Exploring Tide Pools at Leo Carrillo State Park

We’ve come to enjoy afternoons spent touring local tide pools with The Explorers. Last year we checked out Point Fermin State Marine Park in San Pedro; this month we headed to Leo Carrillo State Park for our family nature club adventure.

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Exploring tide pools at Leo Carrillo State Park

This outing turned out to be our most popular yet, with a whopping six families and nearly 20 kids. I was thrilled to see so many people excited to be outside exploring nature.

Leo Carrillo certainly didn’t disappoint.

It’s a short stroll to the beach from the parking lot, and an even shorter walk to water’s edge. The tide pool discoveries began almost as soon as we reached the rocky shore.

We quickly spotted sea anemones (tons!), sea stars, sea urchins, mussels, barnacles and crabs.

Tide pools at Leo Carrillo State Park

The group spread out as each kid seemed to be eager to explore something different. That’s what I loved most about Leo Carrillo – there really was something for everyone. In addition to the tide pools, there were cool caves that created “tunnels” The Little Explorer just couldn’t get enough of.

Beach caves at Leo Carrillo State Park

There were also plenty of rocky outcroppings exposed during the low tide – perfect for little climbers. When you reach the top, you are rewarded with hidden pools rich with marine life. 

Leo Carrillo State Park

Oh, and the view is pretty cool, too, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

Most of our group was content to play along the shore for the entire two hours we were there. But some of the kids also wanted to explore the main beach area, where a stream from Arroyo Sequit Creek forms a small pool just perfect for little explorers. (Note: The water quality here, as in most Los Angeles-area beaches, is awful; this spot rated a “D” during our visit.)

In addition to taking a dip in the pool (which was about knee-high on my 6-year-old), some kids were moving rocks in to the narrower parts of the stream to create a dam. Still others were building sandcastles (and drip castles, too). It felt like one big nature playground.

Beach play at Leo Carrillo State Park

For the most part, the kids were sandy, soaked and begging for more. And that, to me, is one perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Tips for Visiting With Kids 

  • Check the tides. Time your visit for the hour before and the hour after the low tide. (You can check the tides here.) 
  • Wear the right shoes. Opt for water sandals or go barefoot (just keep in mind that the there are lots of rocks to climb on, so sensitive feet may prefer shoes).
  • Bring a towel & spare clothes. The kids will get wet and sandy so a change of clothes is a must. A bathing suit, towel and sand toys may come in handy, too.
  • Show your kids how to respect tide pool life. Don’t remove any animal or poke at it, leave things where you find them & take care not to walk on marine life.
Visit Leo Carrillo at low tide

Planning Essentials 

  • Leo Carrillo State Park is 28 miles northeast of Santa Monica, about an hours’ drive
  • Features of Leo Carrillo State Park include some 1.5 miles of beach, tide pools & coastal caves; the park also offers camping facilities & back-country hiking
  • There is a small Visitor Center which has interpretive displays (it was closed during our visit); during the summer, children’s programs are available
  • Nature walks and campfire programs are also offered
  • Portable toilets in the parking area; flush toilets at the beach
  • Outdoor showers can be accessed in the camping area
  • Parking is $12; free with a California State Parks Pass 
  • Check water quality before you go & plan your visit accordingly

Leo Carrillo State Park is located at:
35000 W. Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
(818) 880-0363


  1. says

    Are you parking in the parking lot furthest north? We love Leo Carillo, but have missed out on this. I have occasionally parked across from Neptune's Net up the road and explored with kids in the pools there, but there was no cave :-(

  2. says

    Hey there – thanks for stopping by! As you walk from the parking area down to the beach, stay to your right. At low tide, there's plenty of sea life to see right as get to the shoreline – more as you continue to the right (north). The cave can be found in the direction, too. Hope this helps! :-)

  3. Anonymous says

    Can you tell me exactly where the caves and tide pools are? I&#39;ve been to Leo Carillo, and I don&#39;t know where they are.<br />Thank you! Love it there BTW!

  4. says

    Hi! I just found your blog. It&#39;s so neat to see the great outdoors in other parts of the US! I live in Texas and haven&#39;t camped outside of Texas in a long, long time. Thanks for your informative site. I really want to meander through that cave in the picture above… :)

  5. says

    @Joyce: One thing I love about having kids (or spending time with them like you do) is the chance to be silly &amp; play without inhibitions. There&#39;s so much to learn!

  6. says

    I always love reading your post because it seems you enjoy learning out in nature as much as I do. I know I am always talking about Big Bend and this week I decided to bring Big Bend into our preschool. Thanks for stopping by and visiting us at waddleeahchaa.com. joyce :)

  7. says

    @Jen: I can&#39;t believe you haven&#39;t been tide pooling before! Both you &amp; the kids will love it, I promise!<br /><br />@Rachelle: Thanks for sharing your memories – would love to have had you join us!

  8. says

    I love Leo Carrillo, and have so many fond memories of playing there as a child. It&#39;s just amazing how close it is to the urban grind of LA! I wish we lived closer so we could come out and play with your group.

  9. says

    I have never been tide pool exploring before. This is something I need to actively search out on our next few vacations! The kids would love it.

  10. says

    I don&#39;t know what makes me more jealous: the chance to go tide pooling so close to where you live or the 80 degree, sunny day. Regardless, I really want to be an honorary member of your group!

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