Tidepooling is one of the most magical activities in Mendocino for both children and adults. The intertidal zone of the Mendocino Coast is home to an abundance of life, and peeking into their world is an incredible experience. Beneath the water you’ll find starfish, anemones, rock crabs, octopi, rock fish, seals, sea urchins, and more. You can spend hours picking your way along the rocks to discover each new world with its own collection of wonders, but while you’re tidepooling its best to keep some helpful tips in mind.
First and foremost, check the tides and the weather before you embark. The best time to tidepool is around low tide, and you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to explore before the tide starts rolling in. If the sea is stormy, you may want to come back another day, and if you do decide to explore, use extreme caution. No matter what the weather or ocean is like, always keep an eye on the sea – even when it appears calm, sleeper waves can still form and catch you off guard.
Wear suitable footwear for walking on sometimes slippery rocks, and make sure it’s thick enough to resist the often sharp barnacles and mussels that cover the rocks. The rocks can be a dangerous place, especially when they are slick – try to avoid taking routes that would pose a serious risk to your health if you did fall. Take your time picking your way over the rocks, and test a foothold before moving on – seaweed can be surprisingly slippery. There are plenty of fantastic tidepooling opportunities to be had without putting yourself in danger, and although it can be tempting to push further and further along a specific route, you need to exercise caution when dealing with the Pacific Ocean.
Also, use good etiquette when you’re searching for sea life. Keep in mind that tidepool life is often extremely fragile, and you should take care not to disturb it. Animals such as anemones or mussels, which attach to rocks, should be left where they are – removing them can seriously injure them. Similarly, you’ll want to be checking under rocks for hidden life, but take care when lifting the rocks, and always return them to where they were when you’re done – leaving a rock with life on it flipped over can kill the life. Finally, it goes without saying, but these creatures should be left where they are – the tidepool environment is very specific, and they will quickly die if you take them home.
With all that said, tidepooling is an incredibly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in Mendocino! The top tidepooling location on the Mendocino Coast is MacKerricher State Park, just north of Fort Bragg. These tidepools have a rich collection of marine life, and dozens of spots that are easily accessible for kids of all ages. Beyond MacKerricher, however, almost any beach location on the coast has tidepooling opportunities at a sufficiently low tide – the Mendocino Headlands have a good tidepooling spot at the far western bluff, Van Damme State Park has good tidepooling on the southern end of the beach, and even Russian Gulch has its share of small pools.
If you’re more serious about your tidepooling, we highly recommend taking along a field guide. One of the best is A Quick Field Guide to Tidepools of the Pacific Coast. This is great for identifying the types of starfish you’re seeing, as well as helping you hunt for the incredible and beautiful collection of nudibranchs that can be found on the Mendocino Coast.
Have fun – and please share any photos you might take!