Santa Barbara’s Stunning Tide Pools (Our 8 Favorite!) 

A rocky beach in Santa Barbara with seagulls hunting for food on a quite evening with calm waves

Santa Barbara suffered a major oil spill in 1969 that completely decimated the local wildlife, including the animals living in tide pools. The beaches and their tide pools were entirely covered in dark, crude oil. Intertidal pools are incredibly fragile ecosystems, but nature’s ability to repair and recover never ceases to impress. Nowadays, the tide pools dotted across Santa Barbara’s beaches are again filled to the brim with flamboyant wildlife.

Best time to visit tide pools near Santa Barbara

No matter where a tide pool is located, it is only visible during low tide when the ocean recedes. Unfortunately, the time of low tide varies strongly. To time your trip correctly, check this tide chart for Santa Barbara. Also, beware that parking is limited at some beaches, so if you plan on catching the sunset after exploring the tide pools, you may want to get here earlier in the afternoon to ensure a parking spot.

What animals and plants can you find in Santa Barbara’s tide pools?

The biodiversity in these pools is so great that we should really flip this question and ask which ones you can’t find. Sea stars are surprisingly hard to find for some reason. We spotted the following during our road trip through California:

Plants:

  • Various Anemones, such as the Solitary Anemone and the Giant Green Anemone
  • Different types of red and green algae

Animals:

  • Gooseneck Barnacles
  • Crustaceans, such as Hermit Crabs, Decorator crabs, Lined Shore Crabs, and Lobsters
  • Sea cucumbers
  • Octopus
  • Sea hares
  • Abalones
  • Various Mussels
  • Chitons
  • Northern Clingfish

Surrounding the tide pools, you should be on the constant lookout for rare birds, herons, pelicans, dolphins, and seals.  

8 best tide pools in Santa Barbara

The following beaches are great tide pooling locations. Either because of the plethora of marine animals or the unique geomorphology of the rocky outcrops. Some of these locations feature smaller tide pools, but are conveniently reachable from downtown Santa Barbara.

1. Coal Oil Point Tide Pools

Coal Oil Point is a small peninsula next to Devereux Beach. The peninsula is on a gentle slope and has medium-sized boulders. During low tide, you will find the peninsula is mostly made up of many little tide pools. The rocky outcrops surrounding the tide pools are covered in various species of algae. The reserve was named coal oil points due to the large amounts of oil deposits along its coast.

The beach is also a hang-out spot for UCSB students, who enjoy surfing or searching the tide pools for various marine critters. Speaking about the animals: The municipality has done an excellent job in preserving the biodiversity of the area, and the increase in human presence. Here is what you can expect to find in the small tide pools of Coal Oil Point and the area surrounding it:

  • Small acorn barnacles
  • Mussels (almost entirely covered by the aforementioned barnacle!)
  • Octopus
  • Sand crabs
  • Snowy Plovers
  • On the boulders surrounding the tide pools:
    • Snowy Plovers (a protected bird species)
    • Black-tailed Jackrabbits (also protected)
  • In the Ocean:
    • Dolphins
    • Sea lions
    • Sea otters

Getting there

The Coal Oil Point reserve is located in Isla Vista. It’s a 20-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. You cannot bring your dog here (all the rabbits would drive him nuts!). The best place to park is near this location: 

We never had difficulties finding a parking spot here. From the parking lot, it’s a 10-minute walk to reach the tide pools. We recommend checking out Devereux Beach along the way.

Other recommended activities

  • Surfing
  • Hiking
  • Trail-running
  • Bird-watching
  • Picnicking during sunset

2. Rincon Point

Rincon Point is also referred to as Bates Beach by the locals. It is part of the Rincon Beach County Park, which features 1.5 miles of pristine, well-looked-after coastline. Even during the weekends, there are usually not too many people here. You can spend hours exploring the little tide pools here. The critters you’ll find in the tide pools are nothing special, but the rocks definitely are. You may find rare jaspers, agates, and even fossils in the pools. The variety of sea anemones is also impressive. Some people have snuck in at night to take pictures of these anemones and sea sponges under black light. The tide pools are very shallow, so you can’t swim in them.

Another highlight here are the pelicans, which are not shy at all! Para gliders also like to hang out in the reliable updraft above the cliffs. Some people also enjoy beachcombing here or collecting driftwood for their next carving project. Dogs are allowed on the beach, but we don’t recommend tide pooling with a dog.

There are no eateries on the beach, but showers and toilet stalls are available and well-maintained. There are also plenty of picnic tables on top of the cliff. A fantastic spot to watch the surfers struggle and the epic sunset (beware: the area closes down right after sunset!)

There are also some downsides to tide pooling at Rincon Point. Some tide pools are polluted with strips of tar. The proximity to US 101 is also a problem here. It can be noisy, and you may smell exhaust fumes occasionally. 

The winds here can be quite strong, and the waves may splash you while tide pooling, so we recommend dressing in multiple layers.

Getting there

You can reach Rincon Point State Beach Park within 20 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara. The parking lot is large and completely free. It never reaches its capacity, and there is also a restroom right next to it.

Location of the parking lot near the tide pools: 

There are two easy ways to get down to the beach. You can take the stairs or the wider path on the opposite side. 

