Life in the Rocky Intertidal Zone at Cabrillo

Cabrillo National Monument is a-must-see when visiting San Diego, but for me the most striking aspect is the tide pools located 500 feet below it. A thrilling, steep, downhill scenic drive from the monument to the ocean is breathtaking, with the air filled with that familiar salty ocean breeze.

The mesmerizing beauty of the jagged cliffs is Instagram worthy and a perfect getaway for any visitor. The calm waters are unusual, but the crashing waves on the rocks feel like smooth musical notes to the ears, with the humming sound awakening childhood memories at the ocean. The rocky Mexican Coronado Islands in the distance enhance the beauty even more. The kelp forest not far off shore is considered one of the largest in the world and protected by federal laws, as it’s home to some of the rarest and most endangered species. Here’s a fun fact: Not only does the kelp forest provide a safe home for animals, but it also produces most of the oxygen in the atmosphere we breathe. Hence, it’s worth taking care of our oceans’ health.

Upon arriving at the tide pools, be careful of the steep, rocky, and slightly slippery path to the pools. So, a good tip is to wear sturdy shoes that can support you well, or make sure your partner has good shoes and doesn’t mind helping you maneuver down. Flip-flops aren’t a good choice of footwear unless they have thick soles.

The smell is pleasantly pungent due to the abundant seaweed and kelp that washed ashore and bake in the sun. The small tide pools are full of life with small crustaceans and fish. Some of the mollusks are rock-bound and appear desperate for the next high tide to roll in. And when you gently touch the crustaceans, they move in a wave as if the wind were blowing them from one direction to the other. 

There are three different tide zones, and the high-tide zone is the one visitors first encounter. Muscles and barnacles, starfish, hermit crabs, and sand dollars are just some of the many sea creatures you can see on a good day.

As you approach closer to the rocky cliffs and sandstone walls, you may catch sight of large and small crabs, mollusks, and sea anemones trying to survive until the next high tide. It isn’t wise to disturb the animals because federal law prohibits anyone from moving, replacing, or taking any animal from the tide pools, not even to move them from few inches from the pool. The ecosystem is extremely fragile and any interference could kill them, but “it’s possible to touch them gently,” a park ranger informed me, who was always available for questions and watched that the tide pools weren’t harmed.

If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to pay attention to them. The area is rocky and slippery, making it easy to fall, get hurt, and get wet. Remind them several times (and a couple more times) not to dig or play in the tide pools. Of course, they’ll look at you oddly and think “are you crazy? This is perfect for that.”

The middle-tide zone is where animals can live in and out of the water. It’s an interesting area and the diversity is intense. Solitary, brooding, and aggregate anemones, scaly tube snails, and sandcastle worms are just a few examples of sea creatures you can spot. Some, such as anemones, can open up when the tide is high and close up when it’s low to hold on to the moisture.

The low-tide zone is only exposed during the lowest tides. Most sea creatures here, such as the California sea hare, kelp crab, and octopus, are underwater and like to hide in surf grass from predators.

The sea life in these tide pools is extraordinarily abundant, becoming an open-air aquarium and a wonderful, muddy puddle for kids. We were told that the best time to visit is winter, which is when the tide goes out the farthest and offers the chance to see a large variety of animals. Of course, it’s also the coldest time and not for everyone.

To find out what the best time is to visit the pools, check the tide predictor by clicking here.

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1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Hi, Your blog about San Diego, But from my point of view the best thing to do there what you mentioned about the interesting sea life, cliffs, blue water, pure air and visible fish , Thanks for your talented photos, I enjoy reading

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