Crystal Cove State Park provides the tide pool visitor with several areas to explore. Each area provides a slightly different set of animals and plants to discover. The Reef Point area is the southernmost part of the park where tide pools can be found. The tidepool area is a rock and boulder field exposed at low tide. There are plenty of pools of water that trap seawater when the tide recedes. This area has an abundance of aggregating sea anemones that cover the lower sections of most rocks. The rest of the rocks are covered with mussels and barnacles.
Location and ParkingThere are three separate parking areas at Crystal Cove State Park. The Reef point parking area is the southernmost parking area. Visitors traveling on Pacific Coast Highway can enter the park by turning right for southbound travelers or left for northbound travelers on the Reef Point street intersection. Follow the road past the gate house (there is a fee to enter the park) and park as far north in the parking lot as possible. There is a pathway that leads to the beach accessible from this location. There are also several very scenic pathways along the cliff top that also lead to the beach from other pathways that originate from this parking area.
Tide Pool AccessFollow one of the pathways from the parking area and walk north. All the pathways in this area will eventually lead to a path that terminates at the beach. It is a bit of a walk but well worth the effort. There are several tidepool areas at this location. From this entry point, there are several locations just to the north and one just to the south. All of these areas provide the tidepool visitor with a great experience. The tidepool area nearest the entry point is a bit larger and provides a little more diversity.
Points of InterestThe first observations that many visitors make is the shell covered rocks. The rocks seemed to be covered with small bits of shells and look suspiciously squishy. These are actually vast colonies of aggregating anemones that use the pieces of shells to protect themselves from drying out and predation. Please be careful and not walk on any of these colonies.
Another interesting feature is the exposed rocks are covered with thick mussel and barnacle beds. The beds or so thick in places no rock surface is visible. At the outer edges of the mussel beds are the ever present sea stars that continually feed on the mussels and barnacles.
There is a small reef that is exposed at low tide on the outer edge of the tidepool area. When the tide is low enough a good size area of protected water is reachable for the determined tidepool visitor. This area is teeming with life including nudibranchs, sea hares, sea cucumbers, crabs, tunicates, clams, tube worms and much more. Care should be taken when exploring this area as the footing can be treacherous.
In areas closer to the beach and in the higher tide zones, a variety of barnacles can be seen on the rocks. Most visitors simply walk by without noticing the large concentrations of barnacles in this area. This tidepool area also has large numbers of hermit crabs that are fun to watch as they continually struggle to find the right sized shell to inhabit.