Surfperches are mostly restricted to inshore marine environments. Many species are found in the surf near sandy beaches, but members of the family also frequent sea-grass beds, rocky outcroppings, and piers. Less frequently, surf-perches are known to enter brackish and fresh waters, and one species lives its whole life in lakes and rivers.

Cichlids also exhibit a wide salinity tolerance, and some species are found in brackish and marine waters. Some cichlids are capable of withstanding rather extreme conditions. For example, some Oreochromis species live in high-temperature, high-alkalinity salt lakes in Kenya and Tanzania. Most cichlids are freshwater fishes, however, and members of the family can be found in most every conceivable freshwater habitat within their range, including open waters of lakes, oxygen-deprived depths, rocky inshore areas, aquatic plant beds, swamps, small streams, and large rivers, including rapids habitats.

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