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Field Report: Extreme Low Tide Beach Walk in La Jolla


On Thursday, Jan 11, I had the privilege to lead a small group of volunteers on an educational beach walk in La Jolla during the annual king tides. While our chapter usually emphasizes the king 'high' tides to preview what our beaches will look like in the future due to sea level rise, the afternoon negative low tides offer a spectacular opportunity to explore unusually wide beaches and nearshore tidal ecosystems that remain underwater most days of the year.

*For more on the California King Tides, see our previous blog post.

LJ-Princess Beach Walk - 1We gathered at the south end of La Jolla Shores 

This beach walk gave us a chance to talk about a bunch of issues that Surfrider’s policy team is engaging in. We talked about the importance of public access as we passed a site of a major lawsuit over a public beach trail in California, celebrated the wildlife in a local marine reserve that Surfrider helps protect, picked up plastic beach trash that so many of our volunteers are helping us to reduce on the beach & upstream, and came together to celebrate our ocean going community. More on all these stops below.

The Princess Street Coastal Access Trail Project

Beaches all over San Diego County reveal fantastic beach walking and tidepooling opportunities when a super low tide hits. We chose La Jolla Shores not only for its tidepools, but because the negative low tide allowed us to walk to a small, hidden beach that is normally inaccessible by foot.

This special beach lies just below Princess Street, and once upon a time, a public trail existed down the bluff, allowing for access to this pocket beach nestled between La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove. But bad things happen when no one is looking, and the historic access trail was lost over 40 years ago to a blufftop home development that illegally cut off access to the trail.

Our friends at the Environmental Center of San Diego (ECOSD) have been engaged in a decades-long effort to reopen this trail to the public, and our chapter is a partner in the effort. Pam, Jon, and George Heatherington from ECOSD joined our beach walk to talk about this ongoing project.

Check out the short video below for some background on our joint effort to rebuild the Princess Street Coastal Access Trail Project. 


Beaches belong to everybody

Before setting off to the south from our meeting point at La Jolla Shores, I touched briefly upon the Public Trust Doctrine, which is established in California’s Constitution and says that tidelands and navigable waters in our state belong to the public. It also maintains that the state has an affirmative duty to protect these lands and waters for public use. In other words, beaches belong to everyone and we have a right to access them. 

Our rights to access public tidelands immediately came into play as we walked south across the beach in front of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club (LJBTC), a large beachfront resort whose property line extends across the beach right up to the mean high tide line. LJBTC security regularly hassles beachgoers who walk across or take up towel space on their dry beach. The tensions between the property and public beachgoers has resulted in lawsuits and action by the Coastal Commission to prevent the “perception” of an entirely private beach to dissuade the public from passing.

LJ walkOur crew traverses the LJBTC on wet sand, i.e. our public beach

Marine Protected Areas are working  

After walking across the beach in front of LJBTC, we stopped for a quick regroup before embarking onto the exposed reefs. Pam and I offered a shout out to the California Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), a 10-year old marine conservation experiment that Surfrider advocated heavily for, which has greatly benefitted the coastal environment in and around La Jolla. A total of four MPAs converge in the La Jolla area, each covering a different offshore territory and restricting what can be taken from those waters (i.e. fishing).

The La Jolla Shores and Cove area is protected under the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, which prohibits the taking of ALL marine resources. It's no wonder that this area, also referred to as the La Jolla Underwater Park, is teeming with marine life and extremely popular for kayaking, snorkeling, scuba, and all sorts of coastal recreational activity. Check out a map of San Diego's MPAs HERE.

7.LJ walkThe La Jolla Underwater Park, but not entirely underwater! 

Tidepooling responsibly 

We also briefly covered the etiquette for responsible tidepooling, which are always important to follow... doubly so within a designated MPA. Lots of good assets exist to help beachgoers understand the do's and don't's of tidepooling, including the one below from the San Diego MPA Collaborative

Screenshot 2024-01-18 at 2.38.56 PMImage taken from the SD MPA Collaborative's great recreational MPA brochure!

After ensuring our group was briefed on these best practices, we enjoyed a tidepooling free-for-all before convening one last time to discuss the Princess St. Coastal Access Trail project in detail. 

Plastic pollution, highly visible from the extreme tide swings

The king high tides bring ocean water further onto the land than normal, inundating the back beach. Coastal flooding often occurs, especially if large swell converges with the high tide. When the tide drops and the water recedes, an incomprehensible amount of plastic and microplastic pollution remain ashore at many of our beaches.

These plastics are already in the ocean; the waves and high tides are simply redepositing them back on our shores. We’ve all heard stories of how ocean currents bring plastic pollution from far-off countries ashore onto beaches in Hawaii and other tropical islands. To be clear, that is not the case at home. These plastics are local in origin, making their way into the ocean from the land via rivers, creeks, and stormdrains. 


To members of a Surfrider chapter that clocks in over 100 beach cleanups every year, picking up marine debris is never far from mind. Thankfully, several volunteers integrated cleanup duties to ensure we left the beach better than we found it.

Because these plastics are so small and so plentiful, volunteers can only capture a small portion of them. And the majority remain in the ocean, where removal is impossible. But we do what we can! Ultimately, what we saw served as a stark reminder that local efforts to reduce single use plastics at the source are more critical than ever. 

Stay coastal-minded, my friends! 

LJ-Princess Beach Walk - 48-1Our group at the base of our future Princess St Coastal Access Trail