Exploring Tide Pools

Want a fun and free activity to do this summer? Head to the tide pools! Tide pooling is the perfect activity to get your dose of fresh ocean air while discovering some of the coolest creatures Puget Sound has to offer.

So, what are tide pools anyway?

Tide pools occur when the tide retreats and leaves seawater trapped in indentations in the sand or rocks. Tide pooling is an outdoor activity which involves going and exploring these ecosystems during low tide when the tide pools are exposed and accessible, enabling you to observe all the previously hidden habitat. Tide pools are always full of surprises because the low tides that result in tide pools aren’t an everyday occurrence, which creates an ever-changing and unique experience. Nothing ever stays the same in a tide pool.

So before you strap on your tide pooling shoes and grab your marine life encyclopedia, check out these 6 tide pooling tips to maximize your tide pool fun.

1. Check the tides

This may seem obvious, but you can’t explore tide pools if the tide isn’t low enough. Before you venture off, be sure to check when the tide will be low. When looking at tide predictions, you want to find numbers below zero. The lower the number, the lower the tide, so negative numbers represent better times where you are more likely to see more creatures.

When planning your tide pool adventure, try to get to the beach 30 minutes before low tide so you have ample time to explore without the tide coming in and covering the pools (and you).

2. Scope out the best spots and be patient

The intertidal zone is the perfect place to find countless varieties of inhabitants such as sea anemones, sea stars and barnacles.

When roaming the tide pools, your initial footsteps may scare some of the creatures into hiding. If you wait patiently without moving for a few minutes, you may find that the empty tide pool in front of you wasn’t so empty after all. If you’re still having a hard time finding any creatures, try looking under larger rocks, as these are prime hiding spots for small critters. Make sure you turn the rocks back over as you found them, otherwise the critters underneath could get dried out by the sun, or scooped up by a hungry seagull! Be very gentle when turning the rocks back over to avoid crushing the creatures underneath.

3. Tide pool with friends – When it is safe to do so!

There are a few group events offered at a number of beaches in the Tacoma area. Going to group events is a fantastic and easy way to meet new people and make new friends to tide pool with.

Here are a couple opportunities to learn more about tide pools in the South Sound area:

4. Safety first (for both you and the tide pools)


Don’t get your bare skin too close to these sharp barnacles. (Titlow Beach)

  • Tide pools can be very slippery due to seaweed and algae, so bring appropriate footwear.
  • Always be mindful of where you are stepping so you don’t step on any animals, or get cut on hard barnacles (bring some bandages and disinfectants just in case).
  • Touching a crab or a jellyfish puts you at risk of getting pinched or stung (you’re better off not touching them at all).
  • Make sure to keep track of the tide so that you have time to get back to higher ground. Wet rocks are a good indicator of where waves are crashing, so stay safely away from this “water line.”

5. Tide pool etiquette


Touch the sea cucumber with one finger. (Titlow Beach)

  • Be kind to the creatures by wetting your finger first before touching them gently.
  • Do not remove anything from their habitat. Ever. Picking animals up will cause stress and in some cases death, so it’s best to observe them from a safe distance.
  • If you happen to find something under rocks, put the rocks gently back where you found them so the animals won’t be exposed to birds or the sun, or stepped on by another tide pooler on accident.
  • Look at the weather forecast beforehand and wear sunscreen accordingly.
  • Bring a towel to clean off your feet and hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
  • If you want to preserve the experience, take photos, not souvenirs. Take a photo instead of removing a vital component from the ecosystem! Resist the temptation to pick creatures up, or to take them home as a souvenir. This includes shells and rocks!
  • If you find any trash during your tide pool outing, pick it up and properly dispose of it. These ecosystems are fragile, so help protect and preserve them by disposing of any trash you find.

6. Explore tide pools outside of Tacoma

The Seattle Aquarium offers a beach naturalist program throughout the summer informing attendees about the tide pool inhabitants. The locations for this program include Richmond Beach, Carkeek Park, Golden Gardens, South Alki, Lincoln Park, Seahurst Saltwater State Park, Olympic Sculpture Park pocket beach, Des Moines Beach Park, Redondo Beach and Black Island.

Here are some other great places in Washington for tide pool exploring:

  • Dash Point, Tacoma
  • Constellation Park, Seattle
  • Richmond Beach Saltwater Park, Shoreline
  • Mukilteo Lighthouse Beach
  • Seahurst Park, Burien
  • Double Bluff Beach, Whidbey Island
  • Saltwater State Park, Des Moines
  • La Push Beaches
Check out common tidepool creatures here, or download this simple guide to take with you to the beach!