Malibu’s 5 Most Magical Tide Pools – A Quick Guide!

Rocky tide pools at El Matador Beach in Malibu, covered in algae and barnacles

If we picture the shoreline along the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California, we typically think of tan surfers, pelicans gliding in the winds, and beach tourists tumbling down steep sand dunes. But the beaches of Malibu have a unique surprise up their sleeves! If you are road-tripping through Malibu, you should definitely add these 5 tide pooling locations to your itinerary. Tide pooling is a fun, hands-on experience, and the beaches of Malibu feature dozens of tide pools that are home to hundreds of unique animal and plant species. 

Our 5 top picks for Malibu

The best tide pool locations are all located to the west of Malibu. They are all situated within 15 minutes of one another. In theory, you could visit them all on the same day, but in practice, you will likely lose track of time when strolling around looking for flamboyant oceanic critters!

Here is a map of our five favorite tide pools in Malibu

1. Leo Carrillo State Beach

Leo Carrillo is one of the most popular family beaches in Malibu, as it is the complete package! It has a vast white sand beach with fantastic swells for surfing, majestic sea caves, and vibrant tide pools. It also has a visitor center, convenient parking, and a tunnel that lets you traverse the Pacific Coast Highway safely. Despite the fantastic amenities and crowds, this beach still has tranquil, off-grid vibes. The sun tends to set right above the Channel Islands, which creates dramatic silhouettes!

Technically speaking, Leo Carrillo State Beach consists of two beaches, the north beach and the south beach. These beaches are separated by a rocky outcrop called Sequit point. The north beach is much bigger and more picturesque, but the best tide pools are situated on Sequit point and the south beach. The tide pools at the south beach are relatively small, but there are dozens of them, and they are easily accessible (no climbing required, they’re right by the road!).

Animals and plants you can spot here

  • Hermit crabs
  • Anemones
  • California spiny lobsters
  • Mussels
  • Barnacles
  • Starfish
  • Cowrie snails
  • Tadpoles 
  • Many colorful fish we couldn’t identify

Don’t stay too fixated on what’s happening beneath your feet. Remember to look up once in a while to spot flocks of pelicans! Look towards the horizon to see otters, dolphin pods and whales! Also, check out the Sycamore trees, as they are often occupied by gangs of (aggressive) squirrels.

Amenities

  • Lifeguard tower
  • The restrooms were very dirty
  • No showers
  • Picnic tables
  • Visitor center
  • Marked hiking trails
  • Surfing rental

Additional info

  • Check out the official site of the State Park
  • Dogs are only allowed on leashes on the north beach, but there’s a dedicated dog beach within walking distance
  • Many visitors choose to camp here, as there is a lot to explore, but you should reserve a spot in advance
  • You can also camp in a tent for $10 per tent. But the squirrels have a habit of chewing through tents, while the rightful owners have flocked to the beach

Other recommended activities

  • Exploring the two majestic sea caves near Sequit point.
  • Squeezing through small coves, tunnels, and rock arches.
  • Collecting beautiful seashells
  • Biking through the State Park
  • Star gazing
  • Taking photos of the sunset from atop lifeguard tower 2
  • Surfing
  • Swimming

Getting there

Leo Carrillo State Park and its beaches are only a 15-minute scenic car ride away from Malibu. On the way there, we also recommend making a pit stop at Point Dume (It’s also one of our tide pooling spots – just scroll down!) 

You can park for free along the Pacific Coast Highway, but these parking spots are limited. The official parking lot is not free, and you can pay for a ticket using an app or the on-site machine. Parking costs $3 per hour or $12 for the entire day per vehicle. The entrance to the beach itself is completely free. The parking lots open at 8 am and close at 10 pm. Same for the campgrounds.

2. El Matador Beach

El Matador is another public beach and slightly closer to Malibu than Leo Carrillo. The beach is divided into three sections. All are very popular with photographers, as there are monoliths (the size of houses!), numerous sea caves, and rock arches scattered across the beach. 

Unfortunately, the walk from the parking lot involves a steep climb, so we suggest skipping this one if you want to bring bulky items, such as umbrellas or beach chairs. People with mobility issues should also steer clear of this one, or perhaps simply admire the views from the highway.

The real action happens on the northern flank of the beach. This is where all the larger caves and tide pools are located.

Animals and plants you can spot here

  • Mussels
  • Clams
  • Barnacles
  • Maroon starfish
  • Orange starfish
  • Anemones
  • Sea slugs, sea hares, and various other mollusks

Beyond the tide pools, you might also see gentleman birds, dolphins, and harbor seals. Between December and May, you stand a good chance of spotting orcas or gray whales. Humpbacks usually visit between May and November.

