San Francisco, CA

A Sea Creature Scavenger Hunt the Whole Family Will Love

Allison Burney

One of the reasons many people love going to aquariums is that you get to see and learn about so many different marine creatures all in one place.

Aquariums are full of sea animals of all kinds and are brimming with enough information to make your head spin. For those who don’t live near the ocean or don’t like to swim, an aquarium could be the only opportunity to see what lies beneath the surface of the water up close.

Unless you live along the coasts of California, that is.

Residents of the San Francisco area are blessed with an outdoor aquarium in their backyard, and it becomes accessible twice daily!

Moss Beach, just 20 miles south of San Francisco, is home to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, part of a network of marine protected areas. The County of San Mateo Parks Department says that MPAs “safeguard unique marine habitats to conserve biological diversity, provide a sanctuary for marine life, and enhance recreational and educational opportunities.”

And Moss Beach definitely has a unique marine habitat! Among the rocky shores of the reserve are tide pools, little pools of water left behind every time the tide goes out.

But these little pools are full of more than just seawater; they’re mini-ecosystems! National Geographic describes each tide pool as being an aquarium of its own, full of strange and fascinating creatures—many of which you may never have seen before!

Visit Half Moon Bay, a visitor’s guide to The San Mateo County Coastside, says the Fitzgerald Reserve is “considered one of the most diverse intertidal regions in California.”

There’s a ton to see here, and if you visit several times, your experience might be totally different each time. The list of sea life that can be found here is endless: sea anemones, sea stars, urchins, crabs, octopuses, sponges, mollusks, fish, and much more. Hence why a scavenger hunt might be the best way to track them all down! Just remember not to handle any marine life you encounter so as not to disturb it.

Tide pools are a unique kind of jungle—an amazing sea creature habitat to explore and discover. Often on weekends, volunteer naturalists with Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and preserving this intertidal habitat, are available to chat with you and can even provide guided tide pool tours to help you learn more. This can be a great way to gain a new appreciation for this incredible ecosystem.

The intertidal zone—the area of shore that’s exposed at low tide and submerged at high tide—is home to an extraordinary collection of colorful, alien-like organisms who weather harsh conditions including sweltering sun, chilly waters, and a pounding surf. — Visit Half Moon Bay

For more information to help you plan your visit, check out the Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve website. This helpful resource provides directions, rules and best practices for your visit, answers to frequently asked questions, educational resources about the tide zones of the reserve, schedules for when low tide is, and much more.

The reserve opens every day at 8 am, and closing times vary according to the time of year. Throughout August, closing time is 7 pm.

And if you can’t make it in person, you can also take a short virtual tour so that you can still enjoy this unique natural area and all the amazing life forms it contains.

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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