What Makes the Sonoma Coast Tidal Pools an Educational and Biological Bounty

VSConsider it nature’s ultimate scavenger hunt – a fun, free, family-friendly way to spend time outdoors on the Sonoma Coast.

If you prefer, you can call tidal pooling a crash course in marine biology fieldwork, without the Ph.D.

The activity revolves around the tiny puddles left in the rocks when the ocean retreats at low tide. And with some of the lowest tides of the year over the next few weeks, it’s the perfect time to get out and explore.

You don’t need much to tide properly – sunscreen and hard-soled shoes are pretty much the only essentials. The rewards, however, can be spectacular. Ocher, purple and fuchsia starfish! Sea anemones! Hermit crab! Sea snails! Gooseneck Geese! Colorful nudibranchs! On a particularly good day, you might spot an octopus, sea lion or whale feeding.

Kristina Stanton, park program supervisor for Sonoma County Regional Parks, said the tidal pooling provides a window into another world.

“We have such a diversity of life here in Sonoma County,” said Stanton, who is based in the parks office at the Sebastopol Community & Cultural Center. “Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when looking into a tidal pool.”

All about the place

The most important part of any tidal pool trip is also the most obvious: where to go.

Luckily for us, the Sonoma Coast is full of beaches and coves that reveal another world when the tide goes out.

Perhaps the best spot: Pinnacle Beach, a small strip of beach just south of Bodega Bay. The beach is accessible via the Pinnacle Gulch Coastal Access Trail, a 1.5 mile trail that begins in a residential area near the golf course. The reward for the hike: a half-mile stretch of beach that’s essentially a giant tidal pool during the lowest of low tides.

Even though the beach is crowded (there are about a dozen spots in the parking lot at the trailhead), starfish outnumber humans by about a magnitude of 15 to 1. In recent weeks, a marine mammal-obsessed journalist and her daughters have spotted humpback whales feeding on schools of fish just offshore.

Another epic spot: Salt Point State Park, which has an entire section of rocky shoreline that’s exposed at low tide.

This is where Healdsburg resident Chris Herrod took his two teenage sons to tide.

On a visit in 2020, Herrod and his boys scrambled to some of the rocks south of Horseshoe Bay Cove to find tidal pools with crabs, sea urchins, anemones and dozens of starfish in a variety of different sizes and colors.

“Salt Point is full of miracles, and the boys were very grateful for the trip there,” Herrod said. “We will definitely be back again and again. »

Additional options for local tide pools include Miwok Beach (which is accessible from North Salmon Creek) and Schoolhouse Beach. Shell Beach also has good tide pools, although Stanton said the beach tends to get crowded because it’s so easily accessible.

when should we go

Generally speaking, you can do tidal pooling at just about any low tide.

The best tides, however, are the lowest low tides in a given month. At this time of year, these are called “negative” tides, and the tide level is negative or lower relative to mean sea level for a particular region.

In the next few weeks, the negative tides are extreme; there will be negative tides around Bodega Bay early in the morning May 26-29.

In June and July, the negative tides are even more dramatic.

The best way to prepare for low tides is to consult a tide chart; these are available online for free, and most shipping service stores sell localized versions at low prices. Tide charts look like mountain ranges – when looking for low tides, the deepest valleys are the ones that usually give the best grouping of tides.

Stanton advises that tidal poolers arrive at their desired location about an hour before low tide for the area, as the tide will go out anyway. She said the best tidal pooling usually lasts until about an hour after designated low tide, when the tide begins to flow.

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