Finding cool weather water fun for kids isn’t easy in the months between September and March, but there’s plenty to see, touch and find all around us. Bundle up, bring a change of clothes and a camera: get ready for a season of splashing fun.

Pillar Point Harbor Tide Pool

1 Johnson Pier
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
Pillat Point Harbor

San Mateo’s Pillar Point is home to some of the best tide pools in Northern California. With it’s deep, wide stretch of sand and beautiful coastline, it’s easy to get lost in the specialness of Pillar Point. Take children down to the tidepool after checking the tide schedule. Often times, the best low tides in San Mateo are in the fall months – particularly October and November. As the tide goes lower, follow the long trail of sand that goes nearly a half-mile into the ocean. Now the adventure begins.

Look closely for anemones and sea stars. Mussels are abundant here and you can find them attached to rocks all along the sandy stretch. Encourage kids to get on their hands and knees and discover different forms of sea life. You might want to pick up a marine life book to identify some of the cool creatures right along our local seashore. When exploring is done, change clothes and head over to the docks. Many fisherman sell crab and fresh fish directly off their boats.

Seymour Discovery Center at Long Marine

100 Shaffer Rd.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Seymour Discovery Center

Forget the treks to Monterey Bay Aquarium, nevermind the marine exhibit at Oakland Zoo, instead take a refreshing break to discover the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz. No really. It’s that cool.

The center is a working marine lab, hosted by University California, Santa Cruz and is a true treasure. This isn’t your average aquarium; instead, it’s a hands-on, real-deal facility where marine biology is in full-swing. There are a few dolphin tanks outside where biologists are working and, at times, they are visible on the tour.

The walking tour along the bluffs is beautiful, but a bit long for very young kids. Look instead toward the learning stations for interesting tidbits and be sure to chat with the volunteers – many of them are seasoned marine biologists! Leave time at the end for the big reward: hanging out with the world’s largest whale skeleton directly in front of the laboratory.

Natural Bridges State Beach

Swanton Blvd & W Cliff Dr.
Santa Cruz, CA 95067
Natural Bridges State Beach

When you want a reminder of why you live in California, take the kids on a day trip to Natural Bridges State Beach. Natural Bridges is one of the few places that is immune to weather conditions – it indeed can get very cold and very hot, but the beauty and extraordinary family fun surpasses any weather condition.

Take the kids and follow your way to the natural bridge itself, which is a large rock formation along the shore; it’s a good place to start. Climb the rocks and find on the backside of it, some small tidepools and marine life. Let the kids wander and explore, but be a bit careful, it can be slippery with little ones. Look for creepy crawly sea creatures and lots of sand crabs, but look out for the sea kelp that tends to give kids the ickys.

One very special part of Natural Bridges beach in the fall months is the stunning Monarch butterfly colony that comes to hatch and grown from October through February. There are some tours available at the Monarch butterfly natural preserve just above the beach in a quiet grove of eucalyptus trees.

-Samantha Fein, The Garza Girls