My wife and I recently spent two full weeks road tripping the Southern Coast of Oregon with our two daughters.
I’ll be honest, I expected to be bored.
Having spent so much time in the PNW I thought that it would mainly be trees and rocky beaches. I wasn’t wrong. But I also underestimated how wildly different the Oregon Coast is from the rest of the Pacific Northwest.
I don’t think a single day passed that we didn’t try and identify the critters in at least a dozen different tide pools.
In fact, Oregon’s tide pools are so numerous and exciting that they soon became the focal point of our entire trip. We bought a little clear plastic aquarium, some nets, and an underwater scope so that we could identify as many little creatures as possible.
If you’re used to tidepools in Washington or California you’ll be amazed at the amount of life to be found in Oregon’s tidepools.
We identified over 20 different little creatures and plants on our trip and could have identified a hundred more if we were a bit smarter.
However, we almost missed a lot of cool opportunities and wasted time at the start simply because we didn’t know where to go or what we were doing.
So, if you’re looking to discover some amazing tidepools in Oregon, consider this your guide!
The 3 Most Important Tips
If you want to have a fun and successful trip, these are the three rules that you simply cannot violate. Pretty much everything else is a combination of luck and preference but these are the cardinal rules of tide-pooling.
1. Never Turn Your Back On The Ocean
Oregon is known for sneaker waves and they can kill. No joke.
A sneaker wave is a freak wave that, due to a rare confluence of circumstances, runs much farther up on the beach that any other way. And not just a few feet. It can run a hundred yards or more up the beach carrying driftwood and logs with it. The area that you were just tide-pooling in can be covered with 3 feet of swirling water and logs that will be dragged back out to sea within a matter of a minute.
Make sure you and your kids are with it. To be safe, don’t take your eye off the ocean, and always have a plan of escape if it comes to it.
2. Find A Tide Table Before You Go
Nothing will put a damper on your tide pool exploration like not having any tide pools.
While most beaches will have some level of tide pools unless the water is super high, you’ll have a much better time if you check a tide table and see how high the water will be so you can plan accordingly.
The absolute best time to go is an hour or two before low tide. All the tide pools that exist will typically be accessible at this point and you’ll have plenty of time to explore before the tide comes back in.
3. Be Kind To Nature
Tidepools are an exposed microcosm that we would ordinarily never have access to.
The animals are entirely defenseless and have nowhere to escape.
So, if you’re going through tidepools, be kind.
In most of Oregon, it’s actually illegal to take things from a tidepool. Taking (or killing) tiny fish or mussels requires a license.
What’s more, it’s just good juju to not take things. Empty shells or cool rocks are fine, just be sure that there’s nothing living in that shell before you take it or you will have a horrifically smelly car ride!
The 21 Best Oregon Coast Beaches For Tidepools
While you can find tide pools at a ton of Oregon beaches, some are obviously better than others.
The best beaches have a significant drop (so that they leave good deep pools) and features that support the formation of pools (in Oregon, gigantic rocks).
So, if you’re looking for the best beaches in Oregon for tidepools, this is my list.
It’s not really in order since beaches can change significantly over time but, for now, you’ll probably have good luck at any of these beaches. And if you don’t, you probably will tomorrow!
- Sunset Bay/Shore Acres/Cape Arago
- Devil’s Punchbowl
- Sunset Bay State Park
- Neptune State Park (Neptune and Strawberry Hill)
- Cape Perpetua
- Yachats State Park
- Seal Rock State Park
- Coquille Point
- Cannon Beach
- Yaquina Head (Cobble Beach, Quarry Cove)
- Cape Falcon Marine Reserve
- Winchuck Beach
- Heceta Head
- Smelt Sands Recreation Site
- Cooks Chasm
- Cape Kiwanda
- Rocky Point, Sisters Rocks, and north and south of Otter Point.
- Cape Arago State Park
- Harris Beach State Park
- Five-Mile Point
- Cape Blanco
- Hug Point/Arcadia Beach
- Arizona Beach
Most of Oregon’s most iconic tidepool beaches are found along the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor so, if you’re overwhelmed, that’s a great place to start!
13 Creatures You Can Find In Oregon Tidepools
The best tidepools in Oregon are absolutely teaming with life. However, it’s usually the same 10 things over and over again. Since it was mainly the little critters that were interesting to my kids I’m going to be focusing on the living things that scuttle, move, and eat.
I’ll leave the plants for another time.
