" Mussels" by Colin Knowles via Flickr Creative Commons

You could plan your next beach trip around deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, or sun bathing, but that's what everyone does. We want you have a completely different kind of vacation, exploring the wonders of the ocean tide pooling. Yes, it's a verb when you're visiting tide pools in Tofino, British Columbia. Tide pools can exist wherever sea meets shore, but ragged rocky coastlines offer the best opportunity for these fragile intertidal wonders to be uncovered. A place plentiful marine creatures call home, these unique habitats are observable at low tide.

This small beach community on the rugged western shore of Vancouver Island may be better known for it's cold-water surfing and whale watching, but for fans of the tidal zones, Tofino has some of the best tidal flora and fauna from Mexico to Alaska. Sea stars number in the hundreds at each beach, orb-like sea anemone and sea urchins cling to rocky tidal caves, and everywhere you step, hermit crabs scuttle while sea slugs laze. With average temperatures in the 60s and 70s, summer is a great time to hit the beaches, camera in hand.

Photo credit: Amy Whitley

Best Beaches

Chesterman Beach: Arguably the best-known beach for tide pool exploration on Vancouver Island, Chesterman's top draw is an impressive fissure in its main rock out-cropping, accessible in low tide. Step through and you'll view hundreds of sea stars clinging to the wet rock like wallpaper. In the center of Chesterman Beach is a private island that's permissible to explore as long as you're respectful of the property. The best tide pools are on the south side of the main beach, where the rocks reveal massive sea anemones and other intertidal wildlife. Above the rock fissure, mussels and barnacles roam, and be sure to check the large pools for crabs and hermit crabs. If you only visit one tidal pool in Tofino, make it this one. If you go: arrive early to watch the morning surfers!

MacKenzie Beach: Just a few miles south of Tofino, scenic MacKenzie Beach offers an abundance of sand at low tide, allowing visitors to explore not only the rocky coastline, but several small rock "islands" inaccessible in high tide. Start on the south end, near Ocean Village Resort, and challenge your fellow travelers to a sea star counting contest; where you'll probably lose count after the first hundred or so. You’ll also find sea anemones, lots of crabs and small fish. Perhaps most amazing, MacKenzie Beach is home to an abundance of ghost shrimp that burrow just under the sand in low tide. You can identify their homes by the tiny volcano-shaped holes they create in the wet sand. You can uncover them if you dig, but be warned: they’re squirmy and bigger than you'd imagine! If you go: make a beach bonfire in one of the designated pits and stay for the sunset, which is magnificent here.

Lismer Beach: Further from town, Lismer Beach is located next to better-known Wickaninnish Beach (famous for its surfing and sand dunes), that is accessible from South Beach Trail (1.5 km round trip). Kids love the chorus of music the pebbles make in the rolling surf, and small fish and more tidal creatures can be spotted here. Only attempt the tide pools along the bluffs at extremely low tide. If you go: leave time to enjoy the scenic trail, and to visit Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s visitor’s center, which is directly adjacent.

Photo credit: Amy Whitley

Where to Stay

To make the most of your tide pooling hours, stay right on the beach in one of MacKenzie Resort's rustic cabins. You can make your own meals in your own kitchen just steps from the sand, and walk up a short hillside to access the resort's indoor pool and hot tub, small general store, and beachfront campsites. Alternatively, on the south end of the beach more luxurious cabins exist at Crystal Cove Beach Resort.

"Stream Cutting though Beach, Breakers in the Distance" by Colin Knowles via Flickr Creative Commons

What to Eat

Head into Tofino for some of the best on-island eats. For a casual meal alfresco, Big Daddy's Fish Fry is right in the heart of town. Order fish and chips, prawns, shrimp, chowder, and burgers from the counter, and indulge at the rustic picnic tables outdoors. For a more upscale meal that won't break the bank, try the Schooner Restaurant for seafood and steak, or Driftwood Cafe, located right on Chesterman Beach. For fresh seafood to cook in your cabin or for a picnic on the beach, head to the Fish Store and Oyster Bar for to-go snacks.