Amenities

  • Porta potties are available in the parking lot, but they are poorly maintained and don’t have running water.
  • Lifeguard tower
  • Picnic tables

Additional info

  • El Matador is part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. Here is its official site
  • Dogs are forbidden
  • Alcohol is prohibited

Other recommended activities

  • Picnicking
  • Swimming
  • Bird watching
  • Windsurfing/Surfing
  • Wedding photoshoots (call (818) 880-0358 to obtain a photography or wedding permit)
  • Scuba Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Bodyboarding

Getting there

El Matador Beach can be reached within just a few minutes from Malibu. Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Malibu, which costs less than $2. 

The official parking lot here is small and can only accommodate around 70 cars. It costs $3 per hour per vehicle or $16 for the entire day. You have to pay using the machines or this parking app. You will get a $1 discount on the day pass if you use the app to pay.  (relatively expensive!). If the parking lot is full, or you’re traveling on a budget, consider just parking on highway 1 for free.

From the parking lot, you will still have to walk for around 15 minutes to reach the beach. The entrance gates shut at 5 pm sharp. Once you’re at the beach, simply head west to reach the caves and tide pools (and photobomb a few wedding photo ops along the way!)

3. Point Dume 

Point Dume is a sizable bluff viewpoint that was made famous by the Iron Man movies, where it served as the fictional home of Tony Stark. In addition, Point Dume features plenty of hiking trails, rocky coves, steep sand dunes, and a patch of tide pools you can climb down to!

There are two tide pool areas around Point Dume. The first one is situated just south of the famous viewpoint in a large field of rocky outcrops. You will have to climb down to reach this tide pool. Once you’re there, don’t get too distracted by all the colorful mollusks. Always keep an eye on the ocean, as sneaker waves are a daily occurrence here. The pools here are the largest we’ve ever seen in Malibu, you could swim in them if you want to! The second area is in the north and is less spectacular. The pools there are mainly home to mussels and barnacles, and less active animals.

Animals and plants you can spot here

  • Sea hares
  • Octopus
  • Mussels
  • Barnacles
  • Aggregating Anemones
  • Starfish
  • Solitaire Anemones
  • Sandcastle worms
  • Brown and red algae, as well as a few species of seagrass
  • Chitons
  • Limpets
  • Snails
  • Spiny lobsters and other crustaceans

Pods of dolphins, sea lions, whales, and pelicans often frequent the area as well.

Amenities

  • Bathrooms are well-maintained and have running water. They’re located in the parking area. There are no porta potties on Point Dume itself
  • Lifeguards are on duty
  • Well-maintained observation decks, boardwalks, and stairways

Additional info

  • The stairs up to the overlook have sharp, rusty railings. Be careful!
  • These stairs can also be slippery when it’s raining. So better wear good shoes with an anti-slip surface
  • Some locals say the tide pools here have lost their spark and biodiversity due to increased human presence
  • Dogs are forbidden as they would greatly disturb the local wildlife
  • Trash bins are installed every few hundred feet
  • The viewpoint is not wheelchair accessible and also not stroller-friendly
  • Smoking is forbidden
  • As are kites
  • As is alcohol
  • Some people choose to get married here. If that’s your wish, you will have to plan well in advance and obtain a permit from the rangers. 

Other recommended activities

  • Hiking (especially during spring, when the native wildflowers are blooming!)
  • Rock climbing
  • The whale watching is world-class here because of the high vantage point from the bluff. 

Getting there

You can reach Point Dume and the State Park within 5 minutes from downtown Malibu. It is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway. The parking area on Cliffside drive is entirely free but very small and can only accommodate 8 cars. If you park on the curve, you will risk a $70 fine. The police patrol and cite illegally parked cars here daily. There are also 6 free handicap parking spots available.

The paid parking lot is much larger. It costs $8 per day per vehicle and $10 on public holidays. They do not always accept credit cards as the pay machines are often out of order. Sometimes the attendants only accept cash payment.

From the parking lot, it will take around 10 minutes to hike atop the bluff viewpoint. The entire area closes down at 8 pm.

4. El Pescador State Beach

El Pecador State Beach is family-friendly and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is the westernmost of the Robert Meyer Memorial State Beaches. This beach and the trail are clean and well-maintained, yet more off-the-radar for tourists. Thus, it is much more secluded than other tide pooling destinations on this list. Nevertheless, you won’t have it to yourself, either. You can also walk around the rocks on the western flank during low tide to reach a secret beach called El Sol

Once you make your way down the large bluff, you will reach a cove that is surrounded by a few dozen tide pools (only if you’re visiting during low tide, of course) at both ends of the beach. The tide pools here are very underrated; while they are not large, they are teeming with a healthy variety of marine life. The lush kelp forest just offshore, could be one reason why the tide pools here are so incredibly diverse.

Animals and plants you can spot here

  • Mussels
  • Hermit crabs
  • Starfish
  • Sea anemones
  • Brittle stars
  • Sea snails
  • Barnacles
  • Sea urchins
  • Rare chitons
  • Lobsters
  • Various Algae

Looking beyond the tide pools, you may be able to scratch the following animals off your bucket list: California brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, sandpipers, seagulls, sea otters and sea lions. 

