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Dana Point Tide Pools

Dana Point Tide Pools

Dana Point tide pools are a designated Marine Protected Area (MPA) – State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) – accessible from the beaches and trails surrounding the Ocean Institute.

Tide pools are the most amazing little universes to me.

I have fond memories tidepooling as a child and I think that’s why I’m so conscious about protecting and conserving them.

How to Get to Dana Point Tide Pools:  I get to Dana Point Harbor from all sorts of directions (Moulton to Golden Lantern, Crown Valley Parkway to Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), I-5 to PCH).  Look at the map to see what makes the most sense for you.  Taking the “Beach Cities” exit off Interstate 5 takes you right to the pedestrian bridge over PCH.  Turn left onto Dana Point Harbor Drive and wind past Doheny Beach and the main shops at the Harbor.  Keep driving past Golden Lantern and you’ll dead-end into the Ocean Institute parking area.  MAP TO OCEAN INSTITUTE IN DANA POINT HARBOR

Before I go any further, here are the official rules for preserving the Marine Protected Areas in Orange County:

From the Orange County Marine Protected Area Council (from the “Harry the Crab” sign you see at local MPAs):

Absolutely NO Collecting
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.
These rules are on the MPA signs at the entrances to all the beaches.

So What Can You Do?

  • Step carefully and look without touching (no collecting or moving animals, rocks or shells)
  • Collect trash and beach glass
  • Stack small rocks in the dry sand area of the beach, as long as you don’t move rocks from tidepools
  • Play in the sand
  • Go for a walk – get your toes wet
  • Sit on the benches and enjoy the view
  • Take photos or videos of your discoveries, rather than taking them home (Find a cool rock? Snap a photo. Like to watch the hermit crabs crawl? Take a video.)

Highlights of the Beach Behind the Ocean Institute:

  • Make your way behind the Ocean Institute to find an absolutely awesome view and beach! I rarely tidepool here – I just come to enjoy the beach and view.
  • Explanation from the Ocean Institute: “New Marine Protected Area (MPA) regulations went into effect on January 1, 2012. Previously in Orange County, there were 9 MPAs between the east end of Doheny State Beach and the west end of Newport Beach. Each area had varying regulations but for the most part, protected the tide pools. The new regulations combine the previous 9 MPAs into 4, from the west Dana Point Harbor breakwater to the south Newport Beach jetty. The Doheny State Beach MPA was eliminated. The new MPAs are: Dana Point SMCA, Laguna SMCA, Laguna SMR and Crystal Cove SMCA.”
  • Tidepool Docents are staffed on the weekends — as volunteers are available at low tides
  • Benches line the top of the jetty and provide a perfect resting place – enjoy the view, watch the action, or take a bike ride break
  • Visit the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association website for printable illustrations of tide pool animals you might find.
  • Don’t forget to visit the Ocean Institute! (Click here to read my write-up and learn other places to go to make this a day trip)
  • Can you see Catalina in the distance? It’s often visible from here — as well as San Clemente Island.

Be Aware:

  • READ THE SIGNS and be very careful in the protected conservation areas where it is forbidden to collect items or disturb this fragile ecosystem.
  • Always check the tides before you go.  You don’t want to get stuck around the corner when the tide is coming up (read my post on the best apps and resources for checking tides)
  • Public restrooms are at the entrance to the Ocean Institute parking lot. Make a stop before you head out to the benches.
  • You can walk the whole harbor with a stroller, but the beach and tide pools are not stroller-friendly. You’ll find yourself scrambling over rocks for a good percentage of the time spent exploring.
  • It’s a good idea to bring a backpack with water, towels, first aid, and sunscreen. Don’t forget the windbreakers – it can be cooler at the coast than inland and sometimes the ocean wind howls around here.
  • High surf advisories can close this area to the public
  • Stay back from the cliffs, because they are not necessarily stable

If you would like to research these areas further, please consult the following resources:

Make sure you consult official sources before interacting with any wildlife in these protected areas.

Originally published in January 2013.

Joshua Armstrong

Thursday 1st of June 2017

Thanks for the info! I am excited to bring my kids here to explore.

Low Tide Meditation to Rejuvenate Your Soul - Walk Simply

Sunday 23rd of February 2014

[…] Dana Point Tide Pools: Marine Protected Area (MPA) – State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) […]


Monday 25th of November 2013

What a great place for kids to discover animals on the beach!

Traci Lehman

Friday 18th of January 2013

Michele, I'm impressed! This is a wonderfully written article with the facts!! Thanks for including my links and especially for educating the public on California's precious natural resources.


Friday 18th of January 2013

Thanks, Traci. The travel writer in me loves reporting and tracking down sources!

Comments are closed.