The tide pools at Dana Point is a vast stretch of large boulders and rocks that extend for several hundred yards. This area sits at the foot of huge cliffs that overlook the ocean. The tidepool area starts just north of the small beach behind the Ocean Institute in Dana Harbor. They boulders provide small pools of seawater that are trapped as the water recedes during low tide. These small pools provide a habitat for a variety of sea life including anemones, crabs, snails, fish, mussels, barnacles and a variety of algae. The boulders are mostly covered by algae that make the rocks particularly slippery. There are a few larger bench areas in the more distant areas that provide a different set of marine life to see.
Location and ParkingThe tide pools are located at the northern end of Dana Harbor near the Ocean Institute. Follow Dana Point Harbor drive north all the way until it ends. Parking is available in several parking lots near this area. There is no fee to park and parking is generally available. The parking area can get extremely crowded during summer weekends and holidays. There are public restroom facilities at this location.
Tide Pool AccessTo access the tidepool area from the parking lot, follow the service road that starts from the Ocean Institute to the beach. Once at the beach, walk toward the cliffs and follow a narrow trail closest to the cliff face. This is not much of a trail but is easier to walk on than traversing the boulder fields in the tidepool area.
Points of InterestThere are several large boulders near the beach area covered with mussels. The mussels however only cover the top sections or mid sections of the boulders. These boulders also are teaming with a variety of limpets. There is also a much larger rock just to the south of the beach that harbors a variety of marine life. This however is only available at very low tides and low swell but worth exploring if the timing is right. The tidepool area provides a variety of marine life. A few of the larger boulders near the lower part of the tidal area have large colonies of sand castle worms. These animals create huge colonies of tubes in the more protected areas of the lower tidal area. Large areas of mussels and barnacles can also be seen on these larger rocks in the lower tide zone. There are several areas with large areas of sea grass and algae that cover entire rocks.
There are several more sandy areas that have large numbers of sea anemones that look like they are in the sand but are attached to rocks just underneath. These areas are also great for viewing the many hermit crabs and snails that inhabit these areas. Do not expect to see too many urchins or sea stars. There are a few but very limited.
Most of the mussels and barnacles live on the more exposed larger rocks. There are plenty of sea life to see by taking time and exploring the smaller pools surrounding rocks. The tidepool area is vast and extends all the way around the cliff face.