Visiting the Tidepools at Cabrillo Beach

Want an easy visit to the Cabrillo Beach tidepools? Located next to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the tidepools in San Pedro provide easy parking, outdoor adventure, and lots of fun for little exporers!

During the pandemic, I promised my kids that I would take them to the places that their school would have taken them to on field trips under normal circumstances.

When I found out the second grade trip was a visit to the tidepools, I kinda freaked out. I had been to the tidepools by myself in college, and found the whole thing intimidating.

I was super nervous to take my kids to the tidepool for the first time.

Luckily, I have a friend who works at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. She was able to give me lots of great information about how to best visit the Cabrillo Beach tidepools with kids.

That information made such a HUGE difference for us, that I knew we just had to share it with you!

So if you are thinking of braving the tidepools at Cabrillo Beach for the first time, here is some expert advice to make your first visit a roaring success!

the tidepools at cabrillo beach; text: cabrillo beach tidepools

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How Do You Get to the Cabrillo Beach Tidepools?

The Cabrillo Beach Tidepools are a bit of a distance from Long Beach, so plan for thirty or forty minutes worth of driving. For Google Map purposes, it’s best to navigate to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium at 3720 Stephen M White Dr, San Pedro, CA 90731.

cabrillo marine aquarium

If you take the 710 from Long Beach, it is actually a super educational drive. There are two gorgeous bridges to go over, which kids will find thrilling (or just enjoy the view from the top).

cabrillo beach

You’ll also pass right through the heart of the port, giving kids a great view of cargo ships, cranes, and containers. It’s a great chance to show kids where all that STUFF we buy comes from!

Do You Have to Pay for Parking at Cabrillo Beach?

The lot to access the tidepools at Cabrillo Beach is a paid parking lot.

parking meter at cabrillo beach

Fortunately, it’s a relatively cheap parking fee- just $1 per hour. We usually purchase three or four hours worth of parking, and it’s always been enough.

You can use cash or a card. These machines can be tricky- read the on screen prompts carefully!

NOTE: Use the bathrooms located on the beach side of the parking lot when you get there. Honestly, they’re gross. But there are no bathrooms at the tidepools, and you do NOT want to get stuck down there having to pee.

When is the Best Time to Visit the Cabrillo Beach Tidepools?

Unfortunately, you can’t just visit the tidepools at Cabrillo Beach whenever you want to. If the tides aren’t low enough, you’ll find that the tidepools are either smaller in number, or completely under water.

It is best to visit the tidepools at Cabrillo Beach with kids in the fall and winter months, when low tides are likely to be during waking hours.

kids looking into tidepool

You want to schedule your visit for a time when the low tide is -1.0 or lower. This gives you the best chance of seeing creatures! You’ll want to get there about an hour before low tide, and plan to stay for about an hour after.

child walking on rocks

You should always check the tidepool chart before you go. I typically check at the beginning of the month in fall and winter, and write the days with the lowest ides in my planner.

When Should You Visit the Cabrillo Beach Tidepools with Kids?

It is best to try to plan your family trip to the tidepools on a cloudy day. In a recent chat with a Cabrillo Marine Aquarium docent, I learned that sunny days heat the tidepools by a few degrees, causing creatures to hide.

On a sunny day, you will mostly see sea anemomes in camouflage (covered in shells, so they look like seashell donuts), hermit crabs, kelp, and small fish.

sea anemones camouflaged usign shells

On a cloudy day, you may also see sea hares, sea stars, sea urchins, and possibly even a lobster. You’re also more likely to see open sea anemones and animals on the move.

plants and animals in a tidepool

What Ages are the Cabrillo Beach Tidepools Best For?

The tidepools at Cabrillo Beach are definitely an adventure better suited for older kids. I didn’t take my kids until my son was 4 because I was nervous about taking them both by myself.

child balancing on large rocks

I recommend ages 4 through the teenage years for the tidepools. Kids younger than 4 would certainly also love seeing the creatures, but walking across the rocks can be slippery and a bit more dangerous for younger kids.

If you are bringing younger children, it’s best to have one adult per little one.

What Should You Bring With You to the Tidepools?

Tidepools are a bit unpredictable. You want to pack more than you would for a typical day at the park, or even at the beach!

