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Exploring Tide Pools In The Santa Barbara Area

Exploring Tide Pools In The Santa Barbara Area

To many, the sea life below the ocean’s surface is a mystery, but when the tide is right, dramatic ebbs can expose amazing tide pools for all to explore. In the Santa Barbara area there are a number of outstanding locations to go

tide-pooling. Here are just a few of the best:


Coal Oil Point

One of the area’s largest and most diverse tide pools lies just about 15 minutes north of downtown Santa Barbara. Coal Oil Point features a sizable boulder field with a few larger rocky areas. You can expect lots of green and brown algae, as this area is a calmer that other exposed areas. The higher rocky outcrops have plenty of large mussels which are covered by small acorn barnacles. Depending on the time of year and weather conditions you might discover sea anemones, mussels, keyhole limpets, and turban snails. With a bit of luck and a trained eye, you might also find sea hares, purple urchins, kelp crabs, and more.

Arroyo Burro Beach (Hendry’s)

This popular stretch of sand located just north of the Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood, has it all. There is an upscale restaurant, an off-leash dog area, and when the tide is extra low, a nice stretch of rocky tide pools. Sea anemones and sea snails are common, and if you are lucky, you might also discover starfish and other interesting creatures.  Offshore is also a good place to see dolphins swimming.


Tide Pools Down South

A couple of popular tide pool areas south of Santa Barbara include some nice rocky pools at Carpinteria State Beach and a bit further south, you will find more tide-pooling opportunities at the world famous surf spot Rincon Beach.


Indoor Tide Pool Experiences

If the weather and tides aren’t right for outdoor tide pool adventures you can still experience the thrill of marine biology exploration at Santa Barbara’s Museum of Natural History Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. Another great tide pool touch tank can be found at the University of California at Santa Barbara campus point. The UCSB exhibit is open to the public Friday and Saturday and it is always free of charge.


Tide Pool Musts

When it comes to tide-pooling the right footwear can be essential. Rocks can be slippery and some can be covered in tar from natural seepage common in the Santa Barbara area. Good options for footwear are old sneakers, or well-fitting water-friendly sandals like Teva. Another helpful item to have in your beach bag or pocket are Oil Slick Beach Tar Remover Wipes, Since your footwear, or your feet are bound to come in contact with blobs of oil, Oil Slick Beach Tar Remover (which is made from all natural ingredients) is perfect for cleaning up before you track tar it into your car or home. You might also get tar on your hands from handling rocks or shells, and oil and alcohol free Oil Slick Beach Tar Remover works great and is easy on your skin. Oil Slick Beach Tar Remover is available throughout the Santa Barbara area (Ritz Carlton gift shop, Isla Vista Market, Surf N Wear Beach House, Tri-County Produce and many other locations). A good wide brim hat and polarized sunglasses are also helpful for enjoying the tide pools while cutting down the sun glare off the water and sand.


Tide Pool Etiquette


Tide pools are delicate ecosystems so treating them with respect is essential to preserving them for all to enjoy. Here are some tips to keep in mind:


  • Step on bare rock rather than on a living organism wherever possible.
  • Explore along the exposed beach or from the edge of a tide pool rather than venturing into the water. This will provide better viewing conditions and allow animals to remain undisturbed. 
  • Turn over only small rocks and do so gently. A quick turnover may crush animals that are next to the rock or darting under the rock as their hiding place is uncovered.
  • Wet your hand with seawater from the beach before touching or holding an animal exposed by the tide. 
  • Replace the rock carefully. Also replace seaweed or other cover for shelter.
  • Look, study but do not take anything you find in the tide pool
  • Only touch animals as gently as you would your own eyeball. For example, anemones should not be poked and sea hares should not be squeezed.


Final Thoughts


1. Check the tide tables

Tide tables are fairly simple to read. You can find tide tables at park sites, or online from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most tables show the time and the height of each day's two highest and lowest tides. The lower the number, the lower the tide, and minus numbers are what you’re looking for when tide-pooling.  “Extreme low tide” are tides that approach or go below -2 feet, which usually happens in late spring and summer.


2. Keep an eye on the ocean

Just as the tide goes out, it will also come back in. As you explore, keep an eye on the surf and start heading inland when it begins to rise. Even at low tide its best to “never turn your back on the ocean.” Happy tide-pooling!

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