Bodega Bay Tide Pools: A Window To Another World

Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, Northern California, is a charming seaside hamlet just two hours’ drive from San Francisco. Its spectacular rugged cliffs and strong tides alone make it worth a trip with your camera, and then you have the bonus of excellent hiking trails and gorgeous tide pools packed with a beautiful selection of aquatic life, including anemones, crabs, starfish, molluscs, jellyfish and more. And when you look up from those mini underwater ecosystems, you might be lucky enough to spot a seal or feeding whale too!

Read on for our tips for the best beaches to go tide pooling at in Bodega Bay, what to expect, and how to stay safe, warm and respectful to the wildlife you’re about to meet. When you’re done, have a look at the best tide pools in Santa Cruz for more seaside fun!

When Is The Best Time To Explore Tide Pools In Bodega Bay?

The only time you can explore tide pools is when the tide goes out every morning and afternoon – until then, they are submerged underwater. The pull of the moon and sun on the earth causes two high tides and two low tides in California every day. The best low tides are what we call “negative” – when the tide withdraws furthest from the coast. Negative low tides happen in the early morning in spring, and in the afternoon in late fall and winter. Check low tide times with local surfing, boating and other sea-related businesses, or search online before setting out.

TIP: Try to get to the beach an hour or so before low tide so you get plenty of time to explore while the tide is still going out. You’ll have an hour after the designated low tide, at which point the tide begins to flow back in. Keep your eyes on the waves and the time so you don’t get caught on the beach with the tide coming in.

 Kids tide pooling at Salt Point State Park. Photo by Ben A.

What Can I See In the Bodega Bay Tide Pools?

As we said in the title- there’s a whole other world down there, surviving the varying conditions left by the receding tide. Spiky, purple sea urchins, soft  green sea anemones, bright orange sea stars, and huge bunches of mussels, barnacles, limpets and periwinkle snails (watch where you tread so you don’t crush them!). You can also expect to see a few scuttling crabs traveling over and under the rocks, and hermit crabs with their claws peeking out of their shells. If your pool is deep enough, you might also see some fish- common here are opaleye, sculpin and monkeyface pricklebacks, and, on a truly excellent day, you might come across octopuses and the dragon-like nudibranchs (a sea slug that comes with a variety of colors and “hair” styles)!

A nudibranch photographed on Dillon Beach. Source:

It is amazing to realize that every creature you spot has somehow adapted to survive the ever-changing conditions of their pool homes – sometimes warm and shallow, sometimes colder and deeper, often rough when the tide is coming in, and sometimes increasingly salty as the water evaporates. Each tide pool inhabitant has a role in the tide pool ecology, with both those at the bottom of the food chain, and those the top carnivores!

Tide pool sea life. Source: olympicpeninsula

Tide Pooling Safety Tips

Before we share Bodega Bay’s top tide pool beaches with you, have a look at our safety tips:

  • Enjoy watching, but keep it hands off – Some of the creatures are delicate, while others can pinch or stab you. Let them do their thing and just enjoy the show without touching them. They do not need your help – nature has them right where they are supposed to be!
  • Watch those waves – that tide can sneak in on you, and it can come in fast and cut you off from the land!
  • Wear tennis shoes, surfer booties or sports shoes to prevent slipping or injury – those rocks and shells can be sharp! 
  • Dress for the weather. Bodega Bay beaches can get very windy and cold!

Bodega Bay’s tide pools are a must-see attraction for all ages, and they are too often overlooked by tourists rushing past along the Pacific Coast. Don’t be one of them. Check out our choice of the 6 best Bodega Bay tide pool beaches below.

1. Pinnacle Gulch

Pinnacle Gulch. Source: sonomacounty

Pinnacle Gulch is a short, secluded beach accessed by a 1-mile trail that starts at the south end of Bodega Head. The cliff-bordered beach boasts some distinctive rock formations dotted along the stretch of sand, which, during low tide, create a huge variety of tide pools displaying a plethora of marine life – some say that sea stars here outnumber humans by about 15 to 1! 

Don’t forget to spend some time with your eyes to the blue horizon as you soak up the calm vibes here – you might see humpback whales feeding on schooling fish just offshore!

Don’t Miss…

  • Beachcombing for shells
  • Picnicking
  • Bird watching

Good To Know

Free parking at the trailhead for 15 cars.

The trail is unpaved and sloping (easier on the down than the up), with some steps. It is bordered by coastal shrubs, berries and wildflowers. 

Dogs are welcome but on leashes (deer live in this area).

2. Dillon Beach

Dillon Beach. Photo by Rebekah A.

Dillon Beach is the best of all beach worlds combined: a long stretch of sand to laze and play on, and a rocky side that promises caves, tide pools and adventurous discoveries of the local marine life. 

Dress for the wind – it can get rough here! We recommend taking along one of those pop-up tents and some blankets to wrap up in after you’re done exploring and just want to soak up the beachy vibes.

Don’t Miss…

  • A vanilla and salted caramel cone on sale nearby 
  • Enjoying some quiet time at sunset

Good To Know

A paid but small parking lot is available right next to the beach ($15 at the time of writing). Get there early to secure your space!

Restrooms are available, but they’re the kind you’ll want to get out of fast! 

There’s a small beach store and restaurant on the cliff, or you can set up a portable grill or use their firepits and have a picnic at one of the tables nearby. 

There are cottages you can rent near the beach if you want to stay longer.

Dogs are welcome.

3. Shell Beach

Shell Beach. Photo by Scott H.

