Now Southern California is famous for its beaches and not just because of what we've all see on TV's "Baywatch." The types and terrain of shorelines from Santa Barbara to San Diego are vastly different, ranging from rough and rocky to smooth and serene. Tide pools and seashells are popular draws for both local and visiting beachgoers, and SoCal offers plenty of both. Removal of any animal species is prohibited without a permit, but with a fishing permit, you may take some creatures to be used for food. Shells can be collected in non-protected areas.
Shaw's Cove in Laguna Beach
Laguna's beaches are a series of sandy coves backed by rocky cliffs, and each beach has a different landscape and personality. Although many of the jewel-like coves – Pearl, Diamond, Ruby and Agate – have tide pool features, the most dramatic is Shaw's Cove. Descending the 58-foot staircase is an event in itself, but be rewarded by oversized tide pools filled with colorful anemones, sea urchins, sea stars and sea slugs. Visitors are not allowed to take any of the animals from the tide pools. Shaw's small sandy beach will reveal a good variety of shells: moon snails, purple dwarf olives and California cones are usually there for the taking but check to make sure they are not occupied by hermit crabs.
Little Corona in Corona del Mar
Corona del Mar is between Laguna and Newport Beaches, and like so many good tide pool beaches, it is at the base of a cliff. Unlike many other Orange County beaches, the descent is via steep cement path, a boon for those with rolling ice chests or dive equipment trolleys. Tide pools here are literally crawling with hermit crabs, and at low tide, you'll also see big and little fish, purple urchins and a forest of waving anemones. The adjoining sandy beach has a nice variety of shells. But it's a hefty fine for taking them, and there is always a lifeguard on duty. However, beachgoers are permitted to remove sea glass, and Little Corona is littered with these colorful smooth glass pebbles.
Carpinteria State Beach
Twelve miles south of the city of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria State Beach – like many Santa Barbara County beaches – has a large and lively tide pool area. At the tide pools, there are not only urchins, anemones and small fish but also a variety of small octopi. Shelling here is good, especially during low tide. The beach is flat and easily accessible. The weather remains in the mid-70s Fahrenheit year-round, and Carpenteria is a prime place to see seals and whales.
Leo Carrillo Beach in Malibu
Not be able to hobnob with the stars in Malibu, but get a closeup view of the starfish in the tide pools of Leo Carrillo Beach. Named after the conservationist and actor who played the sidekick Pancho in "The Cisco Kid" series, this 1.5-mile beach has spots for swimming, surfing, windsurfing and surf fishing. A favorite for school field trips, the tide pools harbor the usual suspects from crabs and barnacles to anemones and urchins. The network of shoreline caves are fun to explore, and they tend to trap a nice variety of shells that come in with the tide. Portable toilets and showers are available in the camping area.