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About

Californiatidepools.com is a website that provides information about tide pools, marine life and intertidal ecology for many tidepool locations throughout California. The images, videos and other information is collected and taken from the actual locations. Please let us know if any information is missing or incorrect. Also let us know if something should be added.

The site is divided into three main areas.

Locations

This area list individual tidepool locations throughout California. Note that the site only lists location that we consider good or above average. There may be other locations not listed here that have some form of tide pools but do not provide the as good of an experience.

Identification

This section of the website can be used to identify marine life and learn a lot more about individual species commonly found in tide pools. Only the most common forms of marine life are listed. There are hundreds of not thousands of species that can be found in tide pools. Many of the species not listed are very small, not common or transient.

Tide Pool Ecology

This section contains fascinating information about the ecology of the marine life found in tide pools. When most visitors visit a tide pool, they find the common animals like sea stars, urchins, crabs and anemones. This section introduces visitors to patterns in tide pool ecology. These patterns include topics like why do mussels only live in certain areas, why there are barren patches on rocks not covered by barnacles and mussels and why do visitors not find certain animals in some locations.
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Limpets

Volcano Limpet on rock
Shell of a Volcano Limpet Shell of a Volcano Limpet

Volcano Limpet ( Fissurella volcano )

Volcano Limpets are easily identified by a small hole in the top of the shell. They are typically an inch or less in size and found in the mid intertidal zones. The color of the shell ranges from light brown to red with and have small ridges on the shell. This Limpet can be confused with juvenile giant key whole limpets as they also have a small hole on the top of the shell.
Owl Limpet on rock
Limpet on exposed rock. Notice the open area where the limpet will graze. Single Owl Limpet in its home range. Owl limpets will graze a certain area Owl Limpet covered with algae Owl Limpet covered with buckshot barnacles Owl Limpet

Owl Limpet ( Lottia gigantea )

These limpets are one of the more common types of Limpets a visitor will see. They frequent the mid and upper tidal zones. They are commonly seen in large bare patches of rock where they will graze on algae. The shell color is light to medium brown and the shell is generally smooth. Larger Owl limpets frequently have other Limpets and barnacles attached to their shells.
Owl Limpet on rock
Limpet on exposed rock. Notice the open area where the limpet will graze. Single Owl Limpet in its home range. Owl limpets will graze a certain area

Rough Limpet ( Macklintockia scabra )

Rough Limpets are small limpets that are generally less than an inch in diameter. They are characterized by having ridges that radiate from the top of the cone out to the edges. The ridges are deep and obvious. Other limpets have ridges but not as deep as the Rough limpets. Rough Limpets range from light brown to darker brown and several other colors ranging on location.
Giant Keyhole Limpet exposed at low tide
Shell of a Giant Keyhole Limpet Giant Keyhole Limpet with mantle covering entire shell

Giant Keyhole Limpet ( Megathura crenulata )

The adult giant keyhole limpet is easily identified by its large shell with a single hole on the top of the shell. The shell is typically between 3-5 inches for an adult. These limpets are usually seen with a fleshy mantle that covers the upper part of the shell unlike any other limpet. This fleshy mantle is generally very dark in color.
Various limpets on rocks
Various limpets and buckshot barnacles Various limpets on rocks Various limpets on rocks Limpets will live in depressions in rocks Various limpets on rocks Note white limpet on the gooseneck barancle Various limpets on rocks

Finger/File/Checkered Limpets ( Lottia sp )

Limpets in this group are on the smaller side usually about an inch or less in diameter. The color of the shell ranges from brown, green, grey and reddish brown. These limpets are harder to identify as they are quite similar in both appearance and ecology.

Limpets

Description – Limpets are part of the mollusk family and related to snails. Like snails, they have a fleshy foot that is used to hold onto rocks and move around. Limpets have a single flat or cone shaped shell on the top of their bodies. The color of the shells ranges from light browns to darker browns and greens. Limpets range in size from less than an inch to over several inches in length for larger species. There are many different species of Limpets that live in the tidepool areas. Listed below are some of the more common species.

Feeding – Limpets will feed on a variety of algae. Some limpets eat the small microscopic algae that cover intertidal rock surfaces while other feed on larger algae. Volcano limpets for example feed on the red colored coralline algae. Finger limpets prefer microscopic algae and diatoms while the Shield limpet prefers larger macro algae.

Protection – The primary predator for Limpets are Sea Stars, birds and the occasional crab. Limpets will clamp down tightly on the rocks when threatened. Limpets will also clamp down on rocks when exposed to high tide to prevent drying out. They use a mucus layer to create an air tight seal around the shell and the rock surface.

Ecology - Limpets will slowly move around grazing the exposed rock surfaces. Like snails, they use a part of their mouth ( radula ) to scrape off the algae. Limpets usually are more active when submerged and move much less when exposed to air during low tide. Some Limpets are will also “farm” an area of rock. This is where the limpet will graze a certain area of rock and remove other invaders including other limpets. They then continue to feed on the algae in one area while letting the algae grow on other areas. Owl limpets are good examples of this behavior.