Now there are rarer things that can be found, but, when you see something alive there’s a 95% chance it will be one of the following things:
- Hermit Crabs
- Turban Snails
- California Mussels
- Little Fish
- Sea Stars
- Sea Urchins
- Nudibranchs (Se Slugs)
- Purple Shore Crabs
However, I won’t leave you with just that. Let’s go into a bit more detail about each one so you know what they look like and a little bit more about them.
1. Sea Anemones
Whether you’re looking for them or not you are bound to see tons of anemones if you stop at any rocky Oregon Beach.
They come in a huge variety of colors but the green variety above is by far the most common.
Anemones are easily recognizable as they are often brightly colored, and have long, flowing tentacles. Despite their delicate appearance, sea anemones are actually quite tough. They are able to withstand harsh conditions, and they are often one of the first creatures to return after a storm
I will solve a mystery for you, however, and let you in on what anemones look like when not in the water. It took us a couple of days to figure it out.
Sea anemones play an important role in the ecosystem of the tide pool, and they provide a home for numerous other creatures. In addition, they help to keep the water clean by eating algae and other small organisms. For all of these reasons, sea anemones are a vital part of the Oregon coast ecosystem.
2. Hermit Crabs
Hermit crabs are a common sight everywhere on the Oregon coast but they tend to congregate in tide pools.
These small, hard-shelled creatures scuttle along the sand in search of food and shelter. While they may look like simple beach dwellers, hermit crabs are actually quite complex creatures.
Each crab is born with a soft, unprotected abdomen. As the crab grows, it must find a larger shell to inhabit. This process is known as molting. Hermit crabs will molt several times throughout their lifetime, shedding their old shell and finding a new, larger, one. The crab’s new shell will provide protection from predators and the elements.
The Oregon coast is home to several different species of hermit crab, each with its own unique coloring and patterns. However, I’m not nearly cool enough to have identified different species, maybe on the next trip.
Hermit crabs (especially the small ones) are generally safe to pick up and hold. Just be aware that if you put “big” ones together they will probably try to fight it out as they can be quite territorial.
3. Turban Snails
If you’re inspecting rocks, one of the most common creatures in this region is the sea snail. These small mollusks are often found clinging to rocks or hiding in tide pools around the water line.
Sea snails come in a wide range of colors and sizes, and their diet usually consists of algae or small pieces of food that they scrape off of surfaces with their radula (a tongue-like appendage).
The most common snail you’ll see is the Turban Snail, named for the spiraling shape of its shell.
Although they are often overlooked, sea snails play an important role in the marine ecosystem. They help to keep algae growth in check and provide a food source for larger predators. In addition, their shells can be used as homes by other animals such as hermit crabs (once they die, of course).
Barnacles are some of the most common creatures you’ll see. They’re also among the least interesting unless you know a bit about them.
Barnacles are crustaceans that attach themselves to rocks and other hard surfaces in the ocean. They have a hard shell that protects them from predators and the forces of waves and currents. Oregon’s barnacles are most commonly found in the intertidal zone, where they attach to rocks and other hard surfaces that are exposed to the air at low tide but submerged at high tide. Barnacles are an important part of the marine ecosystem, providing homes for other animals and helping to break down organic matter.
Despite their importance, barnacles can also cause problems for humans. Their shells are very sharp, and they can damage boat hulls and fishing gear (not to mention your feet and hands…). They can also make it difficult to launch boats from docks and beaches. As a result, barnacles can be a nuisance for people who use Oregon’s coast for recreation or work.
However, they’re still fun to look at! If they’re out of the water it’s unlikely that you’ll see the actual creature but will have to content yourself with looking at its shell.
The most common barnacles you’ll see on the Oregon coast are Acorn and Gooseneck Barnacles.
I’ll also note that removing a barnacle from the rock means death for the creature. So, unless you’re planning on eating them, you should leave them be. If you are looking for a snack, however, Gooseneck barnacles are considered somewhat of a delicacy, although you’ll need a permit before you start gathering them in Oregon.
5. California Mussels
California mussels first arrived in Oregon in the early 2000s, likely hitchhiking on boats or equipment that had been in contact with infested waters. Since then, they have spread rapidly up and down the Oregon coast, competing with native species for food and habitat.
California mussels are particularly destructive because they can attach themselves to hard surfaces like rocks and docks, which disrupts the natural flow of water and harms other marine life. In addition, they release toxins that can kill other organisms, and filter large amounts of water, which can alter the delicate balance of a river or stream ecosystem. While there is no easy solution to the problem of California mussels, it is important to take measures to prevent their spread.
