San Diego is a feast of family fun with amusement parks, a top zoo and glorious beaches but don’t forget San Diego’s national park site. Like most kids, the National Parks TravelingMom’s kids love animals so exploring a tide pool is a must in San Diego. See what you need to know and what to bring before splashing around in the Pacific, finding barnacles and sea stars with your kids at Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools.

Enjoy Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools

Discover one of the best places to tide pool in Southern California at Cabrillo National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

The San Diego Zoo isn’t the only place to see animals in San Diego. See tiny ecosystems teeming with marine life during low tide. A must for any family trip to San Diego, the Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools offers moments of wonderment when kids spot a star fish or anemones.

Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools

Kids love to discover the tiny ecosystems so don’t miss this unique West Coast experience. Cabrillo National Monument offers one of the top places to tide pool in San Diego.

Tide pools are rocky pools of seawater part of the intertidal area. Meaning tide pools are only visible part of the day at low tide.

Cabrillo National Monument features one of the most protected and easily accessible areas to explore with kids. With several different tide pool zones, families can see more marine animals.

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Tide Pools offers kids the opportunity to observe marine life up close. The giant green anemones and the ribbed limpets are easy to spot even for the youngest tide poolers. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

  • Splash zone—This area is closest to the shore. Find periwinkle snails, acorn barnacles and limpets in the splash zone.
  • Middle intertidal zone—This area is submerged during high tide. Find California mussels, anemones and lobsters in the middle intertidal zone.
  • Subtidal zone—This area is mostly submerged during low tide so wading in shallow water might be nessesary. Find larger fish and star stars during low tide in the subtidal zone.

Bring the water shoes (not flip-flops) and look up the low tide time before you arrive for the most fun.

Enjoy the Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools.

Bring the water shoes and check for Low Tide for family fun at Cabrillo National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Learning History at Cabrillo National Monument

The tide pools are cool but learn some history while exploring Cabrillo National Monument near San Diego.

A young Spanish Conquistador, Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo explored the New World claiming land for Spain. After settling in Guatamala with a family, Cabrillo build a successful business in ship building with skills learned in Spain.

In 1542, Cabrillo set out to sail north of New Spain (Mexico) in the Voyage of Discovery. His ship and crew landed in California at the San Diego Bay before heading farther north, claiming land for Spain.

Harsh conditions forced Cabrillo and his crew to winter on the Channel Islands in California. Where Cabrillo died after an injury though his ship and crew continued on to Oregon during the expedition.

Walk through the Age of Exploration display to learn about the journey. Don’t miss the statue of Juan Cabrillo.

What to do with Kids at Cabrillo

Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument

Learn about the lighthouses of California at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Stop by the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, restored to its 1880s appearance. Learn the role of lighthouses along the West Coast.

Soon after California gained its U.S. statehood, the national government decided to build lighthouses up and down the California coast. With a string of eight light houses, including San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island, the lighthouses improved the safety around the busy shipping ports.

Walk through the life of the Light Keepers and their families. Learn about the type of lenses used to power the lights.

Kids love animals so load them up and discover one of the best places to tide pool in Southern California at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego.

Seasonal Whale Watching

Head to the Whale Overlook to savor the view. Or scan the Pacific Ocean for whales during their winter migration. The interpretive display offers information on the common whale species seen in Southern California.

Hiking at Cabrillo National Monument

With two convenient hiking trails, hike to get around Cabrillo National Monument.

  • Bayside Trail—A 2.5-mile round trip trail features wide, well-groomed gravel trails. Start near the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
  • Coastal Trail—A 1.0-mile round trip trail leads to the tide pool area. Since this trail heads to the ocean, it features steep slopes in areas. Find it near the parking lot.
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge at the Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools.

Earn a Junior Ranger badge at Cabrillo National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Junior Ranger Badge

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center. I found several activity areas and displays for kids in the visitor center.

Where to Eat at Cabrillo National Monument

Since Cabrillo National Monument doesn’t sell food, pack a picnic to enjoy overlooking to the water. Remember the refillable water bottles and fill up at the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center.

Getting to Cabrillo National Monument

Located on Point Loma in San Diego, the peninsula that shelters Coronado Island, the Cabrillo National Monument feels secluded from the rest of San Diego. Its address is 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.

Getting Around Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is open 365-days a year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $15 per vehicle.

Limited parking at tide pools. More parking near Cabrillo Visitor Center. 

Tips from a Traveling Mom

  • Be mindful of the posted signs and know the tide times.
  • The tide pool area closes at 4:30 p.m. 30 minutes before the rest of the monument.
  • Limited parking at the tide pool area and it closes periodically during weekends when the lot is full.
  • All shells and animals are federally protected so shelling is prohibited.
  • Don’t pick up animals in tide pools to investigate.
  • Touch animals with two fingers only.