All the anemones are zhushing up their tentacles for their time in the sun.
Starting this weekend, some of the lowest tides of the year happen during daylight hours, making it prime time for a meet-and-greet with San Francisco’s intertidal residents.
One of the easiest places to dip a toe—or, perhaps, more accurately, two entire calves—into tide pooling is right on the walk between China and Baker beaches. The five-minute drive seems like a short walk on the sand when low tide reveals a path between the large rocks that jut out to separate the two city strands.
Just below the soon-to-be-refurbished China Beach bathhouse, the waves recede to uncover giant rocks covered in mussels, barnacles, limpets and, of course, lots and lots of blobs of sand-covered anemones closed tight in the open air.
What the walk lacks in actual tide “pools,” it makes up for in novelty: Watching crabs skitter for a hiding spot between the mussel shells with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background is a testament to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s preservation of these urban coastlands.
Sea birds race to pick out all the delicacies uncovered by the receding mouth of the Golden Gate. Small sea caves dot the base of the neighborhood’s namesake Sea Cliff, which is topped by multimillion-dollar mansions. The work of fast-acting artists is exposed on the normally underwater sea walls.
On low-tide days, you can walk all the way from China Beach to Baker Beach and even to Marshall Beach near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.
There’s a lot to see, but always keep one eye on your watch and one eye on the ocean because before long, the entire area will be under the waves again.
Check the SF tide tables for low tides of -0.5 feet or less. For example, on Sat. May 20, the tide drops to -1.1 feet at 6:45 a.m. Plan to start your walk at China Beach at about that time or earlier.
Upcoming 2023 dates with very low tides that take place a bit later in the morning include May 21-23, when the peak low tide will hit between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. The same goes for June 5-9, June 20-21 and July 5-7.
Consider dropping a car with a dry set of shoes and pants at the Baker Beach parking lot. You’ll be glad you did.
Don't be tempted to harvest the mussels or other edibles you might find. Mussels can harbor a poisonous biotoxin making the harvest of all shellfish illegal for most of the year in California.
It’s also possible to explore San Francisco’s intertidal zones at Crissy Field and Aquatic Park. More expansive, proper tide “pools” are found at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, about 30 minutes south of the city. The San Mateo County Park provides a guide to tide-pooling creatures and etiquette in English, Spanish and Chinese.
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