A great place to show kids the beauty of the ocean, the black-sand, secluded Shell Beach between Jenner and Bodega Bay offers plenty of sand and surf to play on, and tide pools in both boulder fields and on exposed rocky flats almost overflowing with marine life, especially mollusks! Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for seals which like to swim and rest on the sand here.

Expect picturesque views of the ocean and Arch Rock, and enjoy being sheltered from the winds a little as compared to the other beaches on this list.

Don’t Miss…

  • Beachcombing for shells
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking the Kortum and Pomo Canyon trails

Good To Know

The beach is open from 6am to sunset in summer, and from 8am to sunset in winter.

Parking is free but limited, and it is a walk from the beach. The trail is short (around 0.6 miles), but steep (so non-slip shoes are a must!).

Restrooms are available in the parking area.

Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

4. Schoolhouse Beach

Schoolhouse Beach. Photo by Ashley H.

South of Portuguese Beach, 2.5 miles from Bodega Bay, Schoolhouse Beach is a quiet area surrounded by rocky headlands. Expect stones, not sand, and dress appropriately, as this is definitely not a great destination for those with sensitive feet! 

Rock-poolers will find a dream of discovery on the south side of the beach, with easy-to-access pools that require the minimum of careful scrambling. We suggest you get there earlier as its accessibility makes it popular not only with tourists but with school groups too, their teachers bringing them to learn about the life that thrives under the sea here, among them hermit crabs, sea slugs, and sea stars.

Don’t Miss…

  • Beachcombing
  • Picnicking – grab a picnic table with a view
  • Taking a moment to watch the waves and appreciate the power of nature!

Good To Know

The spacious parking lot is a 5-minute walk from the beach.

There is a rip current in the water here, so be super careful when swimming or walking near the water.

Dogs are allowed on the beach on a leash.

5. Duncan’s Cove

Duncan’s Cove. Photo by Katelyn H.

10 minutes from Bodega Bay, Duncan’s Cove is an excellent spot to stop at along Highway 1, a small, secluded black-sand beach surrounded by cliffs that some say offer a “million-dollar view of the ocean.” 

It offers a great selection of easy-access tide pools at low tide, though the sea there is not so great for much more than paddling in due to the dangerous rip tides that have earned Duncan’s Cove the reputation of being one of the most dangerous beaches in Cali. 

Don’t Miss…

  • Beachcombing
  • Picnicking
  • Watching the sunset from the cliffs

Good To Know

A steep set of stairs takes you down to the beach – tread with care and be prepared for the journey back up!

Picnic tables and benches are available on top of the cliffs where the best views are. 

Dogs allowed in most areas.

6. Salt Point State Park

Salt Point State Park. Photo by Lisa W.

50 minutes from Bodega Bay, Salt Point State Park offers a glorious 6 miles of rocky coastline to explore via some 20 miles of hiking trails – and at low tide it is an absolute treasure trove for tide pool lovers, who can enjoy the incredible sandstone formations which protect the sea critters from the worst of the waves as they wait for you to come visit!

The rocky coastline at the Salt Point State Park. Photo by Kathy V.

Expect to find tide pools packed with crabs, anemones, urchins and sea stars in a variety of different sizes and colors.

Don’t Miss…

  • The level Salt Point Trail, which promises ocean views and intriguing sandstone formations that look like honeycomb (called “tafoni” and created by the ocean salt).
  • The Pygmy Forest and Prairie, which offers an easy looping hike that connects the Central Trail with the North Trail. Appropriately named, the pine, cypress, and redwood trees in the pygmy forest are for some reason miniature versions of the trees in the rest of the forest. Signs along the unpaved trail inform you what you’re looking at, and whether it is poisonous or not! 
  • The Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve is where the divers go to discover the underwater wonders of Salt Point State Park.
  • The Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve has a few easy hikes. Get there in spring to enjoy the rhododendron in bloom.
  • The Phillips Gulch Falls offers a 15-foot waterfall that drops right into the Pacific between Stump Beach and Fisk Mill Cove. Access it via the unmarked Bluff Trail.
The sandstone formations at Salt Point State Park. Photo by Jen F.

Good To Know

The park is open from sunrise to sunset.

There is plenty of free parking available.

Make your first stop at the Salt Point Visitor Center for a map, brochures and more information.

There are two main campgrounds available nearby – Gerstle Cove Campground on the ocean side of Highway 1, and Woodside Campground, located on the east side of Highway 1. The campgrounds have drinking water and restrooms but no showers. Reservations should be made online.

Watch out for ticks and poison oak as you’re walking.

Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times and are not permitted on the trails or on the beaches.

Tide Pool Rules

  • Don’t touch the wildlife! Picking up the tide pool sea creatures or putting them in buckets even for a little time can cause damage or stress that can kill them. They may also be negatively impacted by bacteria or chemicals (from sunscreen, for example) from contact with your skin.
  • Never try to pull on animals that are attached to the rocks, or try to open closed shells.
  • Don’t move rocks as this may disturb or hurt the wildlife hiding underneath.
  • Walk carefully around the tide pools, taking care not to step on plants or sea creatures there.
  • Take a trash bag with you to pick up any litter you find – and always pack out what you pack in!

The Takeaway

The coastal stretch of Bodega Bay, California, has some beautiful sea life to discover at its rocky, tide pool beaches. Remember when you go to dress for the weather and rocky surfaces, tread with care, and respect what nature gifted us – Let’s enjoy it and protect it as we explore and learn!


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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