The presence of neurotoxic species within the genus Alexandrium along the U.S. coastline has raised concern of potential poisoning through the consumption of contaminated seafood. Paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs) detected in shellfish provide evidence that these harmful events have increased in frequency and severity along the California coast during the past 25 years, but the timing and location of these occurrences have been highly variable. We conducted a 4-year survey in King Harbor, CA, to investigate the seasonal dynamics of Alexandrium catenella and the presence of a particulate saxitoxin (STX), the parent compound of the PSTs. A quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay was developed for quantifying A. catenella in environmental microbial assemblages. This approach allowed for the detection of abundances as low as 12 cells liter?1, 2 orders of magnitude below threshold abundances that can impact food webs. A. catenella was found repeatedly during the study, particularly in spring, when cells were detected in 38% of the samples (27 to 5,680 cells liter?1). This peak in cell abundances was observed in 2006 and corresponded to a particulate STX concentration of 12 ng liter?1, whereas the maximum STX concentration of 26 ng liter?1 occurred in April 2008. Total cell abundances and toxin levels varied strongly throughout each year, but A. catenella was less abundant during summer, fall, and winter, when only 2 to 11% of the samples yielded positive qPCR results. The qPCR method developed here provides a useful tool for investigating the ecology of A. catenella at subbloom and bloom abundances.