The 7 Best Tide Pool Beaches To Discover In Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara has nearly fully recovered from the 1969 oil spill which almost decimated the beaches and local wildlife. Tide pools are incredibly fragile ecosystems, but nature has done wonders to repair them in Santa Barbara, meaning the beaches here once again boast critter-packed pools to entertain and educate all the family.

Before we begin exploring Santa Barbara, let’s take a look at what a tide pool is for those new to the term, what you can expect to see in them at the Santa Barbara beach coves, and how to keep you and the tide pools safe for others to enjoy too.

What Is A Tide Pool?

Tidepools are pools of seawater left over when the tide pulls back from the coast – a time called low tide. This water settles in spaces between and on rocks, becoming a microworld for all manner of sea creatures. Tide pools have different habitat zones – ‘spray zones’ higher up, where air-breathing limpets, mussels, snails and crabs live, and ‘low tide zones’ where the underwater life hangs out, among them sea urchins and fish.

What Can I See In The Santa Barbara Tide Pools?

The Santa Barbara tide pools are home to masses of fun and strange creatures, and on your adventure, you can expect to find mussels, limpets, crabs, hermit crabs, snails, sea slugs, barnacles, sea cucumbers, anemones (Solitary and Giant Green), abalones, chitons, sea hares and urchins. You’ll also find a lot of different types of seaweed and small fish. Bonus points if you can spot sea stars and octopuses!

Don’t forget to look up during your exploration for the birds that also thrive on the beach – among them herons and pelicans- and out to sea, seals, whales and dolphins swimming by.

When Is The Best Time To Explore Tide Pools In Santa Barbara?

You can only explore tide pools at low tide – at other times they are completely submerged underwater. The lowest tides happen between November and March, but you should check with this Santa Barbara tide chart before you go, because low tide times vary through the year.

We suggest you get to the beach around one hour before low tide and then take an hour or so to explore before the tide starts coming back in – a dangerous time, especially when the beach is known for killer “sneaker waves!” You’ll also want to get there earlier if you’re planning to enjoy a sunset after your tide pooling – not least to find yourself a good parking spot! Santa Barbara’s beaches are renowned for their beautiful Pacific-view sunsets.

Tide Pooling Safety Tips

The best tidepoolers are kind, open-eyed and ready to discover the magical underwater world with care. Wear sports or surfing shoes so as not to cut yourself on sharp rocks, and watch where you tread, so as not to crush or hurt the critters you are there to see. Look, but don’t touch – if you take the animals from their pools or pull them from the rocks, they will be exposed to both predators and the hot sun and could die. 

Before we share Santa Barbara’s top tide pool beaches with you, check out our useful safety tips:

  • Enjoy watching the tide pool critters do their thing, but don’t touch them. Some are delicate and can be easily hurt, others might pinch or stab you with tier claws or spikes. Note- tide pool sea life does not need to be removed from the pools and taken back to the sea, no rescue is needed – nature has them exactly where they are supposed to be, and the sea will come back to them in no time at all!
  • Watch out for the tide turning – waves can sneak in on you and wash you away. It is a sad fact that many tide poolers have lost their lives to the power of the Pacific.
  • Don’t wear flip-flops. Choose tennis shoes, surfer boots, or sports shoes with a good grip so you don’t slip or cut your feet on the rocks. 
  • Dress for the weather. It can get cold, and you will get wet!

Now, let’s get exploring our 7 favorite Santa Barbara tide pools.

1. Carpinteria State Beach

Carpinteria State Beach. Photo by dkayrenick

A scenic beach which is popular with tidepoolers, beachstrollers and dog-walkers, Carpinteria State Beach comes with two warnings – the rocks here tend to be covered in algae and so quite slippery, so tread with extra care (also so as not to crush the shell critters), and you will likely end up with tar on your feet (take a rag and coconut oil to get it off).