Having said that, they’re a common species that you’ll be able to spot in tidepools and it’s cool to know a little more about them!
6. Little Fishes
If you look long enough you’re bound to see some small fish flitting from rock to rock, especially in tidal streams or larger tide pools. While there are some other types of fish in the region, the small fish that you see are more likely than not Tidepool Sculpin.
The tidepool sculpin is a small, bottom-dwelling fish that is found in many places along the coast of Oregon. It is known for its distinctive coloration, which helps it to blend in with the rocks and algae of the tidepools where it lives.
It is also a popular food source for larger predators, such as seabirds and seals. Although the tidepool sculpin is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, its populations have declined in recent years due to habitat loss and pollution. As a result, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has placed the species on its list of protected animals.
So, if you see one, don’t try to catch them as we did. We just didn’t know better at the time!
7. Sea Stars
Sea Stars (Starfish is also an acceptable name) are incredibly common on the rocky parts of the western coast. If there are anemones, it’s quite likely that there are also seat stars around.
Sea stars are a type of echinoderm, and they are related to sea urchins and sand dollars.
Unlike their relatives, however, sea stars have the ability to move around on their own. They use hundreds of tiny tube feet to crawl along the seafloor in search of food. Sea stars are carnivorous, and they typically feed on mollusks and other small invertebrates. Some species of sea stars can also extrude their stomachs out of their mouths in order to digest larger prey items.
While most people think of sea stars as being green or brown, they actually come in a wide range of colors, including red, orange, and yellow. The most common colors you’ll see in Oregon are purple and an orangeish red. This bright coloration is often used as a warning to predators that the sea star is poisonous.
Sea Stars do not fare well when pried off a rock so they should be left alone. When they are not underwater sea stars tend to move very little so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to watch them move or eat while exploring tidal pools.
Oh and I’ll also throw in an interesting tidbit here. You may have heard that sea stars can regenerate lost limbs. This is absolutely true. What you might not have known is that they can sometimes even grow new individuals from severed body parts. If a large enough chunk of sea star is removed (or bitten off…) it can turn into an entirely new creature.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, chitons are a type of mollusk that can be found along the Oregon coast.
Chitons have a hard shell that is composed of eight overlapping plates. These plates can be brightly colored, and they help to protect the chiton’s soft body. However, most of the Chitons we saw were rock colored.
Chitons are generally found clinging to rocks in tide pools or in the intertidal zone. They use their strong jaws to scrape algae and other food items from the surface of the rocks. Chitons are an important part of the marine ecosystem, and they provide food for a variety of animals, including sea otters, gulls, and crabs.
Although they may not be as flashy as some of the other creatures in the tide pool, chitons are an essential part of the coastal ecosystem.
When we were in Oregon we never saw the underside of a Chiton as they seem to spend their entire lives glued securely to rocks.
9. Sea Urchins
If you’re in the right area of Oregon, Purple Sea Urchins are apparently plentiful. We must have never made it to the right spot because we didn’t see a single one.
We did, however, receive lots of sea urchin hugs at Seaside Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium.
Sea urchins graze on algae, helping to keep the rocks clean and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. They also provide food for a variety of other animals, such as seagulls and crabs. In addition, their spines provide shelter for small fish and invertebrates.
Unlike in some tropical places, sea urchins in Oregon do no pose a threat to the environment and should simply be appreciated as the cool little creatures that they are.
Limpets are a type of sea snail that is common along the coast of Oregon. I chose to include them here separately from the rest of the snails as there are so common and yet so unique.
Limpets are small, cone-shaped creatures that attach themselves to rocks and other hard surfaces in shallow tide pools. Limpets play an important role in the marine ecosystem by scraping algae off of rocks and providing food for other animals. They are also a popular food source for humans, and their shells are often used as decorations or souvenirs.
Although they may not seem like it, limpets are active creatures that travel around their tide pool homes in search of food. When the tide goes out, they use a muscle to attach themselves tightly to their rock so they don’t get swept away. If a limpet is dislodged from its rock, it will quickly return to its original spot using a trail of slime it leaves behind (but removing them can hurt them so please don’t test this out…).
Limpets are most easily recognizable by their shell which often comes to a blunt point on the top and can sometimes have a small hole on top as well.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll see any large crabs on the beach (unless they’re dead…) there are tons of little crabs scuttling about.
