Welcome to the intertidal zone, home to diverse and remarkable aquatic flora and fauna! Read on for tips about the best places to go tide-pooling and learn about our coastal ecosystem while exploring some great locations. (Pro-tip: Most of these spots also offer sandy beaches, scenic vistas, historic structures, or all of the above.)
Know Before You Go
Check the tide tables so you know the best time to go exploring. Low tide is best.
You’ll want to outfit yourself with the right equipment and attire. Make sure that you have waterproof shoes or sandals with sturdy soles that offer enough traction to grip the rocks.
You can find tide tables here.
Some of what you might see:
Our tide pools are home to some amazing lifeforms, including mussels, sea anemones, crabs, sea stars (starfish), sea urchins, barnacles, nudibranchs, and even octopi. In some places, the plant life is equally spectacular — you’ll see otherworldly hues that are normally hidden beneath the waves. When you explore further, you’ll notice seashells glinting in the sand, tiny sea creatures scurrying to their hiding places… and you may discover even more surprising denizens of the intertidal zone. Mysteries and magic abound along our beautiful coastline.
Here are some of our favorite places to go when the tide is right:
Jug Handle Beach
Make the trip to these tide pools and you’ll be rewarded with unusual and spectacular seascapes. Head down to the beach and look for the rock formations on the south side. Jug Handle also has a lovely white-sand beach, as well as access to hiking trails with both forest and ocean backdrops.
(West end of Elm Street)
Glass Beach is most famous for the colorful sea glass dotting the sand, but it’s also home to some great tide pools. Just north of downtown, take Elm Street out toward the ocean. You can park in the northern Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail parking lot at the west end of Elm Street and follow the signs for Glass Beach from there.
Pudding Creek Beach
(CA-1 just north of Pudding Creek Bridge)
On the north side of Pudding Creek Beach, you’ll find one of the largest and most breathtaking tide pools along this stretch of coast. When the waves crash against these tide pools, water cascades from the edge of their rocky outcrops. Once you’ve explored the tide pool, kick back and relax on this picturesque and family-friendly white sand beach.
To get to Pudding Creek Beach, you can either look for the parking lot just north of Pudding Creek Bridge, or you can walk the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail to the first path north of the trestle, which will take you down to the beach. Once you’re on the beach, walk to the water’s edge and then follow it north to the rocks.
MacKerricher State Park
(24100 MacKerricher Park Rd)
Follow the boardwalk out toward the water, then take the stairs down to a rocky landscape filled with puddles and pools of water. MacKerricher has countless tidepools leading down to the water’s edge, and you’ll see a wide variety of flora and fauna.
The Crow’s Nest Interpretive Center — Noyo Center for Marine Science
(South Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail)
At the Crow’s Nest, you’ll find an intertidal touch tank, which holds animal and plant life exclusively from local tide pools and the ocean. It is also accessible and staffed by marine experts who can tell you exactly what you’re looking at. If you have young children or prefer not to do much scrambling, this is a great way to learn about our aquatic ecosystem. To get there, take the Cypress Street entrance and park in the lot for the South Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail, then walk north along the trail until you come to the Interpretive Center. It’s a bit of a trek, but the trail is flat and paved.
How to Make the Most of Your Trip
Keep some simple safety and stewardship rules in mind, and your tide pool trip is sure to be successful.
- Good things come to those who wait. If you keep still, you’ll see wildlife emerging from secret hiding places.
- Consider bringing along a waterproof field journal to take notes on what you’ve seen or a field guide to help you identify creatures.
- Watch your step. Rocks can be slippery
- You can’t take it with you — animals and plant life in our tide pools don’t fare well outside of the intertidal zone.
- Wear footwear on the rocks.
- Never turn your back on the ocean.
- Stay above the waterline and be aware of when the tide comes back in.
Visit the Noyo Center for Marine Science, either at the Crow’s Nest Interpretive Center or at the Downtown Discovery Center (338 N. Main St.), with your ocean-related questions.
The Fort Bragg Library (499 E. Laurel St.) will have additional information about the local tide pools.