The tide pools are on the left side of the beach and make for some great exploring at low tide. When the tide’s in, this beach has plenty to keep you occupied, with activities on the boardwalk and a summertime seal sanctuary.


Looking for a camping spot along the california coast? Carpinteria State Beach is the perfect beach side campground. Just make sure to book in advance bc sites fill up quick! You can also have a campfire and if you’re from this area you know how rare that is when camping. #california #carpinteria #camping #california

♬ Stupid Love – Lady Gaga

Don’t Miss…

  • Visiting the museum
  • Renting an e-bike
  • Visiting the seal sanctuary area (closed in winter)
  • Ping pong on the boardwalk
  • Rock climbing
  • Dolphin watching
  • Beachcombing
  • Playing frisbee

Good To Know

Parking costs $10 (pay at the gate before entering), or park for free on Linden Street.

Bathrooms are available at the state park facilities.

Hungry? Restaurants and shops can be enjoyed on Linden Street.

Lifeguards are on duty.

RV camping is available nearby.

2. Tar Pits Park

The view down on Tar Pits Beach. Photo by southerncaligirl72.

15 minutes from Santa Barbara on US-101, Tar Pits Park is aptly named for its natural asphalt lakes, where you can see tar bubbling out of the earth as you walk. Trails there lead down a steep cliff to a small beach where you’ll find a treasure trove of tide pools. Keep your eyes open for seals and white herons!

Don’t Miss…

  • Hiking the trails
  • Surfing
  • Spotting birds and seals (take along some binoculars!)
  • Exploring the natural tar pits

Good To Know

Official parking costs $10, or you can try to find a free spot on Linden Street.

Use coconut oil to get the tar off your skin if needed.

Don’t bring your dog during seal pup season. 

3. Coal Oil Point

Coal Oil Point. Photo by suz8643

A 20-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara followed by a gentle walk along Devereux Beach will bring you to the Coal Oil Point peninsula, part of the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve. You’ll likely find yourself among the UCSB students who live in Isla Vista – they love this beach for its surfing during high tide and tide pool offerings during low tide, when the pock-marked rocky shelf is revealed, teaming with sea life. 

Don’t Miss…

  • Spotting the protected Snowy Plovers and Black-tailed Jackrabbits
  • Catching dolphins, sea lions and sea otters on film!
  • Surfing
  • Hiking
  • A picnic at sunset

Good To Know

There is ample parking a 10-minute walk from the tide pools. 

No dogs allowed.

4. Rincon Point (Bates Beach)

Bates Beach (North Rincon Beach). Photo by Sylvie T.

Bates Beach (also known as North Rincon Beach), south of Hotel Milo in Carpinteria, is a 1.5-mile, crescent-shaped cove which at low tide offers a plethora of rocky tide pools packed with sea anemones, right next to the US-101. Be sure to pay attention to the rocks as well – there’ll be jaspers, agates, and even fossils in some pools. 

The airspace above the beach is also a draw for people-friendly pelicans and paragliders alike! (Yes, it can get windy here!)

Don’t Miss…

  • Paragliding
  • Surfing
  • Horseback riding (in the off season)
  • Beachcombing for rocks and driftwood
  • Biking along Bates Road
  • A picnic at sunset

Good To Know

There is plenty of free parking nearby, and from there, you can take the stairs or wide path to the beach.

There are no restaurants nearby but there are picnic tables on the cliff. Bring a picnic and pack out what you pack in. 

There are restrooms and showers.

There is a naturist sunbathing area half a mile north of the beach.

Note- you may see some sticky black tar pollution. Don’t touch it! If it gets on your feel, rub it off with an old rag and coconut oil.

Dogs are welcome on the beach.

5. Haskell’s Beach

Haskell’s Beach. Photo by Inna I.

Just 20 minutes from Santa Barbara, Haskell’s Beach is a wonderful secluded stretch of rockland near the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, isolated yet just five minutes’ walk from the parking area. You can explore tide pools of all shapes and sizes, home to anemones, crabs and mussels.