Some limpets also have a home scar. This is a place in the rock surface where they return each day after feeding before low tide. The benefit is thought to be that the indentation in rock surface will form a more tighter seal when the Limpet is exposed to air during lower tides.
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Tide Pool Fish

Sculpins resting on bottom of pool
Sculpins are very well camouflaged in algae and tidepools There are 5 Sculpins in this picture Sulpins

Sculpins, Blennys and Gobies

Sculpins are common in tidepools. There are several species of sculpins that live in the tidepool area and are difficult to distinguish. Surveys indicate that half of all tidepool fish in Southern California are Woolly Sculpins. They are very well camouflaged and difficult to observe unless they move. Most often visitors will see a swirl of sand as the small fish swim away into a safe hiding place. Sculpins are slender fish ranging from an inch to 3-5 inches for an adult. There color ranges from brown, grey, green and many shades in between.

Feeding – Sculpins will eat nearly any small invertebrate they can fit into their mouth. This includes snails, crabs, worms, shrimp and many other small animals. These fish are ambush predators in that they sit and wait for prey items to pass by. They quickly swim out and grab their prey and settle back to the bottom and begin the process again.

Protection – Sculpins have a variety of predators including birds and larger fish. Sculpins have two primary means of protection. The first is camouflage. They blend in very well to their surroundings making it difficult for predators to spot them. Sculpins can change their color to match the color of their surroundings. Sculpins can also dart away to a safe hiding place when predators threaten them.

Ecology – This group of fish spend their entire lives in small tidepools. Younger fish tend to move around between tidepools more than adults. Young and adult fish will move to different tidepools as needed based on the availability of shelter and food sources.

As the tide retreats, the fish will be trapped in pools of sea water for a period of time. As time goes by, the water temperature and salinity ( saltiness of the water ) will increase due to the exposure to the sun and resulting evaporation. This would kill most fish. These fish have adaptations that allow them to withstand quick changes in temperature and salinity.

On occasion, Sculpins will become trapped in a tidepool and cannot escape by swimming out on the high tide. Some fish of this group can also breathe air for a period of time if they find themselves in this situation. This allows the fish to move to a different pool of water if conditions in their current pool become dangerous.

Opaleye ( Girella nigricans )

Opaleyes are the second most common fish found in tidepools in the southern California area behind the woolly sculpin. Juvenile Opaleyes will live in the tidepool area until they are large enough to survive in the kelp forest and rocky underwater areas. Juvenile fish are typically darker green and grey in color and have a pair of white spots on the back.

Feeding - Opaleye feed on algae in the tidepool areas. They will also prey upon smaller invertebrates that are available in the tidepool area.

Protection – These fish rely on speed and agility to avoid predation. The juvenile fish will stay close to cover including rocks, cracks and algae mats. When a predator approaches, they will dart to a safer area. The primary predators for Opaleye are larger fish and birds.

Ecology – Opaleye juveniles will live in the rocky tidepool areas for protection. Once they reach a certain size they will tend to live in deeper water. Juveniles in tidepool areas can frequently be seen forming small schools.
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Crabs and Lobsters

Molt of a striped shore crab
Striped shore crab semi burried in a sea anemone Striped shore crab Striped shore crab Striped shore crab hiding in rock Juvenile striped shore crab A few shore crabs hiding in pool of water

Stripes Shore Crab – ( Pachygrapsus crassipes )

These are the most commonly seen crabs in tidepools. They have a dark red and greenish colored shell with legs that have white patches. Shore crabs are very good at detecting predators and are usually seen scurrying away at the first sign of movement. They will hide in small cracks and under rocks. Shore crabs are typically one to two inches wide with larger specimens seen on occasion.
Larger hermit crab attacking smaller hermit crab
Hermit crabs feeding on algae Hermit crab feeding on algae Hermit crab juvenile hermit crabs have white stripes

Hermit Crab – ( Pagarus sp. )

Hermit crabs are unusual in that they use shells of other animals ( mainly snails ) as their homes. They seem to be always looking out for a “better” home and can frequently be seen battling other hermit crabs for the good shells. Hermit crabs are almost never seen without a shell. Hermit crabs can be identified by looking for small greenish and reddish legs protruding from a snail shell. Some have a blue stripe on the tips of their legs while others have white stripes. Adult Hermit crabs are generally about an inch long but very large specimens have been observed.
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Rock Crab – (Several Species)

This crab is can be identified by an overall reddish brown color. They can grow to several inches in length and are one of the larger crabs found in the intertidal regions. These crabs are well known by seafood lovers as they are sold in restaurants and seafood stores. These crabs are found in sandy areas near the base of rocks.
DSC00997
DSC00998 DSC02175

California Spiny Lobster (Panulirus interruptus )

Most visitors to the tidepools or simply beach combing will encounter a lobster, or rather the molt (shell ) of a lobster. Lobsters live in deeper water and seldom are seen in the intertidal zone. Lobsters like other crabs will shed their hard outer shell periodically. This discarded shell is called a molt and this is what most people see washed up on the beach or tidepool.

