Admired as one of the best Marine life habitats in Northern California, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a rich and delicate tidal reef ecosystem discretely tucked inside a 3 mile stretch of San Mateo County coastline.
Situated just north of Pillar Point Harbor, this tranquil and semi-isolated beach promises an awe-inspiring ecological experience, serving as home to a colorful variety of marine life including sea urchins, anemone, sponges, hermit crabs, sea stars and more. Shorebirds, harbor seals and the occasional sea otter can be spotted, and with the ever evolving tide pools, the Reserve delivers a unique experience at each visit.
At the clifftops, soaring century old cypress and eucalyptus forests expose ocean panoramas, where thousands of visitors each year enjoy the various points of interest through the Reserves trails. Down into the tide pool zone, which projects into the Pacific Ocean almost 1000 feet, at low tide visitors can gingerly traverse and explore the slippery tide pools.
This prized habitat has long been a source of research and materials for marine biologists and collectors as well as bucket toting school children, but in 1969 legislation was passed to protect the site, and collecting has since been prohibited. Plenty of signs heed warnings to avoid approaching and touching marine creatures, and protecting the area is vital to its future.
Best time to go
The optimum time for exploring the tide pool area is when the tide is low, about 1 foot or less. The Reserve opens at 8 am and closing times change seasonally and are posted at the visitor center. During the weekends and Holidays volunteer naturalists rove the tide pools to answer questions. If your group has 10 or more people, reservations are a must. The County Parks reservations line is 650-363-4021. No pets are allowed.
What to expect
Activities in the Reserve focus on education of natural resources including the ecosystems of the intertidal reef, beach, upland, and wetlands. For a small fee, rangers and trained volunteer naturalists offer tours for groups, and thousands of students each year use this protected area as a seaside classroom, lead through docent guided educational tours. Some sandy beach areas provide for good picnicking, however, the reserve is not suited for younger children. Shoes with good soles are recommended.
How to get there
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is north of Pillar Point Harbor in the community of Moss Beach, which is about 20 miles south of San Francisco. The Reserve is nestled along the bluffs located on an outcropping of stony beach just past the Visitor Center and park. Some stairs lead from the parking lot down to the tide pools. 200 Nevada Ave, Moss Beach, CA 94038.
Visit the Visitor Center
Centrally located at the Reserve park area, the Visitor Center was designed to house ranger staff and the Friends of Fitzgerald. A small hut featuring exhibits is installed including a monitor with outdoor seating that showcases marine life in color. Inside, an interactive computer called a Sprout allows visitors to scan items and place them into a virtual tide pool. The hut has an impressive collection of marine artifacts on display and includes a 9 step self-guided tour guide.
The Site’s History
The Reserve was settled by Native Americans and Spanish Missionaries, and in 1908, the Ocean Shore Railroad extended through the town of Moss Beach, making it a popular tourist destination. Bits of evidence of the Smith-Doelger home site from the early-1900s remains on the bluffs overlooking the Reserve.
In the mid 1960’s the delicate and popular site was threatened by collectors and developers, and a team of Stanford Biologists approached James Fitzgerald, a respected conservationist, former San Bruno mayor, and longtime member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. With the help of Mr. Fitzgerald’s persuasion, the site was protected by the State of California, described as having "Special Biological Significance." This was one of Mr. Fitzgerald’s most cherished accomplishments in his lifetime. The site respectively named after him.
Today the Friends of Fitzgerald organization supports the county parks by providing tours of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve’s tide pools and providing other educational experiences, including youth summer science day camp.