How To Tidepool

How To Tidepool

Tidepooling is a fun, family-friendly activity, but comes with inherent risk. Read the information below to help you make an informed decision of when, where, and how to tidepool. Remember, Laguna Beach is a Marine Protected Area (see code below). When you visit, follow the rules of not causing any harm to the area and not taking any items (animals, algae, plants, shells, or rocks), even in a hand or bucket to look at. To help minimize harm, keep your feet on dry land and look with your eyes only. More information can be found in the ‘Be a Good Tidepooler’ section. 

City of Laguna Beach Municipal Code 18.29.030 No person shall take, possess or disturb specimens of live or dead intertidal marine animal or plant life, or willfully injure, destroy or alter marine intertidal zone habitats. (Ord. 1470 § 1, 2007). Other laws below (anchor link).

When Should I Tidepool?

Tidepooling is best at low tide, especially if it is a negative low tide with little to no surf. We recommend tidepooling when the low tide is below +2.0 ft. High surf can make it difficult and dangerous to tidepool, even during low tide. Always check the surf report and tide calendar before your trip. Both are available below (internal link to “How To Tidepool”).


Laguna Beach (and all of California) has mixed semidiurnal tides, meaning there are two low tides and two high tides a day, but one low tide is lower than the other (and one high tide is higher than the other). Tidepooling is best at low tide, so to plan your trip please look at the daily information provided above or reference a tide calendar online.

Tides are controlled by the moon and sun and their position relative to your location. Full moons and new moons create “spring tides” creating higher high tides and lower low tides, with these extra-low low tides giving us the best tidepooling. Quarter moons create “neap tides” which are not as extreme, but still allow tidepooling if conditions are favorable. If you can tailor your trip around a full or new moon you will be able to tidepool every day.

When reading a tide calendar, you want to look at time of day and tidal height. For tidepooling, you are looking for a low tide (trough) during daylight hours and if the low point is below +2.0 ft you are able to tidepool (weather permitting) at all of our locations. Tides do not change instantly, so come and enjoy an hour or more exploring! For surfing and skim boarding, high tide is better, so you can spend a whole day enjoying coastal activities!

Surf Warnings 

Surf conditions are determined by weather and water currents and can change quickly. Anytime you come to the beach, we recommend you look at the surf report to make sure it is safe for water and near shore activities. Flags on the Lifeguard tower indicate conditions:

A green flag means favorable conditions

A yellow flag means to be cautious due to conditions such as elevated surf, rip currents, or near shore hazards including things such as sting rays.

A red flag means dangerous conditions and it is recommended to not enter the water or be within the surf zone. 

Always obey lifeguard directions and signs. During times of high surf and high tides the lifeguards may put out a “Rocks closed” sign, meaning the tidepool area is too dangerous and tidepooling is not allowed until the sign is removed. 

Accessing the Tidepools?

To access tidepools you can use your own mode of transportation, ride-share, or public transportation, like the Orange County Transportation Authority bus or Laguna Beach public (FREE) trolley. There is also a “Laguna Beach Parking” mobile phone app that can be downloaded onto any smartphone to assist you in finding and paying for parking.

Once at the proper location, there are most often stairs, a ramp, or both to go from the bluff to the beach. For more information on ADA compliant beach access, including beach wheelchairs, please contact Laguna Beach Marine Safety at (949) 494-6572.

When parking in residential neighborhoods, we encourage you to be a good neighbor by making sure you park respectfully (not blocking driveways, gates, or access points). Also, it is highly recommended to follow all street signs, including parking day and time limits, as well as colored curbs. 

What Should I Bring To The Tidepools?

Tidepooling is a fun outdoor activity in a turbulent changing environment. Be prepared to get wet and be out in the sun!

We recommend the basic list below:

1. Appropriate clothing, especially quick-drying, in case you get wet. A jacket is recommended because it can be cold, even during summer.

2. Appropriate footwear. Bare feet or flip flops are not recommended due to sharp rocks and other hazards. Wearing water shoes, closed-toed sandals, or sneakers is best.

3. Bring sun protection, including a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Tidepools are on an exposed coastline and there is no refuge from the sun.

4. Water and snacks. Water is available at all restroom locations, but not all of our tidepool locations have restrooms nearby.

5. Any electronics, like cameras and cell phones, should be waterproof for protection.

6. A first aid kit is recommended for minor injuries. Lifeguards are not available at all locations year-round for these needs.

7. Clothes and shoes may get wet and sandy. Bring a towel to dry or brush off, water to rinse sandy items and feet, extra clothes and shoes to stay dry and comfortable, and a bag to place wet clothes and shoes in for your transport home.

Practice Safety

Tidepooling is a fun and family-friendly activity but there are safety risks, including slippery rocks and crashing waves. The most important rule is to be aware of your surroundings and to never turn your back to the ocean. It is also required to follow all lifeguard instructions and signage. We recommend that you do not run in the tidepools. You are more likely to trip and seriously injure yourself running away from a wave than standing your ground and getting wet. Read our ‘When should I tidepool?’ section for more information.

Remember that the tidepools are protected, so keep you and the organisms safe by following the rules, including the Good Tidepooler Rules below. 

