Wildlife viewing comes in all shapes, sizes and varieties in Santa Cruz County. Looking for furry friends? Take a hike at Big Basin Redwoods State Park to spot some deer. Want to see whales? Head out on the bay on a whale watching excursion and see the magnificent creatures breach boatside. Hoping for a more mellow viewing adventure? See migrating monarchs among the eucalyptus or travel south to the Watsonville wetlands for some great bird watching. There are so many ways to view and enjoy the vast wildlife abounding in Santa Cruz, but one of my favorite go-tos is tide pooling. You never know what you will find, and the best part, it’s always in season! Here’s a list of some top spots to take to the tides and explore the Santa Cruz coastline.
NATURAL BRIDGES STATE BEACH
Not only does Natural Bridges State Beach house the photogenic and famous rock bridge, it also serves as the seasonal home to thousands of migrating monarch butterflies each year. And if that isn’t enough, there are also some fantastic tide pools begging to be explored. As you head down to the beach, you will see tide pools on the right side that are home to all sorts of creatures. Crabs, sea anemones, starfish, mussels, and algae are all regular residents to the pools. If you go: spend some extra time at the state beach and visit the seasonal monarch butterflies.
Santa Maria’s is another great spot for tide pool creature spotting. The usual suspects/creatures are sure to line the cavernous tide pools but it’s also known to have some more unusual guest appearances…as in, octopi. A tiny, yet amazing little octopus showed up at my last Santa Mo’s adventure and all the tide pool spectators were in awe of its ability to flawlessly camouflage over the different surroundings. Another favorite guest appearance at Santa Maria’s, although not in the tide pools, are the dolphins that seem to love a good sunset surf session. If you go: Enjoy the tide pool wildlife, but keep your eyes peeled for more creatures in waves.
WILDER RANCH STATE PARK
Wilder Ranch is a must-see state park for any Santa Cruz visitor. The tide pools are the icing on the cake for this historic ranch preserving a working dairy farm, an 1840 adobe, and a Victorian farmhouse on 7,000 beautiful coastal acres. The landscape is varied with grasslands, oaks, knobcone pines, coastal redwoods, and douglas-firs and sea creatures aren’t the only wildlife calling Wilder home. As you walk through the park, deer, bobcats, coyotes and the occasional feral barn cat can be spotted. Once you reach the rugged coast you can find the perfect spot to explore the tide pools and take in the vast views looking north and south along the shoreline. If you go: Take time to enjoy the historic dairy farm, adobe and farmhouse, horses, and in the spring, enjoy a colorful display of wildflowers.
Low tides can uncover some tide pool gems that are not typically accessible for exploring. During low tides, Pleasure Point often uncovers expansive tide pools teeming with sea life.
Another low tide gem is Davenport Landing. Just look at the beauty unveiled during a recent November low tide. Instagram Fan, @jablico said, “it was a minus tide so we could walk forever…so blessed to live in paradise!”
If the weather or tides aren’t cooperating for a pooling adventure, consider visiting the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab to experience some tide pool creatures first hand – literally – in there touch pools. And if touching various starfish, learning about different kelps & crabs isn’t enough, pet a shark! Yes, really.
It is easy to see why tide pooling is a local and visitor favorite. With the ever changing tides, weather, waves, and creatures found, it makes every tide pool adventure a unique and memorable experience.
SAFETY AND PRESERVATION
Always remember to tread lightly on the living coast and view, but do not disturb, the delicate ecosystem. Also, for your safety, never turn your back on the ocean; being so close to the waters’ edge, tide pooling spots are often subject to unexpected surges of waves – be careful and cautious and never get too close to the edge. For information about protecting and preserving the Monterey Bay Sanctuary and the beaches we love, visit the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center and SaveOurShores.org.