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Natural Wonders on the Big Bay

Experience all that nature has to offer on San Diego Bay

Discover nature’s wonders in and around San Diego Bay. The Bay supports numerous endangered and threatened species of plants and animals and is a vital link to other wildlife areas. You may want to take more than one day to explore the trails, exhibits and wildlife refuges on the Big Bay.

Let’s start at Cabrillo National Monument, located west of the city of San Diego on the tip of Point Loma. This U.S. National Park encompasses more than 660 acres of native habitat and spectacular city, bay and ocean views.

There are more than 300 native plant species within the park. The tide pools are one of the last and best-preserved rocky intertidal areas open to the public in Southern California. Be sure to wear good shoes for a hike along the two-mile Bayside Trail, which  takes you through one of the last coastal sage scrub habitats in the world. The park is open 365 days of the year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Our next stop is The Living Coast Discovery Center (formerly The Chula Vista Nature Center), located on Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge along the south end of San Diego Bay. The center is an internationally recognized zoo/aquarium exhibiting plants and animals native to San Diego Bay and marsh/wetland habitats. You can get up-close and personal with endangered green sea turtles, shorebirds, hawks, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish and more.

The Living Coast Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Access to the facility from the parking lot is via a free shuttle ride.

Let’s move south. The Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge Complex is home to many endangered birds and one endangered plant. This beautiful 1,051-acre wetland where the Tijuana River meets the Pacific Ocean is Southern California's only coastal lagoon not bisected by roads and rail lines. The refuge is also part of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), one of only 26 NERRs in the entire United States. [Source for Information:]

More than 370 species of birds have been recorded on the refuge and in the adjacent river valley. The endangered California Least Tern, Least Bell's Vireo, California Brown Pelican, Light-footed Clapper Rail and an endangered plant, Salt Marsh Bird's Beak can be found on the refuge. The Western Snowy Plover, a threatened species, is a year round resident and nests on refuge beaches.

Tijuana Slough's habitats include open water, tidal salt marsh, beach dune, riparian, vernal pool and upland surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

The Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the native plant garden is open seven days a week.

Planning a back-to-nature day in early winter? A Whale Watching excursion is a must-see. California Gray whales pass along the coast of San Diego from December through February during the south migration to the warm lagoons of Mexico for the winter and return trip northward for summer. Gray whales are easy to see along the Southern California coast and on whale watching cruises departing from San Diego Bay.

Contact information:

Cabrillo National Monument
The Living Coast Discovery Center
San Diego Harbor Excursions
Hornblower Cruises and Events
Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge Complex