect for people of all ages looking for a distinctly Santa Cruz experience. With these top 5 tide pools to explore here in Santa Cruz, you’ll never miss a low tide opportunity for adventure again!
Remember to recreate responsibly while exploring all of the wonders these different tide pools offer here in Santa Cruz County. Tide pools are not just incredibly beautiful sights to see but are also very sensitive habitats full of living creatures. So, remember that when viewing tide pools, always leave no trace, respect the creatures you encounter by giving them space, and watch where you step! Also, stay safe while tide-pooling by never turning your back on the waves, wearing appropriate shoe attire to avoid slipping, and always being aware of incoming tides to ensure you can safely leave the area before the tide rises.
1.) Pleasure Point
The Pleasure Point area, which starts at 32nd Street, offers a huge expanse of tide pools uncovered by the receding waves during low tide events. Choose any of the stairways along East Cliff Drive, like the very first one next to the giant tiki statue, to head down to the flat beach that stretches far out into the ocean. These popular tide pools offer an abundance of sea anemones, kelp crabs, and starfish. This tide pool location is one of the best in the area for finding the elusive nudibranch, which is a type of sea slug without a shell that comes in a variety of dazzling colors and looks like a tiny sea dragon! If you’re tide-pooling with kids, this is a wonderful, safe space for them to explore the ocean’s wonders since there are no large drop-offs and the terrain is flat once you reach the beach.
2.) The Hook
This famous surf spot also doubles as a perfect tide pooling location! To find this spot, head to the Hook County Park parking lot at the end of 41st avenue and find the closest staircase across the street. This stairway leads to the beach, where you will head left for a secret low tide spot that features peculiar rock formations covered in bright green algae. Sheltered in the spaces between the waving rocks are alcoves perfect for tide pool creatures like hermit crabs just waiting to be discovered.
3.) Natural Bridges State Park
Located at the end of Santa Cruz’s iconic West Cliff Drive, this easily accessible beach is a perfect place to squeeze in some tide pool time while staying close to the heart of the Santa Cruz area. The iconic rock arch that Natural Bridges State Park is named after is only accessible when the tides are very low. If you’re lucky enough to go tide pooling here, especially during King Tides, you can walk through the arch to find bright, colorful sea stars, vibrant sea anemones, and mussels. Along the shoreline of this state park, visitors can also find lively tide pools on jutting cliff faces. To find these, all you have to do is head down to the shore and then turn right to walk as far as you desire on the small cliffs, where you will find endless pools waiting to be explored.
4.) Capitola Beach/ New Brighton State Park
Capitola is known for its quaint seaside small-town vibe but is equally the perfect place to explore at low tide! Visitors can walk from the Capitola Esplanade onto the beach to New Brighton State Park when the ocean recedes. You can discover at this beach ancient fossils of shells embedded in the clay-like cliffs that are only visible at low tide. Exploring this unique low tide ecosystem is perfect for families looking for a unique experience since the area is entirely flat and offers boulders to climb around on and fossils to find!
5.) Scott Creek Beach
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, head North of Santa Cruz on Highway 1 to Scott Creek Beach for an unforgettable tide pool experience. This gorgeous beach features high craggy cliffs that tower over huge expanses of elevated tide pool areas full of a wide variety of sea life. From sea urchins to sea stars and, if you’re lucky, a tiny octopus, you will be astonished at the bounty of ocean treasures just waiting to be discovered.