Coastal ocean waters tend to have very different patterns of phytoplankton biomass variability from the open ocean, and the connections between physical variability and phytoplankton bloom dynamics are less well established for these shallow systems. Predictions of biological responses to physical variability in these environments is inherently difficult because the recurrent seasonal patterns of mixing are complicated by aperiodic fluctuations in river discharge and the high-frequency components of tidal variability. We might expect, then, less predictable and more complex bloom dynamics in these shallow coastal systems compared with the open ocean. Given this complex and dynamic physical environment, can we develop a quantitative framework to define the physical regimes necessary for bloom inception, and can we identify the important mechanisms of physical-biological coupling that lead to the initiation and termination of blooms in estuaries and shallow coastal waters? Numerical modeling provides one approach to address these questions. Here we present results of simulation experiments with a refined version of Cloern's (1991) model in which mixing processes are treated more realistically to reflect the dynamic nature of turbulence generation in estuaries. We investigated several simple models for the turbulent mixing coefficient. We found that the addition of diurnal tidal variation to Cloern's model greatly reduces biomass growth indicating that variations of mixing on the time scale of hours are crucial. Furthermore, we found that for conditions representative of South San Francisco Bay, numerical simulations only allowed for bloom development when the water column was stratified and when minimal mixing was prescribed in the upper layer. Stratification, however, itself is not sufficient to ensure that a bloom will develop: minimal wind stirring is a further prerequisite to bloom development in shallow turbid estuaries with abundant populations of benthic suspension feeders.