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Wetlands and Wildlife

Get Back in Nature in San Diego’s South Bay

San Diego is one of the most biologically rich counties in the United States, sheltering more endangered plants and animals than any other county in the nation. In fact, three national wildlife preserves border the southern end of San Diego Bay and another refuge sits just a few miles off the coast, making it of the best places in the entire state to bird watch or simply get back to nature.

Four National Wildlife Preserves

These four preserves protect more than 50,000 acres of habitat in its natural state. Visiting these truly beautiful spots in San Diego helps preserve the precious resources and natural environments of these unique locations, and it a wonderful way to spend a day.

1. Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Refuge

Encompasses 2,500 acres on the border between the United States and Mexico, Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Refuge is the largest coastal wetland in Southern California and an essential breeding, feeding and nesting ground for over 370 species of migratory and native birds including six endangered species. The reserve features four miles of walking trails that pass by prime bird watching areas. There are free weekly events for those interested in learning more about the wildlife in the area and every third Saturday of the month at 10:00 AM, the Tijuana Estuary holds a speaker series with topics related to the history and education of the Tijuana Estuary and its watershed. On the southern end of the reserve, you'll find Border Field State Park where you can horseback ride and enjoy the scenic views.

2. South Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Adjacent to Silver Strand State Beach, South Bay National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a remarkable 4,000 acre haven for protected birds and other animals. Birdwatching is good here year-round, but best in the fall and winter months. There is a walking trail which runs parallel with the Bayshore Bikeway bike path which offers beautiful views of San Diego Bay and the reserve.

3. Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge

Comprised 316 acres of salt marsh wetlands, Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge is home to some highly endangered species of birds. It is also home to the Living Coast Discovery Center, a budget friendly aquarium and wildlife experience with more than 350 animal and plant species native to the San Diego Bay habitat including a sea turtle lagoon, rescued birds, a shark and ray exhibit, and hiking trails.

4. Otay National Wildlife Refuge

Consisting of 44,000 acres, Otay National Wildlife Refuge is a few miles east of the bay area and includes many opportunities for hiking, biking, bird watching and more.

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