Be a Good Tidepooler

Marine Protected Area

Being a Good Tidepooler means following the rules of the Marine Protected Area as well as safety directions and signs from lifeguards. 

• Never remove animals, shells, or rocks from the tidepools.

• Never pick up animals… observe them where they are.

• Walk gently, taking care not to step on plants or animals. 

• Never turn over rocks. 

To keep you and tidepool inhabitants safe, observe tidepooling rules and leave organisms where they are – undisturbed.

Removal of organisms, including those in the photo above as well as algae and plants, hurts the environment. Taking organisms, such as mussels, will kill the animal and affect other species that feed on them (such as sea stars) or the small animals that live on their shells. Even picking up organisms or putting animals into a cup or bucket, often results in the animal dying.

While removing shells and rocks seems harmless, taking these items home can be harmful to the animals that need them. For example, Hermit Crabs use shells as homes and need to switch to new “homes” as they grow. Sea Anemones rely on shell fragments stuck on the outsides of their body for protection from the sun. 

Walking gently, and not running, is for your safety so you do not slip, as well as not stepping on animal that may not be able to survive the interaction. Tidepools are inherently slippery due to being wet and having algae, so taking these precautions can help keep you and the organisms that live in the area safe. 

Rocks should never be turned over, moved, thrown, or removed as this can impact the environment and hurt plants and animals. For example, many animals hide under rocks to protect themselves from the sun or from predators. Moving rocks can crush these organisms. 

What can I do in a Marine Protected Area?

Enjoy exploring the habitat that is biologically diverse and abundant because they are in the Marine Protected Area. Please enjoy respectful tidepooling, snorkeling, diving, swimming, surfing, skimboarding, kayaking and so much more! All of these activities do not cause harm to the ecosystem and make for an enjoyable beach day! And don’t forget to take photos!

What Can I See?

What can I see?

Visit our “Tidepool Ecology” page to see all the marine life you can see in our Laguna Tidepools

Want a hard copy for your visit? Download and print out Tidepool Brochure for your next visit!

What can I take?

Our favorite things you can take? Photographs! You can take photos of all the animals, algae, plants, shells, and rocks you see! Enjoy the photos, and they won’t make your car or home smell. Additionally, you are welcome to take any beach trash, including sea glass. Many artists are making beautiful artwork with beach glass and beach trash and this is welcomed in the Marine Protected Area.

Want to touch?

Please do not harm wild organisms and animals by touching, handling or disturbing in any way. If you would like to touch or hold tidepool animals, please visit the Back Bay Science Center (Newport Beach), Ocean Institute (Dana Point), Cabrillo Aquarium (San Pedro) to experience their touch tanks. 

Marine Mammals are also protected.

While visiting the tidepools, you may see marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. Seals and sea lions sometimes use tidepool areas to “haul out” and rest or nurse their young. For your safety and the safety of the animals and their pups, never approach or interact with them. All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is against the law to feed or harass them, which can disrupt important behaviors such as nursing, feeding, resting, and breeding. Find a safe distance a minimum of 150 feet away to observe and appreciate these amazing wild animals. If you see one that you think is injured or sick, please keep your distance, take note of the physical appearance, behavior, and exact location, and call the Pacific Marine Mammal Center at (949) 494-3050. They rescue, rehabilitate and release seals and sea lions on site, and assist with whale and dolphin rescues.

Seals and Sea lions.

If you would like to see pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) up close, we recommend visiting the Pacific Marine Mammal Center where they rehabilitate injured animals or going on a Marine Mammal Boat Tour, available out of Newport Beach or Dana Point. 

Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) No person is allowed to disturb, take or harm any marine mammals. A minimum distance of at least 150 ft. (50 m) is required at all times, but if animal behavior changes from a farther distance the person must back away.

Be aware of related laws.

City of Laguna Beach Municipal Code 18.29.010 

California law provides for the protection of the marine habitat and biological diversity found in California’s ocean waters, including intertidal zones. The state of California has established marine protected areas to protect habitat and ecosystems, conserve biological diversity, provide a sanctuary for marine life, enhance recreational and educational opportunities, and provide scientific reference points to assist resource management decisions. Marine Protected Areas include state marine reserves, state marine parks, and state marine conservation areas. Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve, Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area, and Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area have been designated in the city of Laguna Beach in accordance with applicable state laws. (Ord. 1564 § 1, 2012; Ord. 1470 § 1, 2007).

Code 18.29.020 Laguna Beach city’s Marine Protection office shall have and discharge the responsibility of area manager for all of the Marine Protection Areas located within the city limits. (Ord. 1470 § 1, 2007).

Code 18.29.030 No person shall take, possess or disturb specimens of live or dead intertidal marine animal or plant life, or willfully injure, destroy or alter marine intertidal zone habitats. (Ord. 1470 § 1, 2007). See also Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Code 18.29.040 The city manager or designee may require additional permits for scientific research and/or collecting specific organisms or objects in a specific quantity within marine protected areas. Failure to notify the area manager or appropriate city authority of impending research may result in a citation or revocation of research and/or collection privileges. (Ord. 1470 § 1,2007).