Crabs and Lobsters

Description – Crabs and Lobsters have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton. This shell comes in many shapes, sizes and colors. Crabs are easily recognized as they have eight legs. Lobsters have ten. Two of the legs are typically larger than the others and used for feeding and defense. Crabs also have two eye stalks with eyes located at the top. The color of the shells range from white, tan, red, green and brown in color. Crabs can vary in size from less than an inch to over 2 feet for the larger Lobsters.

Feeding – Most crabs are omnivores as they will eat a wide variety of algae and other sea animals. They can frequently be seen stationary while they use their front claws to pick away at various algae. They are also good scavengers and will feed on any dead or decaying animals. Hermit crabs in particular like the giant California kelp that frequently washes ashore.

Protection – Crabs and Lobsters have a hard outer shell that protects them from predation but also prevents water loss. Crabs also have various behavioral patterns that also allow them to survive. Shore crabs have good eyesight and can see predators easily. They will quickly seek the protection of a crack or the underside of a rock. When surprised, they will on occasion jump off a higher location and free fall to the rocks and safety below.

Rock Crabs are not as fast as shore crabs and rely more on the safety of their shells than speed and behavior. They, like other crabs can curl up into a compact shape to aid in protection. Hermit crabs will simply retreat into their borrowed shells and wait for the predators to leave.

Ecology – Crabs and lobsters in order to grow must shed their hard outer shell ( exoskeleton ) periodically. This process is called molting. The crab will make a small crack in the shell and literally crawl out of their skin. The newly emerged crab is very vulnerable at this stage of its life-cycle. The shell will harden in several days depending on the species.

The cast off shell ( molt ) of the crabs are easily seen in the tidepools. Many people mistake this mold as a dead crab. These molts look pale in color but after close examination, have no internal structures or tissue. This is particularly true for Lobster molts. The tail part of lobsters is frequently seen on the sand. Female crabs in general will lay eggs and are fertilized by the males. The females will carry the eggs for several weeks until they hatch.
Tidepools at Thousand Step beach.

Thousand Steps Beach Tide Pools

This tide pool are is located on the northern end of Thousand Steps Beach in South Laguna. The beach is probably one of the most picturesque locations in all of Orange County. The beach and tidepool area is located at the base of very high cliffs. The tidepool area consists of large boulders and two narrow bench areas. This location has plenty marine life and diversity in a smaller area. The boulders are covered with mussels, barnacles and limpets. The two narrow benches have sea stars, anemones and a diverse algae population. The large of the benches provides a good sampling of all the intertidal zones ranging from the splash zone to the lower intertidal. This beach and area is much less crowded than locations to the north and south.
Tidepools at Thousand Step beach. Mussels and aggregating anemones cover boulders and rocks. Sea stars feeding near mussels Several small pools shelter a variety of marine life Sea Anemones in small pool Sea stars and algae are visible at low tide Mussel beds are plentiful near the mid tide zone Rock showing various zones of tidepool life Various limpets and algae in upper tidal zone Sand castle worms cover the lower parts of rocks, mats of aggregating anemones and mussels Mussels cover many of the more exposed rocks

Location, Parking and Amenities

Parking for this tidepool area is located along Pacific Coast Highway in South Laguna where it intersects 9th street. Parking is available along Pacific Coast Highway and neighboring streets. Note that this area can be crowded during summer months so expect to walk a ways. There are no restroom facilities.

Tide Pool Access

Access to the tidepool area and beach is by a stair case near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and 9th street. Take the stair case down to the beach and turn north. There are lots of stairs, about 258 the last time I checked. Walk along the beach and hop over the small rock ledge to the tidepool area. Note this rock ledge may not be passable at high tide.

Points of Interest

The tidepool area consists of two narrow benches and a boulder field. Many of the boulders are covered in part by a mussels, barnacles and limpets. Some of the boulders also have large colonies of sand castle worms and masses of aggregating anemones.

The two benches have large populations of mussels, barnacles, limpets, snails and smaller populations of sea starts. This area has several smaller pools that contain sea anemones, urchins and even a few fish that quickly dart out of site when visitors approach.

The lower parts of the benches are covered by a variety of brown algae. Sea grass can also be seen on the outer edges in the lower tidal zones. This area has good diversity even though the area is small in size. There is quite a variety of marine life in this area. Close inspection will reveal a variety of crabs, limpets, snails, mussels, barnacles and even the occasional sea urchin and tube worm.

The larger of the two benches is a bit uneven in places and requires extra care to traverse to the outer edges. This outer area is the best place to see sea stars and animals that inhabit the lower tidal zones.