Laguna Beach Tidepools


When you visit places along the California coast and notice posted signs about Marine Protection Areas, chances are pretty good that you'll find tidepooling and little sea critters in the area, usually on rocks, hidden beneath rocks, or in pools of water washed up in the rocks and sand. That rocky intertidal is the portion of a rocky coastline that is periodically covered or exposed by daily tidal changes.

Unique zones within the intertidal include The Splash Zone, High Zone, Mid Zone and Low Zone. When you visit Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove and Dana Point, be sure to look for the signs about picking up sea life. There can be fines up to $1000 for doing so.

At Treasure Island Beach at the base of Montage Resort & Spa, there are excellent tidepools and often an Educators on-site to provide resource interpretation and love to share their knowledge and joy of the local ecosystem. Educators are at the tidepools year around when the tide is below 2.5 feet and the weather is enjoyable.

In a three year period at this beach Tidepool Educators observed over 127,608 visitors to the Treasure Island and Goff Island tidepools and approached more than 72,737 individuals to share information concerning the rocky intertidal ecosystem and to educate visitors of the good tidepool rules. The Tidepool Educators provided 10,690 educational brochures to interested visitors and 451 tidepool coloring books to young children. For information and questions, visit:

In June 2009, Laguna Ocean Foundation received the Whale Tail Grant from the California Coastal Commission in order to launch a new professional tidepool education program at Heisler Park State Marine Reserve. The program is modeled after the Treasure program where Educators provide on-site resource interpretation to visitors.


The splash zone is above the high tide water line and mainly depends on sea spray and mist for water coverage. Acorn barnacles, sea lettuce and periwinkle snail have all adapted to withstand long periods of exposure in this zone.

The high zone area covered by high tides is where you'll find larger acorn barnacle, limpets and chitons. In Laguna Beach several other species are commonly observed in the high intertidal zone.

The mid zone is evident usually by the appearance of seastar, mussels and gooseneck barnacles. Mussel beds provide the characteristic texture and color for this zone.

The low tide zone contains intertidal and subtidal habitats with large fleshy brown algae and a greater number of species than most other zones.

What to look for:

Hermit Crab – From Alaska to Baja California, Hermit crabs forage on both plants and animals.

Barnacles – Ranging from Alaska to southern California and apparent in the intertidal zone, barnacles attach themselves permanently to the substrate and filter feed with their adapted appendages called cirri.

Rockweed – From British Columbia to Baja California, this species can be less abundant and smaller in size due to trampling in populated areas. This species provides excellent habitat for various gastropods and crab species.

Black Turban Snail – Common in local tidepools, these gastropods have a black-purple shell with four whorls and grow to 1 " diameter. They range from British Columbia to Baja California. These turban snails eat only soft algae, and are believed to live up to 100 years!

Sea Anemone – Common to local tidepools, anemones have evolved numerous adaptations to survive life in the intertidal. These organisms provide an excellent model for children exploring adaptations for dealing with desiccation, consumption, predation, wave exposure.

Shore Crab – From Oregon to Baja, the common crabs can be found underwater in tidepools, hidden in rockweed beds, or deep in the back of a crevice. Their primary food is algae, but they have been known to feed on diatoms, hermit crabs, gastropods and have even been known to catch kelp flies with their claws.

Sea Lettuce – Green algae tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions range from the Bering Sea to Chile. Ulva species have been eaten by various cultures, either served with fish or in light soups.

California Mussel – From Alaska to Baja, the mussel beds form a very important habitat for over 1000 species. Mussels have numerous natural predators, but often are disturbed and collected by humans for bait, aquaria or killed through incidental trampling.

Rough Limpet - Grazers have a home territory, often with a scar or depression made in the rock that they return to after foraging.

Kelp Snail – Found in southern California and Baja, the kelp or norris snail has a bright orange foot.

Chitons – Chitons are mollusks that can be identified by the eight interlocking shells that are held together by an oval of tissue referred to as the girdle.

Coralline Algae – Although an algae, it derived its name due to the precipitation of calcium carbonate from the water column. When exposed to long periods of sunlight these species get bleached white exposing the calcium carbonate.

Gooseneck Barnacle – Found in the mid intertidal are known as a delicacy through out the Mediterranean where they are served with butter.

Purple Sea Urchin – are about the size of a golf ball and are commonly served in Japanese restaurants.

Sand Castle Worm – From Central California to Ensenada, these sessile organisms are filter feeders that open their operculum to capture detritus and plankton with their distinctive black bristles.

Sea Fingers or Dead Man's Fingers– This species is very rich in vitamins and minerals and is often used in soups.

Sea Hare – This marine snail is found from the low intertidal to 60' of water. When disturbed they excrete a purple ink that may confuse, paralyze or offend its predator.

Giant Keyhole Limpet – From Monterey Bay to Baja you'll see limpets in the low intertidal zone. The shells of this limpet were once used as currency by native Americans of southern California.

Opaleye Perch – The opaleye are said to use the intertidal as a nursery, using the shallow area as a protective breeding ground until juveniles reach about 8" when they head to the subtidal. Adult opaleye eat algae while juveniles are known to be carnivorous, feeding on small invertebrates in the tidepools.

Wavy Top Turban – From Point Conception to Baja, turbans are found in the low intertidal to 60' of depth.

State Marine Reserve
Prohibits all extractive activities, "no take" area

State Marine Park - Prohibits all commercial extractive activities and potentially some recreational activities

State Marine Conservation Area - Limits recreational and/or commercial extractive activities

Marine Protected Areas

Corona Del Mar Poppy to Cameo Shores Type C
Crystal Cove Cameo Shores to El Moro Type C
Laguna Beach - Smith Cliffs to Camel Point Type C
Heisler Park Hawthorne Drive north end of Picnic Beach to Broadway Street - Type A NO TAKE
South Laguna Beach Camel Point to Table Rock Drive - Type C
Salt Creek Three Arch Bay to Dana Point Headlands Type C
Dana Point Dana Point Headlands to Jetty Type C
Doheny South of Jetty to south end of Parking Lot Turnaround Type C


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