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Best Tidepooling and Beaches for Minus Tides (with Tide Table Tools)

Best Tidepooling and Beaches for Minus Tides (with Tide Table Tools)

There’s a whole science to figuring out the best times to tidepool. What is the tidal range (difference between high and low tides)?

Is it a minus tide (super-duper low in comparison to the rest of the year)? Is it happening during daylight hours? 

December and January tend to be the best times to tidepool with the highest range of tidal difference. 

You might also know minus tides by the name King Tides. There are citizen science groups out there who now photograph the high tides and share on social media.

In this post, I’ll let you know:

  • Tide Table Tools – to figure out low tides with apps or online.
  • How to find the best beaches for tidepooling – ask me!
  • Tidepooling tips – when to go and what to wear.
  • What kind of animals live in tide pools – a photo guide.
  • Tidepool rules – in place to protect the animals.
tidepooling minus tides orange sea star

Tide Table Tools

Look for high tides at around 5 or 6 feet before low tides that are around 1 or even minus 1 or 2 — so there is quite a nice range between high and low for tidepooling.

I’m a fan of NOAA Buoy and Tide Data – Verona Solutions, LLC ($1.99) or Tide Graph – Brainware ($1.99) for the iPhone.  Or you can check online at:

The weather page of the OC Register newspaper also has tide info.

tidepooling minus tides gooseneck barnacles

Best Beaches for Tidepooling

If you don’t already know where to go, email me (play [at] funorangecountyparks [dot] com) and I can suggest some beaches for you. 

Here are a couple that I’ve written about over the years:

tidepooling minus tide purple sea star

Tidepooling Tips

What is the best time to see the tidepools? Arrive an hour before and plan to stay an hour after the low tide mark.  Or a half hour if you don’t have tons of time. Just pad your visit on BOTH ends of the low tide for the best viewing.

The Good Tidepooler Rules to remember are: “Never remove animals, shells, or rocks; never pick up animals; walk gently; and never turn over rocks.”  Tread lightly and don’t move stuff around! These animals and plants are alive and it would be nice if they stayed that way!!

Consider wearing water shoes or old tennies that can get wet. Those rocks can be sharp!

Always bring warm socks and a change of clothes for the ride home.

Remember, the tides vary based on location.  I usually just go with a general tide table for Newport Beach. The times and ranges will change by location.

What Kind of Animals Live in a Tide Pool?

A limpet. This one has the animal living inside and is attached to the rock. Sometimes you’ll see the shell on the beach with a tell-tale hole in the center.

tidepooling minus tides - limpets

A shore crab. These guys are pretty common. You can look out for them when you are walking around boat harbors and rocky outcroppings by the beach, too. Can you spot him in there?

shore crab in tidepool at minus tide

Gooseneck Barnacles. These guys fascinate me with their mother-of-pearl type iridescence and little “tongues” that flick in and out.

gooseneck barnacles

California Mussel used to be so prevalent and now I don’t even see as much of them anymore.

california mussels on a rock
california mussels close-up

Chiton are positively prehistoric looking! Here is one among camouflaged and shell-covered anemones. Can you spot a few limpets here, too?


And here’s those sea stars I mentioned.  Sea stars fought a new threat called Sea Star Wasting Syndrome where they basically disintegrated and disappeared, but they are starting to come back from it.

sea stars

More tidepool guides:


Guided Tidepool Field Trips in Orange County

The Orange County Marine Protected Area Council is the best resource out there! You’ll find:

  • A great video to watch BEFORE you go to the beach called Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
  • A complete list of Tidepool field trips for K-12.
  • A complete list of Tidepool public programs.

If you and your family would like to visit the tidepools, check for guided activity listings.


Tidepooling RULES

When I was young, there were no tidepool rules. I could run, play, and collect. Shells and ocean animals were plentiful.  How come your kids can’t have the same experience? Why does there have to be rules?

Because you’ll be lucky to see a starfish nowadays! (Yes, I said “nowadays.” I’m officially OLD!)

If you want your children’s children to be able to tidepool in the future, then we need to have some pretty strict protections in place for our heavy foot-traffic Orange County beaches.

Of course, I’d always advise you to follow the signage at the beach. 

I had one reader go into every post add these rules posted at all Marine Protected Areas:

All tidepools in Laguna Beach are in Marine Protected Areas. You’re not allowed to touch the tidepool animals – you can find the rules here:
1. Never remove animals, shells or rocks from the tidepools.
2. Never pick up animals…..observe them where they are.
3. Walk gently, taking care not to step on plants or animals.
4. Never turn over rocks.

Basically this means look don’t touch.
These rules are on the MPA signs at the entrances to all the beaches.

Originally posted in December 2011.

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