We love this free and easy day trip near the East Bay for nature-loving kiddos: the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve tide pools in Moss Beach. These super cool tide pools are pretty close (only a 45 min drive from Berkeley with normal traffic), parking is free and access to the beach is relatively easy for all ages. I recently took my four kids (ages 3-9) for a foggy morning adventure and we saw oodles of creatures and critters. Just remember to check the tides chart before you go!
What to expect at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
The inter-tidal zone is home to beautiful algae, neon-colored anemones, sneaky crabs, fish, octopuses, sponges, sea stars, and mollusks, all of which are easily found at low tide. Park at the free parking lot and walk a short distance to the beach where you’ll encounter a multitude of signs telling you what NOT to bring and do while tide-pooling. You are not supposed to bring any food, collecting buckets, or dogs. You’re also not allowed to go past the orange cone line where harbor seals often sun themselves. So make sure to have a conversation with your kids about tide pool etiquette and that there’s no taking that super cool shell or hermit crab home.
The rocks are slippery, especially the ones with the slimy seaweed, so be sure to hold hands with little kids since they’ll almost certainly slip and fall. Pro-Tip: Some kids prefer to wear their rain boots at the tide pools to avoid wet feet, but I’m more of a water sandal fan since they have better traction and grip.
Remember, the lower the tide, the better. Plan your visit during a zero or minus tide to see the most marine life. There is often a park ranger at the beach who will happily answer any questions you have. We were having a hard time finding sea stars, so we asked the ranger and he told us the secret is to find the mussel beds towards the right side of the pools. He also helped us identify this super cool red rock crab we found.
What to bring to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
- Jackets and layers as it’s often foggy and cold
- Towel and change of clothes (we needed ours)
- Shoes with good grip
- Backpack carrier for little kids
- Snacks and water to have at the car
- Magnifying glass
Plan your visit to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is located in Moss Beach, CA, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco on Highway 1, just 15 minutes north of the city of Half Moon Bay. Traffic can be annoying, so try to plan your trip with the tides and traffic in mind.
Location: 200 Nevada Ave, Moss Beach
Open Hours: 8 am – 8 pm, though when the tides are low earlier than 8 am people will be out there. Be prepared for crowds on weekends.
Tide charts to find the lowest tides.
The Bottom Line on Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
My kids loved our visit to the tide pools. We had just watched a Brave Wilderness video about tide pools, so they all felt like little Coyote Petersons. If you have nature-loving kids who want to get up-close and personal with some sea creatures, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a great place to try. It’s pretty close to the East Bay, it’s free and you’re guaranteed to see sea creatures at low tide. My only warning would be that the rocks are slippery, so be uber careful with little kids. Otherwise, strap on those sandal shoes and find yourself a sea star!