10 Best North American Beaches for Exploring Tide Pools

Sea star on a rock, tide pool in the background at Rialto Beach

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Tide pools are shallow pools of seawater that form along coastlines when the tides ebb and flow. These coastal pools can look unassuming from a distance, but reveal rich, biodiverse collections of sea creatures on closer inspection. Sea stars, clams, mussels, sea urchins, sea anenomes, and other animals all call these ephemeral pools home. These creatures may look fragile, but they must be highly adaptable to thrive in tide pools, which can expose them to sunlight, predators, and low water levels before they are swept up in the rising tide again. Creatures found in tide pools are not, however, adapted to human interference. Visitors should look, not touch.

The rocky beaches of the Pacific Coast are best known for tide pools, since their rocky shores easily collect water as the high tide recedes. However, tide pools can be found on Atlantic Ocean beaches as well, if you know where to look. Tide pools are always best visited near low tide.

From South Carolina to British Columbia, learn more about 10 beaches with incredible tide pools to explore.

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Chesterman Beach (Tofino, British Columbia)

Chesterman Beach in the distance, tidepool in the foreground

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Chesterman Beach, situated on Vancouver Island's Pacific coast, is home to both rocky coastline and sandy beaches. It boasts many stunning tide pools along the shore that are easy to access. When the tide retreats, a multitude of pools and puddles are revealed in the worn granite. Here, visitors can find mussels, barnacles, chitons, sea slugs, hermit crabs, minnows, and a host of other marine creatures. The best tide pools are found on the northern stretch of coastline.

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Shi Shi Beach (Olympic National Park, Washington)

Tidepools at Shi Shi Beach

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Found in the Olympic Wilderness in Olympic National Park, Shi Shi Beach is studded with sea stacks, bluffs, arches, and plenty of tide pools. Visitors can find an abundance of mussels, along with sea stars, razor clams, limpets, chitons, hermit crabs, and sea cucumbers. Notably, Shi Shi Beach is home to sea anenomes as well, which are a rare sight in most tide pools.

The beach is accessed by a two-mile hike, and offers overnight camping. All visitors are required to obtain a permit from the national park.

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Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (Newport, Oregon)

A rocky beach at sunset

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Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is situated on a narrow finger of land north of Newport, Oregon. The coastline of this dramatic promontory features many tidepools and contains an array of marine life, including sea stars, giant green anemones, sea urchins, volcano barnacles, and hermit crabs. When the tide is out, harbor seals can often be spotted on the beaches as well.

The historic lighthouse at Yaquina Head dates to 1872, and is the tallest lighthouse in Oregon.

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Mora's Hole-in-the-Wall (Olympic National Park, Washington)

A forested beach with driftwood along the shore and a sea stack in the ocean

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Rialto Beach is a popular beach in Olympic National Park, famed for the tide pools and sea stacks found at a section of the beach called Mora's Hole in the Wall that is only accessible at low tide. Reach Hole in the Wall on a 1.5-mile hike north from the Rialto beach trailhead on the North Coast Wilderness Trail. It's important to time your hike right, since you could be trapped by the rising tide on your return trip. The National Park Service recommends turning around and cutting your hike short at the Hole in the Wall rock arch if the floor of the arch is covered in water. The tide pools beyond the arch are teeming with rock crabs, sea snails, and eels.

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Montana de Oro State Park (Morro Bay, California)

A cliff-lined section of the Pacific Coast with wildflowers in the foreground

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Montana de Oro State Park is six miles southwest of Morro Bay, California, and offers rugged cliffs, secluded beaches, coastal plains, and canyons. In the park, Hazard Canyon Beach is your best bet for tide pools. The beach is covered with thousands of wave-polished sandstone rocks that are home to piddock, a species of mollusk. These creatures bore into the soft rock, creating burrows where they spend their entire lives. They feed on organic matter in the seawater that washes over their tunnel homes.

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North Point Natural Area (Morro Bay, California)

A sandy beach with a large rock monolith in the background

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North Point Natural Area is a beach just a few miles north of Hazard Canyon that provides visitors with easily accessible tide pooling. From the bluff top park, there is stairway access to the beach which leads directly to the tide pooling area. The sandy beach is also within walking distance of both the iconic Morro Rock to the south, and Cayucos Pier to the north.

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First Encounter Beach (Eastham, Massachusetts)

Low tide at First Encounter Beach

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First Encounter Beach is a Cape Cod beach that features tide pools unlike the craggy pools found on many West Coast beaches. Here, low tide instead reveals a mile of tidal flats and tide pools formed in the undulating sand beach. Each narrow band of water is a tiny marine habitat, replete with fiddler crabs, minnows, sea snails, and the occasional horseshoe crab.

The beach earned its unique name thanks to its historical significance. When European settlers arrived in North America, this beach was the reputed location of the first meeting between settlers and Native Americans.

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Hunting Island State Park (Beaufort, South Carolina)

A marshy landscape with a sandy beach in the distance

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Located 16 miles east of Beaufort, Hunting Island State Park is South Carolina's most-visited state park, and for good reason. It features five miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, the longest fishing pier on the Eastern seaboard, and a lighthouse which is accessible to the public. The tide pools here are home to hermit crabs, white shrimp, and diamondback terrapins. But the most abundant sea creature here is the sand dollar.

Collecting sand dollars in the state park is permitted, with one important disclaimer — never collect live specimens. Living sand dollars tend to have a greenish color and tiny hairs, and are found half-buried in shallow water. Dead shells are likely to be bleached white and found washed up on the shore. If you can't tell the difference, don't risk removing a living creature from its natural habitat. Contact the local office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to inquire if local seashell collecting rules have changed.

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Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, California)

Point Loma Tide Pools in Cabrillo National Monument

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Cabrillo National Monument is considered one of the best tide pool zones in Southern California, and many visitors come to explore the area's rocky coastlines. Located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, the pools here boast a bounty of marine life, including anemones and octopuses. The tide pools are best visited in fall and winter, when low tide occurs during daylight hours. An added bonus in winter is the opportunity to see migrating gray whales.

Due to the popularity of tide pools, park managers have posted rules and regulations for visitors to follow. Groups of 10 or more are required to obtain a permit before visiting.

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Sand Beach (Acadia National Park, Maine)

A tide pool in a section of granite coastline

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The Wonderland Trail, in Maine's Acadia National Park, is a scenic hiking trail that leads to a rocky section of coastline. At low tide, the tide pools here are home to barnacles, snails, rockweed algae, crabs, and sea sponges. Round trip, the trail is 1.4 miles, so it's best to begin the hike shortly before low tide and start the return trip as the tide is rising. It's worth checking the tide charts the day of your trip to make sure your timing is right.