What makes a day on the beach even better? Spending it with some of Puget Sound’s most beautiful wildlife, of course! Summertime’s lowest tides happen during daylight hours, making it the perfect time to take your little explorers down to the water.
[ More fun at the beach: 8 great beaches to explore at low tide ]
Tide pools around Seattle: tips and tricks
Before you head out to one of our rocky beaches, here are some tips and resources to make your trip fun and safe for your family and our beloved sea creatures:
Check the tide schedule. I love the NOAA Tides and Currents website where I can search by date and location and even plot a whole month’s worth of tides. Negative numbers represent tides below sea level and are the best time to hit the beach. Low tides will occur around the same time across much of the Seattle area, but be sure to adjust the location if you’re headed out to the Olympic Peninsula where low tides tend to occur earlier.
Dress for success. Rain boots or closed-toed sturdy sandals will make exploring our rocky beaches and slippery seaweed more comfortable. Don’t forget sunscreen and water. Keep a change of clothes, a towel and some hand sanitizer in the car to clean up afterwards.
Love our sea life with care. Like an egg, tidepool creatures are tough but fragile. Use one or two wet fingers to gently touch anything you spot. If you pick up a rock to look underneath, replace it gently. Avoid detaching creatures from their homes as it could permanently damage or kill them. Walk carefully to avoid crushing anyone hiding in the eel grass or sand.
Leave pets at home. Not only are they not allowed at Seattle beaches, but their waste deposits toxins in the water and paws can damage the tide pool environment.
Identification, please. Wondering what that red squishy creature hanging from a rock is (hint: it might be a mottled or painted anemone)? You can use an app like iNaturalist (iPhone owners may be able to ask Siri) or bring along a guide like this one. Local organizations, like those listed below, also host beach naturalists to guide you. Check their websites for dates and locations.
- Seattle Aquarium (beaches from Shoreline to Federal Way)
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (Owen Beach)
- Tacoma Nature Center (Titlow Beach)
- Harbor Wildwatch (Gig Harbor)
- Port Townsend Marine Science Center (Kinzie Beach)
- Environmental Science Center (Seahurst Park, Burien)
Bonus tip: When low tide happens at night, try bringing a UV flashlight with a 365 nanometer wavelength and shining it briefly at sea creatures you find. Some of them (like anemones) are bioluminescent and will glow under your light!
Best places for tide pools around Seattle
Ready to spot some tidepool creatures? Here are some top tidepooling locations to try out:
Location: 50 Railroad Ave. in Edmonds
Facilities: Limited free 3-hour parking and restrooms
What we love: The area between the ferry dock and the north jetty is easily accessible from the parking lot (or walk a bit further from street parking when it’s full). The large rocks on either end host ochre sea stars and painted anemones galore. Walk slowly along the shoreline to see if you can spot crabs, small fish and nudibranchs.
Location: 950 N.W. Carkeek Park Road in Seattle
Facilities: Free parking (the upper level is much closer). You’ll have to walk down a long flight of stairs to the beach, so make sure you stop at the restrooms near the playground before heading out.
What we love: Enjoy the sandy spaces closer to the stairs for aggregating anemones and clams or head north along the beach toward rocks. An especially tall one (you’ll know it when you see it) plays home to ochre sea stars, sea cucumbers and anemones.
Location: 8498 Seaview Place N.W. in Seattle
Facilities: Free parking. Park at the northern end of the lot for the closest access to the tidepools. Restrooms are adjacent to the volleyball courts and playground.
What we love: While you’ll have to trek north past the turtle pond and around a bend to reach the best spots, there is plenty of rocky substrate (the surface on which sea creatures attach) to hold an army of sea creatures. This makes it a good spot to visit on summer days when you want to spread out from the crowds. Keep your eyes peeled for rough piddock clams spitting water out of the sand and mottled sea stars hanging on the rocks.
Location: 3400 Beach Dr S.W. (West Seattle)
Facilities: Free street parking (“local access only” signs make it a low traffic spot). No restrooms, so plan ahead or pack the toddler potty in the car.
What we love: This is a top destination due to the large amount of rocky dwellings for tide pool life to cozy up. It’s one of the few spots we’ve seen feather duster worms in Seattle (watch for their black and red “plumiage” that gives them their name) in addition to the usual sea stars and anemones. Watch the Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist page for the occasional winter night tide pool outing here.
Location: 1600 SW Seahurst Park Rd in Burien
Facilities: Free parking. Try to find a spot on the lower level for little legs, or take a short walk from the upper parking lot. Restrooms are available near the playground and there are picnic shelters for lunch.
What we love: Coast Salish tribes have used this area for thousands of years to gather clams, so you can expect to see their jets of water spouting from the sand. Watch for crabs skittering through the eel grass and peep gently under moon snail collars (their gray rings resemble trash at first glance) for nudibranchs. The playground here is right next to the beach, so you can reward little marine biologists with play time when the tide comes back in.
Location: 8425 Sixth Avenue in Tacoma
Facilities: Free parking with restrooms and a great playground.
What we love: Sea stars and other creatures love to hang out on and around the old pier pilings on the beach, so make these your first stop when you hit the beach. South Sound families will appreciate the guided walks by the Tacoma Nature Center to facilitate low tide finds.
Location: 3506 Camp Hayden Road in Port Angeles
Facilities: Free day use parking with vault toilets close to the tide pools and flush toilets in the campground (which also features a playground). Head to the northwest corner of the forested campground for stairs leading down to the beach.
What we love: Also known as the Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary, this one is a bit of a trek. Due to the mussel- and seaweed-covered rocky terrain, it’s best for kids with confident footing and parents who can pack them in a carrier. But it is a true tide pool all-star location! We’ve spotted octopus, otters, sea urchins, giant green anemones, blood stars and nudibranchs. I highly recommend including it in your Olympic Peninsula road trip itinerary if your visit coincides with low tide (the rocks are submerged at high tide).
Published June 10, 2022
More in Seattle’s Child: