Shauna Parisi of Newport Beach teaches college students with her husband, Matt, through Semester at Sea. But, living along Orange County’s 40 miles of coastline, she also comes home to the sea. “The coastal life is indescribable,” she says. “From the inside looking out, you can never explain it. There’s something magnificent about the sea.” But the coastline is a shared world; millions of tiny life forms call it home too. Yet some O.C. visitors may be unaware of the many places where you can see it all up close. Here’s a look at just five of them.


Newport Beach

“You’re just in time,” the gate attendant told a 3 p.m. visitor. “Low tide in twenty minutes!” Crystal Cove, a 3-mile stretch of pristine beach uncluttered by the huge masses of surfers and swimmers and beach umbrellas that visitors often find along other shores, is one of the county’s hidden gems. Hikers and bikers love its many acres of wild lands off Pacific Coast Highway, just south of Newport Beach, near The Resort at Pelican Hill®. But take the 112 winding steps down from its magnificent bluff line, and you will see four wondrous tide pools filled with thousands of specimens of sea life. It’s an underwater playground of starfish, mussels, a variety of anemones, purple and red sea urchins, barnacles, oysters, crabs and snails — and on a lucky day, a two-spot octopus or sea cucumbers.

“It’s an alien world that’s living in our world,” says Hali Stafford, a sea-life documentarian from Yorba Linda. “It’s a fascinating life that we know little about, but much of it is left exposed for us to explore in those tide pools.” One catch: You must check the internet to know when low tide comes; it changes each day.

State officials strictly forbid you to pick up or bother any of the sea life from the tide pools. And it’s big trouble if you snatch anything for your home aquariums. Yet almost no one who visits the tide pools can resist poking some of the tiny life forms with a forefinger to watch them squirt water or have them harmlessly suck on your fingertip. But wear appropriate shoes. Low tide leaves the rocks of these sea-life centers very slippery. crystalcovestatepark.org


Laguna Beach
Life isn’t just frolicking and eating fish for some sea animals. A good many wash ashore dehydrated or malnourished. Which is what happened to Cloudburst, the sea lion rescued by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach last Christmas day. She’s one of hundreds that the center, run mostly by volunteers, rehabilitates each year to later be returned to the sea. Some are so underweight, the staff must start them on a liquid diet, then graduate that to something with fish. “We call them fish smoothies,” says Jeanie Reed of Huntington Beach, who has been volunteering her time there for five years.

The mammal center at 20612 Laguna Canyon Road is easy to spot — it looks like a big red barn. It’s open to the public daily, and visitors can see from just a few feet away seals and sea lions in numerous swimming tanks as the staff works to improve their health. Brawler and Niblet, for example, delight visitors with their constant pool play together. But they won’t be returning to the sea. Brawler suffers from cataracts that leave her almost blind, and Niblet has to be hand fed and wouldn’t survive sea life. So both are headed to an aquarium in Hawaii, where they’ll surely delight many more — children and adults alike. pacificmmc.org


Long Beach

Lauryn Thomas of San Juan Capistrano has fond memories of the Aquarium of the Pacific in downtown Long Beach. Her high school held its prom there. “It was amazing — we danced among the fish,” she fondly recalls. She’s been back numerous times since.

This aquarium offers visitors a chance to see more than 11,000 fi sh and sea animals up close. An insider’s tip: It’s open until 9 p.m. on Shark Lagoon nights, which are held on most Fridays, and evening admission to the park is free during these events. But be sure to call before you go — bad weather or other factors could impact these regularly scheduled nights. aquariumofpacific.org


Catalina Island

It’s just a two-minute walk down Pebbly Beach Road in Avalon, near where the daily ferries come in from the mainland 29 miles away. It’s Catalina’s most popular haven for snorkelers thrilled at the sight of Calico bass, colorful garibaldi, rockfish, sheep head and blacksmith. They all swim among the thick kelp forests that make up the marine sanctuary, which is protected by the state of California.

One warning about Lover’s Cove: It’s also popular with glass-bottom boats, where visitors can explore the kelp bed life without getting wet themselves. So be sure you don’t swim out too far and risk tangling with one of them. While scuba diving isn’t allowed in Lover’s Cove, there’s great diving near the historic Casino. If you’re an above-ground adventurer, you might prefer to zip line through Descanso Canyon and get a bird’s-eye view of the Pacific. visitcatalinaisland.com, catalinatours.com


La Jolla

This aquarium, located in the heart of the UC San Diego campus, is both a public museum and an outreach center for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It’s highly popular for its 60 mammoth tanks that are found in the Hall of Fishes. The tanks recreate habitats for coastal fi sh that swim the waters from the Pacific Northwest down to Mexico. Also popular: its climate change exhibit, its seahorse exhibit and its shark tanks. The Birch Aquarium has a plaza of three tide pools. Here, visitors are welcome to touch some of the sea life, so you can really connect with nature. aquarium.ucsd.edu

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