Other recommended activities nearby

  • Paragliding
  • Surfing
  • Horseback riding (only in the off season)
  • Beachcombing
  • Riding along the devoted bike path along Bates Road
  • Naturist sunbathing at the clothing-optional area half a mile north of the beach

3. Haskell’s Beach

This beach is located in an isolated cliff stretch near the butterfly preserve. The beach itself is picturesque and secluded. It reminded us of Cornwall in England. There are tide pools of all shapes and sizes here. They are mostly home to anemones, crabs, and some mussels. The beach also has a rich history, as the Native Americans used to live here. On the way to the beach, there are plenty of informative signs that educate visitors on the local flora, fauna, and history.

Unfortunately, like many other beaches in the area, tar pollution can be a problem, but usually, the tar washes up on the sand and not in the tide pools. Another downside is the large swarms of flying bugs, which can get increasingly annoying as the sun is about to set. The beach is also dog-friendly.

Getting there

It’s a 20-minute drive from Santa Barbara. Parking is completely free, and the walk to the beach is less than five minutes. When you arrive at the beach, you have to walk right in order to reach the tide pools.

Recommended activities nearby

  • Walking your dog
  • Visiting the Coronado Butterfly Preserve
  • Riding the MTB trail further south

4. Leadbetter Beach

With regard to tide pooling, there isn’t much to write home about at this beach. There are a handful of small tide pools that are worth checking out, though. We still included Leadbetter Beach in this article, as it is within walking distance from downtown Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, the beach is plagued with sewage and seaweed. The beach is dog-friendly, and there are plenty of public BBQ places.

In the tide pools at Leadbetter Beach you can find anemones, mussels, barnacles, chitons, limpets, sea hares, octopi, and a ton of hermit crabs!

Getting there

This beach is right in Santa Barbara, and you can walk here from Santa Barbara Pier. The parking spot is paid but cheap. SBCC students can park here for free with the student parking permit.

Recommended activities nearby

  • Visiting the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
  • Joining the Frisbee players
  • Eating in the restaurants along the beach

5. Arroyo Burro County Beach Park

Just a 7-minute-drive drive from the aforementioned Leadbetter beach, you will find Arroyo Burro County Beach Park. The locals call it Hendry Beach or simply Pit The beach there is life guarded and has everything you could wish for, for a perfect beach day. A grassy picnic area, a dog park, fancy restaurants, cheap takeout eateries, showers, a spacious parking lot, and a vast patch of tide pools rich with marine life. The animals you may find include mussels, starfish, hermit crabs, sea hares, anemones, and octopi. It gets windy, so bring earplugs or a beanie to avoid your ears hurting afterward.

Getting there

You can get there within 10 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara. The beach opens its doors at 8 am, and lifeguards will leave during sunset at around 6 pm. The parking lot is free, but can get totally full. If you come here just before sunset, you likely won’t be able to find a parking lot. This is where you need to park:

Recommended activities nearby

  • Clothing-optional bathing on the left side of the beach
  • Watching the dogs play during sunset
  • Boogie boarding
  • Flying a kite

6. Tar Pits Park

Tar Pits Park is home to natural asphalt lakes and trails leading to a small beach underneath a steep cliff. Many people come here just for the tide pools, but there are also plenty of stunning animals beyond the pools, such as white herons and seal pups. Don’t bring your dog along during seal pup season. 

Getting there

You will need to drive 15 minutes from Santa Barbara on the US-101 to get there. Compared to other locations on this list, parking here is costly and will set you back $10. But if you’re on a budget, you can park along Linden street for free.

Other recommended activities

  • Surfing
  • Spotting birds and seals with binoculars
  • Exploring the natural tar pits
  • Trail running

7. Carpinteria State Beach

This is perhaps the most popular beach on this list. It is mostly frequented by campers and foreign tourists. Some people also come here to explore the tide pools. The tide pools here have plenty of sea life, but the floor is slimy and sticky, so we recommend you wear some old shoes or swimming shoes with anti-slip soles. The tide pools are located on the left flank of the beach.  We were in a rush that day, so didn’t have time to thoroughly explore the tide pools. Thus, we do not know which animals can be found here.

Getting there

Parking here costs $10, which you need to pay right at the gate before entering the lot. Ask the park guard for directions to the parking lot near the tide pool. This will save you 15 minutes of walking.

Other recommended activities

  • Day drinking at the 2 microbreweries
  • Visiting the museum
  • Renting an e-bike
  • Visiting the seal sanctuary
  • Rock climbing
  • Dolphin watching
  • Beachcombing (plenty of sand dollars!)
  • Joining an ultimate frisbee match
  • RV camping

8. 1000 Steps Beach

1000 steps is within walking distance from Leadbetter Beach (#4 on this list). The beach is incredibly slippery due to a mix of algae and mud. It is very secluded and hardly ever too crowded. The tide pools are inhabited by sea hares, fish, anemones, octopus, hermit crabs, jellyfish, and some freaky, alien-like barnacles with tentacles! There are only 2 decently large tide pools. 

There isn’t much to do on this beach besides enjoying the sheer beauty of it. You can’t go for a jog here or play soccer due to the slippery floor.

Getting there

This location is nothing special, but it’s reachable within 10 minutes from downtown! It’s around 200 steps to the bottom from Shoreline Street. Parking is street side, and we had to spend a good 10 minutes until we secured a spot.

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