4 Best Tide Pools Within 20 Minutes From Carlsbad

Silhouette of photographer taking pictures of the Terra Mar tide pools during sunset

Southern California is spoiled with world-class tide pooling destinations, such as Point Loma or La Jolla. But if you are in Carlsbad and looking for a more off-grid tide pooling experience, there are 4 tide pools that are only a short drive away. Remember to check the tide chart though and only come during low tide!

Overview

We urge you to check out the following beaches with tide pools. They are easily accessible (except for some steep stairs), have ample parking, and also offer plenty of other fun activities.

Do you want to go the extra mile(s) to explore the best tide pools SoCal has to offer? Then, by all means, go to Point Loma or La Jolla right away! You can drive to both within 45 minutes from downtown Carlsbad.

1. Terra Mar Beach

The tide pools on Terra Mar Beach are the only ones located directly in Carlsbad. Terra Mar Beach is a beautiful, tranquil beach that is primarily frequented by surfers. Locals also enjoy coming here for long walks along the shore during sunset, as this beach is a lot less crowded than others nearby. The beach also used to have fierce cliffs up to a decade ago, but unfortunately they have eroded since. 

Whether you are coming for the tide pools or not, you should definitely come here during low tide, as the beach is incredibly narrow during high tide. During low tide, the northern side of the beach is generously dotted with small tide pools. 

Animals and plants you can spot here

  • Crabs
  • Star fish
  • Sea anemones
  • Octopuses
  • Lobster Shells
  • Small lobsters
  • Shrimp

If you’re a tidepooler, as well as a birdwatcher, you should look out for Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Willets, Whimbrels and Brown Pelicans. They often hunt from the tide pools or the slender curvy rocks nearby, where the stairs are.

You may also spot squirrels, dolphins, and even whales. Sharks have apparently also been spotted in the waters.

Amenities

  • There are no toilets. Your closes option is the porta potty at Cannon Park near the defunct power plant
  • There are also no showers or any type of running water
  • No lifeguards
  • No food stalls

Additional info

  • The high tide here can be rough and dangerous
  • Some beach goers complain about the trash
  • Dogs are allowed on this beach
  • At night, you might spot bioluminescent waves (very rare though!)

Other recommended activities

  • Longboard surfing is very popular at this beach, because of the small, but long, drawn-out waves
  • Normal surfing (suitable for beginners and pros alike)
  • Taking wedding or engagement photos on the steep stairs to the beach

Getting there

It takes 7 minutes to drive here from downtown Carlsbad. There is no dedicated parking lot for the beach, but usually, parking in the neighborhood across Shore Drive is not an issue on weekdays. It’s also free.

Once you make your way down the steep flight of stairs, head north to find the tide pools!

2. Swami’s Beach

Swami’s Beach in Encinitas is a rocky beach that is a lot less touristy than nearby Moonlight Beach. The palm trees scattered across the beach area are exceptionally tall and provide excellent shade. The beach is very popular with surfers. Locals like coming here for sunset, sitting on the majestic boulders, making music, and people-watching. The beach is less suitable for walking, jogging, or sunbathing due to the craggy rocks. 

The tide pools here are to the north quite average, but still worth the drive from Carlsbad. You will see all the common inhabitants, such as mussels, various fish, hermit crabs, sea anemones, and if you’re lucky, the occasional octopus. The tide pools are right beneath the stairs and thus easily accessible.

Amenities

  • Restrooms at the parking lot are well maintained
  • Showers are located halfway down the stairs
  • Stairway is not stroller- or wheelchair-friendly
  • Around a dozen picnic tables
  • A grassy area
  • Lifeguard on duty
  • No BBQ facilities or fire pits

Additional info

  • Dogs are allowed
  • Sometimes the beach and its tide pools can be covered in seaweed, which unfortunately also attracts bugs and makes surfing a lot less fun. Bring your mosquito spray!
  • The beach also has a homeless problem at times.

Other recommended activities

  • Surfing
  • Bodyboarding
  • Kayaking
  • Jamming with the local musicians during sunset
  • Walking to nearby beaches
  • Visiting the koi pounds at the meditation center nearby

Getting there

You can park your car right by the vista spot, but this onsite parking lot is relatively small. Alternatively, you can park along the streets nearby. Both options are completely free. The tide pools are located on the right side of the beach. Just follow the stairs!

3. Tide Beach Park

Tide Beach Park is a large cove with many small caves, tide pools, and a white sand beach situated in front of a large concrete cliff. It is right next to Fletcher Cove, but is typically less crowded (even on weekends). It is a secret favorite amongst the local dog owners, and they’re very protective of it. In fact, they make tourists believe there are sting rays lurking in the shallow water, even though there is no evidence of that. The beach is also very clean but has a problem with seaweed from time to time.

Animals and plants you can spot here

  • Star fish
  • Crabs
  • Sea anemones

Pods of dolphins often swim close to shore. 

Amenities

  • Lifeguard on duty
  • A freshwater shower where you can stop and wash your feet before heading to your car
  • Bench on top of the stairs

Additional info

  • Some dog walkers don’t clean up after their dogs, so watch your step!
  • At times, the beach can be covered in Seaweed, which attracts flies and big black bugs. Consider bringing mosquito spray!
  • The water is cleaner than it looks, the black sand makes it look dirty when it’s not.

Other recommended activities

  • Surfing
  • Jogging
  • Sunbathing
  • Exploring the small caves
  • Strolling through the park nearby and watching the sunset from there

Getting there

It takes less than 20 minutes to visit the tide pools at Tide Park if you’re coming from Carlsbad.

The paid parking lot usually doesn’t reach capacity. If you’re on a budget, you can park in the residential area for free, but sometimes it’s hard to score a parking spot there.

From the parking lot, you will have to walk down very steep stairs. Avoid coming here, if you’re pregnant, have knee problems, or need to carry bulky objects, such as sunbeds or coolers.

4. Del Mar North Beach

The North Beach in Del Mar is also called Dog Beach by the locals because dogs are allowed to roam free here except during the summer month. The main section of this beach is to the north of the lagoon of the San Dieguito River. The beach there is vast, flat, spotlessly clean, and features volleyball courts, as well as tide pools.

The tide pools are located near the colorful sand cliffs on the north side. If you come here with a dog, please keep him on a leash when exploring the tide pools to avoid stressing the wildlife in the pools. 

Amenities

  • Volleyball courts
  • Trails
  • Viewpoint
  • Restrooms
  • Lifeguard tower

Additional info

  • Dogs are allowed (June 16th to Labor Day on-leash and Labor Day to June 15th off-leash)

Other recommended activities

  • Volleyball (don’t need to bring your own net)
  • Dog walking
  • Surfing near the river mouth and the northern reefs
  • Trail running to the James Scripps Bluff Preserve viewpoint.
  • Fishing, Dog Walking, Surfing
  • Getting there

You can get here in less than 20 minutes from Carlsbad. You can park at Camino del Mar as well as 29th street. It costs $3 per hour or $15 for the entire day. The machines take cash as well as cards. Typically, finding a parking spot is not a problem, even on weekdays. The beach gets a bit crowded in the morning, during sunset, and during low tide when people explore the tide pools.

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