Abalone Cove Shoreline Park is one of the best spots near Los Angeles to explore tide pools and discover Southern California marine life. The kids and I have visited the Abalone Cove tide pools more times than I can remember. I’ve led friends, small groups of kids, and entire elementary school classes on field trips to the cove. And it never gets old. It’s easily accessible, and is in great shape despite the visitor traffic. There are always new and interesting things to find. If you’re going to spend a day at the beach, spend it actually doing something rather than laying in the sand baking in the sun.
Address: Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, 5970 Palos Verdes Dr S, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
Park Hours: Sunrise to Sunset (I think)
Cost: $5 to park
Parking: Large gated parking lot
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Facilities: Bathrooms and soda machine at parking lot gate; port-a-potty on the beach
Difficulty level: Beginner
Views of coastline and Catalina Island, beautiful rocky beach, tide pool marine life
The most important thing about this day trip is that there are only tide pools at low tide. You can’t just decide to go on whatever day at whatever time you want. You have to check the tide. There aren’t great low tides at a good time of day everyday. In fact it might weeks before there’s a good low tide on a weekend afternoon. The most drastic tides, called king tides, occur during the winter months. There are many tide charts online, but I prefer to use an iPhone app because it knowns my location. The best tide chart app is TideGraphPro for the iPhone. Or check online – NOAA tide chart. Or just leave me a comment, and I’ll do the research for you.
About Abalone Cove
The Abalone Cove tide pools are part of the Abalone Cove Ecological Reserve, a 64-acre reserve featuring great views, a number of short trails, two beaches, and important natural marine resources. The tide pools are located at the base of Portuguese Point, the most prominent feature in the reserve.
Trail to the tide pools
From the parking lot, as you are facing the ocean, exit the lot at the far left corner, and continue on the Abalone Cove beach trail all the way down to the beach. About halfway down the trail, you’ll encounter a paved road. Walk to the left, until you see where the dirt trail picks up again. The trail ends in a small ravine, and then you’ll continue along the rocky beach to the point. Avoid the Dahlia Trail that goes along the top of the bluff. It is sketchy, and not a trail on which you want little kids hiking.
What to bring
Picnic lunch and the usual beach stuff. We usually eat down at the beach, but there are picnic tables up by the parking lot too. I recommend bringing a small bucket or plastic bin, like a tupperware thing, to use to keep critters for a short time. It gives kids the chance to really sit and watch them, without holding them in their hand, which is not good for the animals.
The trail is well-maintained and the bathrooms up in the parking lot are fine.
What you’ll see
What you’ll discover depends a bit on the time of the year. The cove is a classic Southern California tide pool inhabited by fat slimy sea hares, a few types of urchins, sea stars and brittle stars, crabs, snails and other mollusks, lots of small fish, several species of small crabs and shrimp, and zillions of hermit crabs. And if you’re lucky and look hard, a few small octopi. Many of these critter live under the flat rocks and in cracks in the rock layers. It’s ok to gently turn over rocks to look for animals but you must replace the rocks exactly as you find them. Many sea creature are stuck the underside of these rocks, and if not replaced correctly, those animals may not live. There are also a few sea birds around, and often fishermen out on the rocky point that may have a few fish to look at. The guy who mans the parking lot gate can give you a photocopied animal identification guide that is fin to have. Kids want to know the names of the things they find.
Where to stop on the way
We always bring our lunch, and never stop on the way there or home to eat in Palos Verdes or Long Beach. If you know of a good place, let me know.
Directions to Abalone Cove
110 S to San Pedro. Go until the freeway ends, turn right on 1st, then left on Western, then right on Palos Verdes Drive. You’re getting close after you pass the Trump golf course. You’ll pass the parking lot (on the ocean side), and do a legal U-turn to get to the other side of the road. If you’re coming south on Palos Verdes Drive, just turn right into the lot. It’s $5 for parking.