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Parks and Wildlife

Parks and Wildlife Refuges along San Diego Bay

There are exceptional parks and wildlife refuges on San Diego Bay. These parks and refuges include lavish gardens, fun playgrounds, relaxing walkways and peeks at San Diego wildlife, unique plant life, and endangered and threatened species.

Big Bay Parks

Whether you are looking for fun San Diego family activities or a nice quiet walk, take advantage of any or all of San Diego Bay’s 20 beautiful parks. Collectively, they cover 250 acres and featuring walkways, playgrounds, beautiful landscaping and well-maintained facilities.

Click below to view each Big Bay park’s features and amenities:

General information:

  • For assistance, please call 619-686-6200
  • Parks are open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • Pets are allowed, but must stay on a leash.
  • Alcohol is not permitted unless you have an approved permit.

Park Reservations

Whether your event is casual or formal, large or small, Port parks are great places to share good times with groups and family, friends or co-workers. The Port of San Diego welcomes you to experience San Diego Bay’s perfect climate and enjoy any of these parks for your next special occasion.

The Port of San Diego reserves its parks on a first come first serve basis. A permit is required for groups larger than 25.

For information on obtaining a permit go to Port of San Diego Park Permits Web page or call 619-686-6200.

Click for more detailed information

Wildlife Refuges

Nature lovers can explore the diverse flora and fauna at nature centers/wildlife refuges on San Diego Bay. From bayside salt ponds, estuaries and salt marshes, you can experience the beauty of nature in San Diego Bay. Because of the unique wildlife and the attractiveness of San Diego to various endangered and threatened plant and animal species, the United States National Wildlife Refuge Service has approved four refuges in San Diego County. One is located in South San Diego Bay and covers 3,940 acres. This refuge is comprised of 90-100% submerged lands, inter-tidal mudflats and salt marshes, which have been eliminated in the north and central Bay. The goal of the South Bay refuge is to preserve and restore the remaining wetlands, mudflats, and eel grass beds to ensure that the bay’s thousands of migrating and resident birds and waterfowl will survive far into the future. Some of the birds visitors can view include Elegant Terns, Egrets and Gull Billed Terns.

Another refuge, called the Sweetwater Marsh, is also located in the San Diego Bay and spans numerous parks. This refuge is home to the Palmer's Frankenia, a rare salt marsh plant. This refuge covers 316 acres and provides visitors with interpretive and interactive exhibits explaining the various marsh habitat, self-guided environmental education programs, guided nature and bird walks, a shark and ray exhibit, and the opportunity to view native birds in outdoor aviaries.

Nature Centers

The Port District of San Diego works diligently to protect the Bay's natural resources. As a result, wildlife abounds on San Diego Bay. Below, learn more about the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and Chula Vista Nature Center, the Bay's premiere nature centers.

Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge features 316 acres of salt marsh and coastal uplands and includes the largest emergent wetlands area remaining in San Diego Bay. Principle endangered species include the California Least Tern, Light-Footed Clapper Rail, salt marsh bird's beak plant and Palmer's frankenia, a rare salt marsh plant. The Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is the only place in the United States where Palmer's frankenia is found. In addition, the refuge - an important shorebird and waterfowl habitat - has more than 200 species of birds recorded.

Living Coast Discovery Center, operated by the Friends of Chula Vista Nature Center, is located on site and has extensive interpretive programs including formal environmental education classes, a monthly newsletter and volunteer programs. This living museum serves the public with educational programs and exhibits. It is leading the way in the restoration, preservation and enhancement of the surrounding wetlands. From the observation tower and deck you can witness more than 200 species of birds. Some are endangered and all are beautiful. Be sure to bring your binoculars to view these birds, or rent a pair at the center's bookstore. Also, take a walk on the bilingual interpretive trails within the National Wildlife Refuge.

South Bay Wildlife Refuge

The Port of San Diego acquired the 2,200 acres of South Bay Wildlife Refuge land in 1998 for the development of a wildlife refuge. Although it is closed to the public, the refuge is home to more than 560 plant and animal species, including eight endangered or threatened species. The South Bay Wildlife Refuge is also a crucial link for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that travel along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to South America. It is an internationally important site for nesting seabirds, migrating shorebirds and wintering waterfowl.