A Guide to Exploring the Seattle Area Tidal Pools

Sea stars and ocher anemones cling to surfaces like bedrock and dock pilings. (Photos by Natasha Dillinger)

What makes a day at the beach even better? Spend it with some of Puget Sound’s most beautiful wildlife, of course! Summer’s lowest tides occur during the day, making this the perfect time to take your little explorers into the water.

[ More fun at the beach: 8 great beaches to explore at low tide | 5 Seattle-area family beach hikes | Find the best Seattle beach for your family ]

Children explore the low tide in the background as a marbled starfish clings to the pilings of the ferry dock at Brackett’s Landing in Edmonds

Tidal pools around Seattle: tips and tricks

Before heading to one of our rocky beaches, here are some tips and resources to make your trip fun and safe for your family and our beloved sea creatures:

Check the tide schedule. I love the NOAA Tides and Currents website where I can search by date and location and even plot the tides for an entire month. Negative numbers represent tides below sea level and are the best time to go to the beach. Low tides will occur around the same time in much of the Seattle area, but be sure to adjust the location if you are heading to the Olympic Peninsula where low tides tend to occur earlier .

Dress for success. Rain boots or sturdy closed-toe sandals will make exploring our rocky beaches and slippery seaweed more comfortable. Don’t forget sunscreen and water. Keep a change of clothes, a towel, and hand sanitizer in the car to clean up afterwards.

Love our marine life with care. Like an egg, tidal pool creatures are tough but fragile. Use a wet finger or two to gently touch anything you spot. If you pick up a stone to look under, gently put it back. Avoid detaching creatures from their homes as this may permanently damage or kill them. Tread carefully to avoid running over anyone hiding in seagrass or sand.

Leave pets at home. Not only are they not allowed on Seattle beaches, but their waste deposits toxins in the water and the paws can damage the tidal pool environment.

ID, please. I wonder what this red squishy creature hanging from a rock is (hint: it could be a spotted or painted anemone)? You can use an app like iNaturalist (iPhone owners might want to ask Siri) or bring along a guide like this. Local organizations, like the ones listed below, also have beach naturalists to guide you. Check their websites for dates and locations.

Some species of tidal pools are bioluminescent and will glow under a UV flashlight if you can visit at night (usually in winter).

Bonus Tip: When low tide occurs at night, try bringing a UV flashlight with a wavelength of 365 nanometers and briefly shining it on any sea creatures you find. Some of them (like anemones) are bioluminescent and will glow under your light!

Best Places for Tidal Pools Around Seattle

Ready to spot some tidal creatures? Here are some of the best tide locations to try:

A white-lined dirona nudibranch at Brackett’s Landing in Edmonds.

Brackett Landing

Location: 50, railway avenue in Edmonds

Facilities: Free parking limited to 3 hours and toilets

What we like: The area between the ferry dock and the north pier is easily accessible from the parking lot (or walk a little further from the parking lot on the street when it’s full). The large boulders at either end are home to ocher starfish and painted anemones galore. Walk slowly along the shoreline to see if you can spot crabs, small fish, and nudibranchs.

Carkeek Park

Location: 950 NW Carkeek Park Road in Seattle

Facilities: Free parking (the upper level is much closer). You’ll have to go down a long flight of stairs to the beach, so be sure to stop at the restrooms near the playground before heading out.

What we like: Take advantage of the sandy areas closer to the stairs to aggregate anemones and clams or head north along the beach towards the rocks. A particularly large one (you’ll know when you see it) is home to ocher starfish, sea cucumbers and anemones.

A starfish wraps its arms through a moon snail necklace at Ballard’s Golden Gardens Park.

golden gardens

Location: 8498 Seaview Place NW in Seattle

Facilities: Free parking. Park at the north end of the lot for the closest access to the tidal pools. The toilets are adjacent to the volleyball courts and the playground.

What we like: While you’ll have to walk north past turtle pond and around a bend to reach the best spots, there’s plenty of bedrock (the surface that sea creatures attach themselves to) to hold an army of sea ​​creatures. This makes it a good place to visit on summer days when you want to get away from the crowds. Keep your eyes peeled for rough clams spitting water from the sand and marbled starfish clinging to the rocks.

Constellation Park (aka Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint)

Location: 3400 Beach Drive SW (west of Seattle)

Facilities: Free street parking (local access only signs make this a low traffic area). No restrooms so plan ahead or pack the potty in the car.

What we like: This is a prime destination due to the large amount of rock dwellings for tide pool life. This is one of the few places we’ve seen feather duster worms in Seattle (watch out for their black and red “plumage” which gives them their name) in addition to the usual starfish and anemones. Watch the Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist page for the occasional outing to the winter nighttime tide pool here.

Seahurst Park

Location: 1600 SW Seahurst Park Rd in Burien

Facilities: Free parking. Try to find a spot on the lower level for little legs or take a short walk from the upper parking lot. Restrooms are available near the playground and there are picnic shelters for lunch.

What we like: The Coast Salish tribes have used this area for thousands of years to gather clams, so you can expect to see their water spouts spurting from the sand. Watch for crabs slithering through the seagrass and peer carefully under moon snail collars (their gray rings look like trash at first glance) for nudibranchs. The playground here is right by the beach, so you can reward little marine biologists with playtime when the tide comes back.

Titlow Park

Location: 8425 Sixth Avenue in Tacoma

Facilities: Free parking with toilets and a large playground.

What we like: Starfish and other critters love hanging out on and around the old pier pilings on the beach, so make this your first stop when you get to the beach. South Sound families will enjoy guided walks by the Tacoma Nature Center for easy discovery at low tide.

Tidal pools around Seattle

Bring rain boots and your sure-footedness on the seaweed-covered, rocky terrain in places like the Salt Creek Recreation Area.

Salt Creek Recreation Area

Location: 3506 Camp Hayden Road in Port Angeles

Facilities: Free parking for day use with vaulted toilets near the tidal pools and flush toilets in the campsite (which also has a playground). Head to the northwest corner of the wooded campground for the stairs down to the beach.

What we like: Also known as Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary, this one is a bit of a trek. Due to the rocky terrain covered in mussels and seaweed, it is best suited for confident children and parents who can pack them into a carrier. But it is a true tide pool star place! We spotted octopus, otters, sea urchins, giant green anemones, blood stars and nudibranchs. I highly recommend including it in your Olympic Peninsula road trip itinerary if your visit coincides with low tide (the rocks are submerged at high tide).

Posted on June 10, 2022

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