Amenities

  • Wheelchair-accessible entrance
  • Quite old and poorly maintained porta potties covered in graffiti (only at the top of the trail, not down by the beach)
  • Picnic tables
  • No food stalls
  • No lifeguard towers
  • No boardwalks

Additional info

  • Forbidden on the beach premise:
    • Dogs
    • Alcohol
    • Campfires
    • Fireworks
  • Be careful when swimming. There is a deceivingly strong undercurrent. If you want to swim, swim towards the southern flank, as it is less rocky there.
  • Many ants are on the sand, so bring a good beach towel and cover your snacks in sealable Tupperware or Pyrex dishes!

Other recommended activities

  • Bird watching
  • Sunbathing
  • Beachcombing
  • Birdwatching
  • Picnicking 
  • Bodyboarding

Getting there

You can park for free along the Pacific Coast Highway Northbound, but be very careful when crossing the highway. Alternatively, you can park in the official parking lot for $3 per hour or $10 for the entire day til sunset. You have to pay at the machine, which takes cash as well as credit cards.

The beach is open from dawn till dusk. The walk from the parking lot down to the beach is short, but quite steep and technical.

5. Lechuza Beach

Lechuza Beach is another tranquil beach that is within walking distance from El Matador. It is also very popular with newlyweds who hire a photographer. The beachfront properties give this beach an intimate vibe and will make you feel like you’re trespassing. The security personnel sometimes lie to beach goers, stating it is a private beach. It is definitely not, and you have every right to be here.  It is much more easily accessible than El Matador, but lacks the usual beach facilities. The best time to visit this beach is during July and August.

The beach’s tide pools are nothing to write home about. There are only a handful, and those are quite small.

Amenities

  • No lifeguards on duty
  • No trash cans
  • No parking
  • No lifeguards
  • No food stalls
  • Limited opportunities for shade

Additional info

  • Ever since El Nino hit in 2016, the beach has been partially washed out. So there are quite a lot of rocks right underneath the water’s surface. Watch out for those if you’re swimming there, and perhaps come during high tide if you plan on swimming here.
  • Otherwise, though, we recommend coming during low tide, as the beach will be much bigger and the tide pools will be exposed.
  • Another issue when swimming or surfing is the massive kelp forest which starts around 400 feet away from the shore.
  • Dogs are prohibited, but this is rarely enforced
  • Bring mosquito spray if you’re staying for sunset, as there are plenty of nasty bugs looking for dinner!
  • Alcohol is forbidden, and this rule is enforced by rangers.

Other recommended activities

  • Swimming
  • Surfing
  • Volleyball
  • Jogging
  • Flying kites

Getting there

It only takes around 10 minutes to drive here from Malibu. Riding your bike from Malibu will take half an hour, but the roads are steep. Once you’re there, don’t start looking for the official parking lot. This beach does not have a designated parking lot, you will have to park along the residential streets. 

There are three ways to access the beach:

  1. From the intersection of Broad Beach Road and Bunnie Lane
  2. From the intersection of Broad Beach Road and West Sea Level drive
  3. From the intersection of Broad Beach Road and East Sea Level drive

Simply follow the signs that read Coastal Access to get to Lechuza Beach. The stairs are quite steep and may be less than ideal if you have to carry bulky objects or have bad knees.

Tried-and-tested Gadgets for Shoreline Shenanigans!

The following gear has shaped all our tide pool adventures.
We consider many of these gadgets “buy it for life” and all of them are a worthwhile investment to have a fun and safe tidepooling experience.

Stay Dry!

Vibrams provide the durability and grip required to conquer craggy, slippery rocks. Warning: Once you go Five Fingers, you’ll likely never go back!

Ever since a rogue wave caught me off guard and corroded my phone, we have used these cases whenever we go tidepooling. They work for most phones.

This dry bag is from the same brand. It’s a lot more durable than other dry bags and even has a 1-year warranty. You likely won’t need the 5-liter size.

Safe fun for kids!

It is easy to catch a bruise when tidepooling. This rash guard protects your kids if they want to sit down to take a rest. You will also need less sunscreen 😀

Vibrams are too expensive as they will grow out of them fairly quickly. Saguaros are much cheaper and come in tons of colors.

This life vest is much more stylish than those ugly orange ones your hotel lends out. The size recommendation is based on the child’s weight, which we found very precise.

To complete your Pokédex!

Cheap snorkeling masks are dangerous as they trap CO². So invested in these . Still look as good as new after ~80 snorkel trips, as they are easy to clean.

We like making memories, but aren’t avid videographers. So we didn’t splurge on a GoPro, but bought this one instead. The best: it works using voice commands!

This book offers detailed sketches and actionable advice that will elevate your tide pooling experience! It will make kids feel like biologists and biologists feel like kids again!

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