8 Best North American Beaches for Exploring Tide Pools

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

Posnov / Getty Images

There are few miniature worlds as magical as tide pools. Formed in craggy shoreline niches when the tide recedes, they team with alien-seeming life – bright sea stars, vibrant quivering anemones, exotic mottled sea urchins. Tide pools in some form or another can exist wherever sea meets shore, but ragged rocky coastlines often offer the best opportunity for these fragile intertidal wonders. Escape the summer heat at some of North America’s most beloved beaches, and behold the microcosmic mysteries of the sea.

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Chesterman Beach: Tofino, British Columbia

Chesterman Beach in the distance, tidepool in the foreground

davemantel / Getty Images

Beautifully situated on Vancouver Island's Pacific coast, Chesterman Beach is one of Canada's most famous beaches and it boasts some stunning tide pools. The tide here retreats to reveal seemingly endless pools and puddles in the worn granate, which play home to mussels, barnacles, chitons, sea slugs, hermit crabs, minnows, and a host of other marine creatures.

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Shi Shi Beach: Olympic National Park, Washington

Tidepools at Shi Shi Beach

Stefan Serena / Flickr / Public Domain

Named "best nature beach" by the Travel Channel, Shi Shi is considered by many to have the best tide pools in the lower 48. Found within the spectacular Olympic National Park, the beach is studded with sea stacks, bluffs, arches and plenty of tide pools. You'll find an abundance of mussels along with sea stars, razor clams, limpets, chitons, hermit crabs and sea cucumbers. But go for the sea anemones. Shi Shi has some of the best to offer. Only one caveat (or boon, depending on your perspective) -- it's a two-mile hike to the pools.

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Hole-in-the-Wall, Rialto Beach: Olympic National Park, Washington

Green sea anenome at the Hole-in-the-Wall tidepools

Steve Voght / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Hole-in-the-Wall at Rialto Beach, like Shi Shi, is also located in Olympic National Park, and is fantastic for tide pooling. But unlike Shi Shi, it's easily accesible from the parking lot.

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Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area: Newport, Oregon

Tidepool at Yaquina Head

Doug Kerr / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is situated on a narrow finger of land pointing due west into the Pacific on the northern end of Newport, Oregon. It is a rich headland which offers visitors abundant and easily accessible wildlife and marine opportunities, and its beach and tide pools are...outstanding.

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Creatures at Yaquina Head

close up of a velella velella in the Yaquina Head tide pools

Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Sea stars, verdant green anemones, spiny purple sea urchins, mussels, volcano shaped barnacles, turban snails, hermit crabs, sculpins and many other lovely creatures of the shallows can be admired at Yaquina Head.

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Hazard Canyon: Montana de Oro State Park, California

Aggregating anemone found in the tidepools at Hazard Canyon

Mike Baird / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Hazard Canyon, Montana de Oro State Park is 6 miles southwest of Morro Bay and offers rugged cliffs, secluded beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, including 1,347-foot Valencia Peak. Along the shore of Hazard Canyon Beach is a lovely array of tide pools, complete with flat rocks perfect for picnicking. Also at the beach are thousands of wave-polished sandstone rocks with mysterious miniature tunnels in them. The Swiss-cheese holes are bored by the piddock, an earnest and hard-working member of the mollusk family.

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North Point Beach: Morro Bay, California

Anemone at North Point tidepools

Mike Baird / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Not far from Hazard Canyon's beach is the lovely North Point beach which is situated within walking distance between the iconic Morro Rock to the south and Cayucos Pier to the north. From the bluff top park there is stairway access to the beach which leads to one of the best tide pooling areas around, and a favorite for photographers.

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First Encounter Beach: Eastham, Massachusetts

Low tide at First Encounter Beach

Eugene Peretz / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although this Cape Cod beach may sound like it was named by a dime-store romance author, the first encounter here didn't involve Fabio, but rather the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Don't expect craggy rocky pools here, instead, low tide reveals a mile of tidal flats and their corresponding pools. Each ribbon of pond provides a wee little marine world replete with fiddler crabs, minnows and other schooling fish, in addition to sea snails and the occasional horseshoe crabs.

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Hunting Island State Park: Beaufort, South Carolina

Person holding several sand dollars

Rachel Hathaway / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Located 16 miles east of Beaufort, Hunting Island State Park is South Carolina's most popular park, which delivers five miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, an ocean inlet, the longest fishing pier on the Eastern seaboard, and a lovely lighthouse which is accessible to the public. And tide pools. Hermit crabs and shrimp abound, blue crabs and diamondback terrapins are all about, and gorgeous wading birds are abundant...but people come from far and wide to collect sand dollars. And with that in mind, a note on collecting sea shells: They are part of a natural ecosystem and hoarding natural specimens is never a good idea. Some places don’t allow collecting at all, some have limits on how many and what types of shells you can take. Contact the local office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to inquire about local seashell collecting rules.

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Cabrillo National Monument: San Diego, California

Point Loma Tide Pools in Cabrillo National Monument

AutumnSkyPhotography / Getty Images 

Cabrillo National Monument is considered by many to be one of the best tide pool zones in Southern California. Located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, the pools here boast a bounty of marine life, including anemone and octopuses. There is also a kelp forest, and a winter bonus: migrating gray whales can be sighted off the coast.