If a sea side hunt is what you’re after, tide pools are the answer. It’s where your budding marine biologists can peek under rocks and sift through the sand to find sea stars, crabs and anemones in their natural environment. So grab your bucket, rain boots and sunscreen, it’s time to play detective, ocean-style!
photo: Maria Lamarca Anderson
Know Before You Go: Be sure to check the tide charts before you head out. The best time to go tide pooling is during a low tide with a negative number. In Seattle, any time of the year is good, as long as the tide is low enough. Psst…winter months tend to get lower low tides and the beaches are less crowded, but air temps can be chilly, so be sure to bundle up.
Constellation Park - West Seattle
Editor's note: The West Seattle bridge is currently closed.
While Alki may be the popular beach in West Seattle, Constellation Park is where all the cool kids hang out to look for sea anemones, marine worms and more. Just south of the Lighthouse at Alki Point, this stretch of shoreline makes some of the best tide pools in the city. Not only will you find plenty of watery shallows along the rocky beach, but there’s also an old pipeline that shows itself at low tide. It’s where sea stars, moon snails and other creatures have made their homes. Best part? When your little marine biologists are done exploring, you can hit Alki for some lunch and sandcastle building. Don’t forget the beach toys for this excursion!
Beach Dr. S.W. & 63rd Ave. S.W.
Seattle, WA 98116
Golden Gardens Park - Ballard
Editor's note: The parking lot at Golden Gardens remains closed.
Bring all the beach toys to this sandy north end oasis because it isn’t just for tide pools. Mini marine biologists will love turning over rocks and eying the shallows on the lookout for new, sea-worthy friends. Once their quota’s met, they can break out the shovels and buckets and get to work on an intricate system of rivers and dams that might just hold when the tide comes in. Add in a trip to the awesome pirate-themed playground and you'll see why this place is a sunny day family fave for a reason!
8498 Seaview Pl. N.W.
Seattle, WA 98117
Richmond Beach Saltwater Park - Shoreline
If your mini marine biologist also doubles as a train-conductor-in-training, be sure to check out this north end beach for some double-whammy explorer action. There are plenty of crabs and sea anemones to be found among the stubby, aging pier pilings that only come out at low tide (sometimes it’s hard to see the pilings through the purple masses!). But for many kiddos, the trains that rumble through will hold just as much wonder. You can watch them up close from the pedestrian bridge that connects the parking lot to the beach. Or watch them recede in the distance from the beach, while you make time with some creatures from the deep. Add in a trip to the playground and you’ve got a perfection daycation getaway!
2021 N.W .190th St.
Shoreline, WA 98177
Mukilteo Lighthouse Beach - Mukilteo
Watching the ferries shuttle back and forth may give exploring mushy marine animals a run for the money as the top attraction at this community beach. Either way, heading north is a win-win on a sunny day. Along the rocky shore, be sure to check around an old pipe that’s sure to have creatures lurking inside. It’s right next to the boat launch, which is another hot spot for cool creatures who love hanging out on the pier as much as we do! Fair warning, parking in this part of town is limited, especially on sunny weekends, so plan to get your Jacques Cousteau on at a less obvious time, if possible.
609 Front St.
Mukilteo, WA 98275
Seahurst Ed Munro Park - Burien
This south end park is a picnic-worthy destination for explorers of all ages. When the tides are low, wander the beach in search of watery holes where tiny crabs and little fish swim in such camouflage that it often takes a moment before tiny eyes can spot them. When the wiggles strike, take a break on playground or walk one of the two maintained trails that extend on along the shoreline. And if the sun gets to be too much for your Seattle munchkins, take cover in the trees on the nature trail. It’s the best of both worlds.
1600 S.W. Seahurst Dr.
Burien, WA 98166
Double Bluff Beach - Whidbey Island
Editor's note: Parking is currently limited at this beach.
When your furry family members want in on the action, head to Double Bluff Beach on Whidbey for the day. It’s definitely a tide pool hot spot, but it’s also a massive off-leash dog park. When the tides are out, it’s pretty much a walk-onto-the-beach-and-start-exploring kind of situation for little sea life seekers. And with miles of shoreline to explore there’s room to spread out and expand the search when each little pool’s curiosity quotient has been met. Along with hermit crabs and sunflower stars, Double Bluff Beach is a driftwood fort builder’s dream. Kiddos will love constructing their own or laying claim to an abandoned fort deserted long ago. This is one for the whole fam!
S. Double Bluff Rd. & E. Shore Ave.
Freeland, WA 98249
Saltwater State Park - Des Moines
Maybe it’s the artificial underwater reef. Maybe it’s the creek that runs out to sea. Whatever it is, there’s something a little magical about the tide pools at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines. This is definitely a popular beach at low tide, and it pays to wander a little, away from the main drag, to find just the right spot to perch and observe. There’s plenty for rocky shoreline for everyone! And the upside to being on the flight path for SeaTac is letting little aviators gawk at all those jumbo jets as they fly overhead. Don’t forget your Discover Pass to visit this state park.
25205 8th Pl. S.
Des Moines, WA 98198
Point Robinson Lighthouse Park - Vashon Island
Just a quick ferry ride away, Point Robinson Beach on Vashon is a great place for sandy tide pools and rocky ones. When the waters take a hike, kiddos will delight at the many animals they’ll find lurking in these two different environments. And with a few trails and a lighthouse added into the mix, it makes the ferry ride totally worth it. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring the shore on this island.
3705 S.W. Pt. Robinson Rd.
Vashon Island, WA 98070
Beach Naturalist Programs
Editor's note: The Seattle Aquarium's Beach Naturalist programming is currently on hold for the summer. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's Explore the Shore dates are currently cancelled.
Taking part in the Seattle Aquarium's Beach Naturalist programming is an easy way to enhance a typical tide pool afternoon. Program volunteers take to the local beaches during the summer to answer questions and help families find cool stuff in tide pool nooks and crannies. They are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to finding and learning about all the creepy crawly sea life you’re bound to see. They also help teach the next generation of environmental stewards about the delicate balance of Puget Sound wildlife. The naturalist programs run during the summer at Richmond Beach, Carkeek Park, Golden Gardens, South Alki, Lincoln Park, Seahurst Park and Saltwater State Park. Just look for the red flags stationed at those beaches. The naturalists will have red caps on too.
If you live south of Seattle, you can join Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's naturalists at Owen Beach in Tacoma's Point Defiance Park to learn about the animals there and help catalog them for scientific research. Explore the Shore is a fun and exciting opportunity to participate in scientific research while learning about the biological diversity of local beaches and how to protect them. This program is best suited for kids 5 and older, and families are placed in groups depending on interests and abilities. The best parts? No RSVP is required and it's totally free. Just show up on the beach near the parking lot on the designated 2020 low tide days. The first Explore the Shore beach walk will take place on June 5, 2020 at 11:15 a.m.
What to Wear
Like the Scouts say, be prepared, especially when checking out the local tidal inhabitants. Rain boots and water shoes (or thick socks) work best for climbing over slippery seaweed-covered rocks and traipsing through puddles in search of the next find. A change of clothes runs a close second for things you definitely want to pack. If it’s sunny, a sun hat and sunscreen will be handy to have in the diaper bag. And when all’s said and done a little hand sanitizer (or even some wipes) will make sure all those Puget Sound germs don’t hitchhike back to your house on little hands.
featured image: Allison Sutcliffe