There is a sport for families that is not well known, Tide-pooling, this is a hoot for all ages including adults.
Our coast is home to many of the best tide pools on the north coast. The first bit of gear you will need is a tide chart, there are hundreds, some very hard to read. My suggestion is to pick one up, usually free, at your favorite sport shop or department. The little booklets often have minus tides highlighted in red letters. The next best option is to go online to the Lawson’s Landing ‘tide calendar’ which is specific to tides low enough to dig clams. If you can dig clams you can tide-pool at the many beaches with rocky outcrops. Lawson’s Landing sits at the mouth of Tomales Bay, without a boat to get to the rocky shoals it is a tough slog to get to the tide pools there. Driving north on Highway One through Valley Ford are the first usable tide pools at the jetty on Doran Beach. There is a fee to park/use the park and the tide pools are limited to the rocks on the jetty.
A better bet would be the beaches with rocky shoals normally covered by water. Driving north from Bodega Bay past Salmon Creek Beach is all sand. First up is Marshall Gulch and at the north end, Carmet Beach, parking is good and it is not too bad of a rocky climb down. There will be lots of tide pools at both ends of the beach at low tide. Driving north to Schoolhouse Beach, there is good parking and it is a reasonable climb down. Here you will find rocks at both ends to explore. The next opportunity to tide pool is Portuguese Beach, go to the center parking lot or a bit more north to the Scotty Creek parking lot. Both offer access to tide pools. The last opportunity for tide-pooling for those with young ones is at Shell Beach/Kortum Trail parking lot. The walk is much longer here to the beach but the tide-pooling is very good. North from here you drive an hour north to Fort Ross before easy access tide-pooling is available.
There are some ground rules for tide-pooling, never turn your back on the ocean unless it is a very calm day, then you might be tempted to get close to the waves on the rocks which can lead to a life-threatening situation. On a picnic once two children were playing tag with the waves. After a suggestion to their mother that she bring them in closer to herself and play in the shallow part of the waves, she blew it off, “Ah, they’re fine.” Not five minutes later my cousin and I were dragging two young ones out of the surf. They had lost one hand of tag and the ocean swallowed them. Mother was screaming for help as we drug the little ones out of danger and dropped them at her feet, “Here they are ‘mam, ‘ah, they’re fine” Don’t go there. Secondly there are rules about tide-pooling on our coast, read them online at one of many sites or at the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for details.
One thing kids love is to watch the action in a pool. The first step is to be still for a few minutes and speak in a low tone of voice, they can hear. Gradually the crabs will emerge from under the rocks, fish will swim and sea stars, sea anemones and sea sponges will open. Dare a kid to touch the blue-green interior of an anemone, the sticky surface will quickly close, always good for a scream. Gently pushing on a closed anemone that is clinging to a dry rock will produce a squirt of salt water, good for ‘ewes’ every time. You can break open a shell stuck to a rock and drop it in your pool, sit back and watch the critters scramble for the free meal.
For some pre-trip research Google Tide-pooling in California or go to Wikipedia and search the same. Always pack a windbreaker or coat, sunscreen, a hat and water to drink. A picnic hamper is good as is a camera with lots of film. Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Mycological Society. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.