May 25, 2024
bioluminescence in san diego

Bioluminescence in San Diego: How to See It?

Bioluminescence in San Diego is one of those mysterious beach events that only happens a few times a year. Seeing it is one thing, surfing during a bioluminescence event in San Diego is a whole new adventure!

In this post, find out what bioluminescence is, where to see it and the best time to see bioluminescence in San Diego.

What is Bioluminescence?

Firstly, let’s define bioluminescence. At the most basic level, bioluminescence is a bloom of phytoplankton. Another name for bioluminescence is red tide because it looks distinctly different during the day than it does at night. For example, below is a photo of reddish-brown water. This color is where red tide gets its name by day.

bioluminescence in san diego
A red tide in San Diego during the day

Not surprisingly, this icky looking water also has a distinctly bad smell. On the flip side, these photons in the red tide will produce neon waves in San Diego at night. At night, a red tide is more commonly referred to as bioluminescence. The phytoplankton glows and shines in the dark as waves crash to shore. This is much more exciting to observe and large crowds will flock to the coast in evenings when it happens.

surfing bioluminescence waves
Bioluminescence waves in San Diego at night.

The reason a bioluminescence in San Diego displays these colors is due to red pigments in the phytoplankton that capture sunlight which then emit a reddish color.

So, that’s your science lesson on bioluminescence. Now, let’s find out the best time to see bioluminescence in San Diego.

Best Time to See Bioluminescence in San Diego

Bioluminescence in San Diego mostly commonly happens during two times of the year – early Spring or late Summer. Early Spring bioluminescence happens in February/March while the late Summer bioluminescence events occur in August/September. These are the two best times to see bioluminescence in San Diego.

Fortunately, bioluminescence usually last at least a few days giving you a proper window to go to the beach to see them. On some occasions, bioluminescence in San Diego last for weeks or even months. The length of a bioluminescence event will vary based on sunlight, water temperature, wind, and surf conditions.

However, you never know how long bioluminescence will last so get out there and see it while can can! If you are lucky enough, you might spot people surfing bioluminescence. The best time to observe bioluminescence is well after sunset when its completely dark. In summertime, you’ll want to wait until after 9pm.

Where to See Bioluminescence in San Diego?

bioluminescence can be seen at almost any beach in San Diego. Actually, bioluminescence can occur all over the world. However, they are especially common in California from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

The best beaches to see a red tide in San Diego are either a beach break or a pier. Beach breaks are good for viewing bioluminescence because the waves normally crash closer to shore. Hence, they are more visible. Another great option to see bioluminescence is from a pier. Looking down from above really allows you to see the neon waves dancing off one another. Fortunately, San Diego has many great piers.

bioluminescence in san diego
Neon waves in San Diego at Scripps Pier by night

My favorite beaches and piers to watch bioluminescence in San Diego include:

In summary, most beaches are good to see the bioluminescence at night – just make sure it’s late enough to be dark; well after sunset!

Surfing During Bioluminescence in San Diego

Surfing bioluminescence in San Diego is a special event just as surfing Santa Ana winds in San Diego is another unique experience. However, it’s important to be aware of a few basic safety precautions before surfing during bioluminescence or red tide in San Diego.

Firstly, you should know that some red tides are toxic. While most of them are not, some red tides have toxins created from poisonous shellfish. Here are some of health hazards to be aware of before going in the water or surfing a red tide: irritation of the eyes, mouth, and throat, as well as cold and flu-like symptoms. 

*similar to health hazards to surfing after it rains in San Diego

For this reason, check before surfing a red tide in San Diego by calling the Biotoxin Information Line at 800-553-4133. This is updated by the California Department of Public Health.

Secondly, and on a lighter note – here’s some tips to have the most fun surfing bioluminescence in San Diego. Visibility is the most important factor especially when trying to surf the bioluminescence at night. To combat this, try getting a few glow sticks or bracelets to light your way down the wave.

Having light sticks will also allow you to be more visible for anyone capturing photographs of you surfing the bioluminescence of San Diego. For ocean photographers at night, I recommend the Nikon Coolpix set that has a zoom for capturing surfing shots and comes with a tripod for stability.

In summary, check the conditions before surfing bioluminescence in San Diego to stay safe and make the most of your experience!

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  • Gavin Bechtold

    Gavin has been living and surfing in San Diego for over a decade. He loves the ocean and is lucky to call San Diego home. Frustrated with mainstream reviews, he set out to create the best source of surf reviews for San Diego beaches. Check the About page for more info!