We found crabs up to a couple of inches in size while exploring. Crabs are often found in tidal pools where they are hiding and scavenging scraps of food.
While they may not be flashy or glamorous, crabs play an important role in the local ecosystem. By eating dead organisms and recycling nutrients, they help to keep the water clean and the food chain healthy. In addition, their hard shells provide homes for other creatures, such as barnacles and algae.
While there are many species of crabs to be found on the Oregon Coast, the most common small crabs you’ll see are Purple Shore Crabs. You can recognize them by distinct hue (which, in case you didn’t note, is purple-ish).
12. Sea Cucumbers
Visitors to the Oregon coast are often surprised to find sea cucumbers in tidepools. We weren’t surprised, however, because we didn’t find any. Or maybe that would mean that we were surprised. Either way, we were disappointed.
These curious creatures are actually a type of marine invertebrate, related to starfish and sea urchins. Unlike their cousins, however, sea cucumbers are mostly sedentary, spending their days slowly crawling along the ocean floor in search of food. When they are exposed to air at low tide, they often curl up into a ball to prevent dehydration.
Sea cucumbers can be found in a variety of colors and sizes, but all share a similar body shape, with a long, cylindrical body and leathery skin. One of their most important functions is to help to aerate the sand and promote the growth of marine plants. They are also a food source for many larger predators, such as fish and crabs.
Nudibranchs are a type of sea slug (technically they’re shell-less mollusks) that can be found in tidepools on the Oregon Coast. These creatures are uniquely adapted to life in the intertidal zone, where they feed on algae and other small marine life.
There are several different types of Nudibranchs and, while they are all different shapes and colors, most are easily recognized by their colorful shells and fringed gills, which help to aerate their bodies as they move through the water. These creatures are an important part of the tidepool ecosystem, and their presence can be an indicator of water quality.
Plants In Oregon Tidepools
This is going to be a really short section. We didn’t really go out of our way to identify any plants because let’s face it, they’re only mildly interesting to most people and way less so to my 3 and 5-year-old.
Whoever, the most common types you’ll find include:
- Tube Weed
- Little Rockweed
- Rock Weed
- Sea Moss
- Coral Leaf Algae
- Split Kelp
- Winged Kelp
- Spongy Cushion
- Surf Grass
- Dead Man’s Fingers
- Sea Palm
- Sea Cabbage
- Sea Lettuce
There are tons of different types of algae and kelp washing around as well but, for those, you’ll probably have to invest in a thorough guidebook or find someone more experienced in Oregon beaches than I am.
How To Stay Safe While Exploring Tidepools
I hate to sound like an old man but when you’re out exploring Oregon’s tidepools, safety first!
It’s actually possible to get quite hurt while out exploring (and both my wife and I got hurt).
I slipped on a moss-covered sea rock and slid about 15 feet down a bank, straining both patellar tendons.
My wife also slipped on a rock but (luckily) just ended up slicing her hand on some barnacles. Painful, but not permanently damaging as we were able to clean it out quickly.
So, with those war stories as the backdrop, here are a few tips that you should consider if you want to escape the beach unscathed.
1. Wear Good Shoes
Beaches in the PNW are not like those elsewhere in the U.S.
It’s not unusual to wear hiking boots on the beach as the terrain is very rocky and the water is usually too cold to spend much time in.
We wore either closed-toe sandals or Chacos and didn’t have issues.
Sandals are a great overall choice as they let you drop them and spend some time in the water if you want.
2. Pay Careful Attention to Where You Step
The easiest way to get hurt at a beach in Oregon is actually by slipping on a rock.
Avoid stepping on any rock that’s green or black that is near the intertidal zone. Rocks that spend half of their life in the water are slippery beyond belief and can send you for a tumble, no matter what footwear you’ve got on.
3. Use Gloves or a Net
Using gloves when we were tide-pooling would have made things much more enjoyable.
First off, they would have kept our digits nice and warm. We were there last in Oregon in early spring and the water was super chilly. Add in the lack of sun we had for most of the time and some neoprene gloves would have really improved my life.
Secondly, gloves would have provided protection from both sharp barnacles and cranky crabs. I didn’t actually get pinched by a crab but being able to hold them with impunity would have been fun.
However, the most important things to remember when exploring tide pools are to have some common sense and be curious. As long as you’re employing your brain it’s unlikely you’ll have any problems and I can almost guarantee that you’ll have the time of your life.