Data from the Hudson River estuary demonstrate that the tidal variations in vertical salinity stratification are not consistent with the patterns associated with along-channel tidal straining. These observations result from three additional processes not accounted for in the traditional tidal straining model: 1) along-channel and 2) lateral advection of horizontal gradients in the vertical salinity gradient and 3) tidal asymmetries in the strength of vertical mixing. As a result, cross-sectionally averaged values of the vertical salinity gradient are shown to increase during the flood tide and decrease during the ebb. Only over a limited portion of the cross section does the observed stratification increase during the ebb and decrease during the flood. These observations highlight the three-dimensional nature of estuarine flows and demonstrate that lateral circulation provides an alternate mechanism that allows for the exchange of materials between surface and bottom waters, even when direct turbulent mixing through the pycnocline is prohibited by strong stratification.