Best Northern California Tide Pooling
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is one of the best options near SF — it's exceedingly accessible.
But you’ll want to time your visit when the pools are exposed, that is, when the tide is below 1 foot. Tides vary based on the season, the moon’s cycle, and the exact time of day, so plan in advance!
To find out what the tides are today, click the image at the left or follow this link: Princeton/Half Moon Bay tide tables. Point to a date for a list of tide heights and times. Click a date to get a detailed view to see when the tide will be lower than 1 foot, for the best tidepooling conditions.
Here's a PDF guide to the Fizgerald Marine Reserve with photos and descriptions of many of the creatures you'll find.
It's always better when you know what to look for!
If you have more time, Salt Point State Park is a great site (alongside the Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve), with the addition of crashing waves and really cool rock formations + nearby camping.
Salt Point SP
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In Southern California, Laguna Beach actually has some great rocky pools at low tide and a greater likelihood of finding sea hares and sea cucumbers.
I learned most of what I know about the ocean from my training for becoming a volunteer docent at the Aquarium of the Pacific. They have so many educational resources available online now!