Tide pool tips at Cabrillo National Monument

Posted By Katie on Feb 18, 2014

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Last summer, my family set out to visit tide pools in the San Diego area and ended up at Cabrillo National Monument. We saw amazing scenery and learned that we should have planned a little better to enjoy the tide pools.

If you want to visit the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument, or any of the other wonderful tide pool locations in Southern California, here are some tips to make your experience better.

Tide pool tips for families at San Diego's Cabrillo National Monument | tipsforfamilytrips.com | California | things to do in San Diego | findyourpark | budget travel | cheap activities | outdoor activities

Visit at low tide

You want to visit during negative low tide, which is most often during the daylight hours in the winter months.  The warm, sunny August afternoon that we went the tides were high, and we weren’t able to see many tide pools.  Check a tide predictor or call Cabrillo National Monument directly at (619) 557-5450, extension 0, and they will tell you the best time to visit.  In the winter months, a ranger is often available at the Cabrillo tide pools to help you identify marine animals.  The best time to see the tide pools at Cabrillo are mid-December to mid-February.

cabrillo national monument

Wear appropriate shoes

As you can see, we headed out in flip flops and crocs, which is the wrong footwear for tide pooling.  The rocks were wet and slippery, and unexpected waves are dangerous.  We found out just how dangerous earlier in the day at La Jolla Shores when my son was scampering over rocks and a large wave crashed into him, knocking him down and gashing his shin on a sharp rock.  He needed stitches.  Wear study-soled water shoes and watch out for waves.

Watch young children carefully

I spent the entire afternoon keeping an eagle-eye on my two-year-old son, and constantly reminding my seven-year-old son with the gashed knee and flip flops that the rocks were dangerous and slippery.  Bring an extra adult or two if you have young children in tow.  There are many cliffs and slippery rocks that could be dangerous to adventurous little ones so keep a close eye on them.

cabrillo national monument

Be gentle with marine life

Do not forget that you are a guest visiting a wildlife habitat.  Do not remove anything from a tidepool.  If you decide to touch something, use a soft, gentle touch. Do not remove attached animals or do anything else that could harm the animals you came to admire.

Many marine animals hide under rocks.  Lift rocks with care so you do not damage the fragile habitat of the tide pool.

Cabrillo national monument

Leave time to explore Cabrillo National Monument

We came in the late afternoon and spent most of our time near the tidal pools.  There is much more to see and do at Cabrillo National Monument.  Check out Old Point Loma Lighthouse, see the monument to explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, and hike one of the many trails that give you spectacular views of San Diego Bay and the city.  In winter months, watch the Pacific Gray whales as they migrate south, passing Cabrillo National Monument on their journey.


Good to Know

Location:  At the tip of Point Loma Peninsula, just west of San Diego.  About 25 minutes outside of downtown San Diego.

Hours:  Cabrillo National Monument is open 9:00-5:00, but the entrance gate and the tide pools close at 4:30.  All visitors must exit the park by 5:00 p.m.  Closed Christmas Day.

Amenities:  Small visitor’s center, bookstore, and restrooms.  Vending machines.

Cost:  $5 per vehicle

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Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. That looks like so much fun to explore! Today in the backyard my daughter was digging in a pile of dirt/mud and she kept sighing and saying she misses the beach (which she’s only been to twice in her 3-year-old life!).

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  2. Wow! this is fantastic! We enjoyed wonderfool tide pools in Saint Malo, Brittany. It was so much fun! And the landscape was just stunning!!

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  3. We went there just last year–unfortunately, there was a wicked storm blowing in as we approached the tidepools, so all we got was a quick look-around before the wind and rain drove us back to our car. But we loved exploring the lighthouse and just taking in the view all around (the visitor’s center even has binoculars you can borrow!)

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  4. I know this article is a couple years old but it seems you may be the best one to answer my question. I am going to have a 7 month old baby at the time of our visit. Will it even be possible for us to make it down to the pools with him in tow?

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    • Hi Heather. You will be fine to get down to the tide pools with a baby so long as you have a baby carrier. A stroller would be challenging. But I think you would be fine (and safe) to bring a baby so long as you have solid footwear. It’s not a long walk nor too steep and you would be able to access the tide pools.

      Have fun!

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