What to wear to the tidepools:

  • Long sleeve shirt (it can get cold)
  • Jeans (protects legs better in case of a fall)
  • Sturdy walking shoes and socks (may get wet or dirty)
  • A hat or sunglasses

Here’s what I recommend you bring with you, stored in a standard backpack:

  • A first aid kit (slips and falls are somewhat common)
  • Bottled water (for injuries or drinking!)
  • A spare change of clothes for each child (you can also leave this in the car)
  • Reef Friendly Sunscreen (better for the animals)
  • Flip flops to change into if shoes get wet.
  • Plastic bags to store any wet clothes
  • Small trash bags to cart out any trash you find

How Do You Get to the Tidepools from Cabrillo Beach?

The tidepools, as mentioned, are a long walk from the parking lot. Be prepared to walk across the lot, the beach, and across a narrow pathway to get to the tidepools.

Start out facing the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Head to the left (south) and follow the path until you get to the pay to park structures.

Cross the street, and either follow the concrete path or go across the beach until you get to the fenced in walkway.

pathway to the tidepools at cabrillo beach

Cross over the walkway, and you’ll find yourself at the start of the tidepools. They go on for a quite a while, so there is LOTS to explore!

rocky path to the tidepools

You can also cross over the rocks instead of using the fenced walkway. We typically save this for the way back, once the kids have more practice with their footing.

Safety Reminders for the Cabrillo Beach Tidepools

There are a few safety reminders I go over with the kids before we visit the tidepools:

child touching sea hare with two gentle fingers
  • Walk carefully across the rocks. If you have a choice, choose to step on clean, dry rocks (those that are wet or covered in grass or algae will be much slipperier)
  • Tidepools are for walking, not running or jumping.
  • Take care not to hurt any animals while you walk.
  • Always make sure you have at least one foot stable at all times. Don’t put your full weight on a rock until you’re sure it’s stable.
  • Always stay within your family’s line of sight.
  • If you want to touch something in a tidepool, use a soft, two-fingered touch. (Use your judgement on this- less gentle kids may need to not touch any animals)
  • Do not remove anything from the tidepools.
  • Don’t take anything from the beach with you.

What Might You See at the Cabrillo Beach Tidepools?

There’s a great page on the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium site that I recommend looking at before you visit the tidepools. It’s got pictures of all the little creatures you might see when you visit.

sea urchin shell

Make sure to tell your kids that the tidepools are like a treasure hunt– you can never be totally certain what you might find!

Common Animals:

Sea Anemones- Both Opened and Closed!

Sea Anemones are the most common animal we see at the tidepools (along with hermit crabs, below).

open sea anemone

They pull in shells when the tide goes out to protect them from predators and the sun. Others in the tidepools themselves will be open, and look similar to flowers.

Hermit Crabs

There are tons of tiny hermit crabs in the tidepools! It’s fun to watch them scuttle around.

Tiny Crabs

You can see little scuttlers in the tidepools. They are small, and mostly red.

Small Fish

You’ll see lots of tiny black fish darting around in the pools. Once in a while you’ll see a bigger one, too!

Less Common Animals

Sea Hares

These are in the “less common” section only because we usually on spot one or two of these per visit.

sea hare

They are somewhat common, but EXCELLENT at camouflage, and thus a little hard to spot.

Sea Urchins

Small, purple, and spiky, these sea urchins are often hiding on the undersides of rocks.

spiky purple sea urchin

Sea Stars

We’ve only seen two sea stars in all our visits to the tidepools.

They are found in the closest tidepools to the water (aka the farthest out!) and often cling to the undersides of rocks.

What Is There to Do at Cabrillo Beach?

The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (donation based, so free!) would be a great addition to your day at the tidepools.

There is also a great beach for kites, running, and playing in the waves.

A small playground, featuring a climber and swings, is also always a hit with the kids.

child swinging at the beach

If you take all of these activities into account, you can easily spend a whole day at Cabrillo Beach. You can purchase all day parking for just $9.

We know the tidepools at Cabrillo Beach can be intimidating, but trust us- it is well worth the risk! Visiting the Cabrillo Beach tidepools with kids gets easier every time you do it.

And we’re guessing- it’s going to be an activity that you and your family are going to want to repeat- A LOT.

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