Don’t Miss…

  • The informative signs about the local flora and fauna on the trail down to the beach
  • Visiting the Coronado Butterfly Preserve
  • Riding the nearby MTB trail

Good To Know

Parking is free, and the walk to the beach is less than five minutes on a hard-packed, wide trail through a lovely eucalyptus grove. The tide pools are on the right side of the beach.

Bring bug spray, or be prepared to be swarmed!

Note- you may see some sticky black tar pollution. Don’t touch it! Use coconut oil to remove it from shoes and skin.

Dogs are allowed on the beach.

6. Arroyo Burro County Beach Park

Arroyo Burro County Beach Park. Photo by dragonflytw65

10 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara, Arroyo Burro County Beach Park (known to the locals as Hendry Beach or simply Pit) offers a vast tide pool area bursting with marine life to discover at low tide, as well as plenty of sand to walk and play on. There are leashed and leash-free dog zones, so you can find a patch of peace and enjoyment whatever your preference.

Don’t Miss…

  • Boogie boarding
  • Flying a kite
  • Visiting the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
  • Playing frisbee

Good To Know

Open 8am – sunset. 

Parking is free, but the lot tends to fill up fast, especially before sunset.

Hungry? There are plenty of restaurants and snack bars around. There is also a nice, grassy picnic area if you choose to bring your own.

There are showers and bathrooms.

Lifeguards are on duty.

There is a clothing-optional area on the left side of the beach

Note: It does get very windy here!

Dogs must be kept on a leash but there is a marked off-leash area of the beach for your fur babies to play on.

7. Montana De Oro

Montana de Oro State Park. Photo by Garyddd73

Montaña de Oro State Park offers 8,000 acres of protected and picturesque coast in San Luis Obispo County. It offers some unbeatable, short hiking trails for great afternoons out – and either side of that walking and photography opportunity: tide pool exploration aplenty! The entire ocean bluff base here is made up of rock crevices and small pools packed with marine life for you to investigate at low tide.

Don’t Miss…

  • Exploring the caves
  • A picnic
  • Bluff Trail 
  • Corallina Cove, Quarry Cove, and Grotto Rock

Good To Know

Park at Spooner’s Cove and follow the cliff trail to it and other great tide pool beaches, reachable by concrete stairs with handrails.

There are picnic tables.

The bluff path is mobility friendly.

You can camp there.

The Takeaway

Santa Barbara has some great tidepooling opportunities to offer fans of accessible marine life- thriving communities of all your favorites tucked into coves and rocks. Enjoy the trails and cliff views before and after for the perfect day out in Santa Barbara.

Tide Pool Rules

  • Don’t touch the sea life! Picking up the tide pool creatures or putting them in buckets even for a few minutes can hurt them or cause stress that might kill them. They may also be affected by bacteria or chemicals (from sunscreen, for example) on your skin.
  • Never try to pull off sea creatures stuck to the rocks, or try to open closed shells.
  • Don’t move rocks, as this may hurt the creatures trying to hide underneath.
  • Tread carefully as you move around the tide pools, trying not to step on the plants or creatures living there.
  • Take a trash bag with you to pick up any litter you find – and always pack out what you pack in!

What Else Can I Do In Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara has a ton of nature begging to be explored – from hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains to strolling along the Pacific cliffs or sea-kayaking around its coves. The 9.3-acre Coronado Butterfly Preserve includes Devereux Creek, woodlands and meadows, and is right next to the biggest Monarch butterfly overwintering groves in California – visited by up to 1000 people every weekend during the butterfly season (November – February)!Grab a boat ride to watch some whales, take a surfing lesson or try rock climbing. If it’s more tide pooling you’re after, check out our articles on tide pools at Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz and Bodega Bay!


While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the most up-to-date information, we always recommend you do your own research before you travel to a particular area, and check conditions with official sites. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!

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