Located in the same place as the Living Coast Discovery Center in the Mid-Bayfront Area, just to the west of the Chula Vista suburb, the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is an important natural space. Home to endangered birds and other animals, visitors can enjoy trails for walks and hikes and seasonally available tours.

The nature center and refuge consists of about 2620 acres of land and water around San Diego Bay and works to protect a wide range of species that fall under the categories of endangered, threatened, migratory, and native. The goal is to protect these species and their habitats as this coastal environment becomes more and more urbanized.

Whether you are a local looking for more unique San Diego experiences or a visitor looking to get off the beaten path -- both literally and figuratively, the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent place for a visit. Head over to the south end of San Diego Bay for a day of nature and wildlife.

San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay

The San Diego Bay is a natural deep-water port and natural harbor in San Diego County. Most people think of this area in relation to its harbor cruises, commercial uses, and naval ties. Still, the bay is good for just about everything one might imagine, including conservation.

You can paddleboard, hire a duffy boat, learn about San Diego’s history, and see certain produce being brought into port from other countries, but you can also hike, commercially fish, whale watch, and learn about plenty of native species.

The third largest of California’s three large, protected bays, coming in after San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay. This is one of the best natural harbors on the West coast of North America, having served fleets of military ships during the world wars and continuing to serve as a home port to significant commercial and military assets.

About the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is primarily comprised of two different units- the South San Diego Bay and Sweetwater Marsh units. The refuge is located at the south bay, but the north and central bay areas are also rich in natural resources.

The salt marshes are by far the most prominent habitat on this refuge unit and support juvenile fish and invertebrates while providing nesting, foraging, and high-water refuge for many different species of birds.

The additional native habitats on the unit are intertidal mudflats, salt ponds, and a shallow subtidal habitat. These spaces provide resting and foraging habitats for various birds, and the levees surrounding the ponds also offer important nesting habitat spaces for seven species of ground-nesting seabirds to utilize.

Surrounded by the urbanized coastal cities of San Diego, Coronado, Chula Vista, National City, and Imperial Beach, this refuge space is crucial in protecting much of the coastal wildlife that once would have resided in a much larger area.

The San Diego Audubon Society offers monthly and winter tours so the public can experience the South San Diego Bay NWR.

Protecting Endangered and Threatened Species

San Diego Sea Lion

The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge works to help both plants and wildlife in the coastal Southern California region. The refuge staff work with various habitat management techniques intended to maintain, recover, or enhance plant and wildlife success.

Management techniques are deployed in various ways depending on the needs of the plants or wildlife, as discerned by staff members’ careful assessment.

While the refuge has over 200 species of birds that can be found, it also provides a habitat for four species that fall under the categories of endangered or threatened.

The refuge uses multiple different management and conservation techniques to ensure that species are kept safe, protected, and in a reasonable balance with one another. These programs heavily focus on recovering threatened western snowy plover, endangered salt marsh bird’s beak plant, California least tern, and endangered light-footed Ridgway’s rail. These four species require extra attention and support but are managed along with the other species the refuge supports.

What do recovery actions look like for each of these species?

Least Tern and Snowy Plover:

o Nest site preparation

o Predator control

o Monitoring at the D Street fill within the Sweetwater Marsh Unit

o Salt Works within the South San Diego Bay Unit

Light-Footed Ridgway’s Rail

o Salt marsh restoration

o Population monitoring

o A captive breeding program conducted in partnership with the Living Coast Discovery Center, SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, and more.

There is an essential focus on the community, from support to input on planning and other decision-making processes surrounding San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. They not only welcome but encourage the interest of the public.

It is worth noting that some sensitive areas are closed to the public to support and recover threatened and endangered species by letting the land work with the species in a way that only nature itself can. For example, bird nesting areas might not be available for the public to hike on walking trails, go bird watching, or tour as rehabilitation occurs.

As the goal of the San Diego Bay NWR is to provide a safe haven from surrounding urbanization and urban development, nesting birds can better breed, feed, and rest on land designated to them for this purpose. This is also an essential stop along the Pacific Flyway for nesting birds to avoid overly developed areas during their migration practice.

Following the natural order of restoration, such projects are carefully designed to mimic and model nature, allowing target habitat types to passively develop as they would with no human involvement.

Exploring More of San Diego

San Diego County

San Diego is home to plenty of other nature and outdoor experiences. If you are staying near San Diego Bay, here are some other experiences you might want to take advantage of during your time in America’s Finest City:

 Campland on the Bay

o For more time on the bay, Mission Bay, you can head to Campland to camp, enjoy the water, and take in some easy access to nearby San Diego spots.

San Diego Zoo

o Renowned across the country and the world, the San Diego Zoo is often at the top of every ‘best zoos’ list. Whether we are looking at the best in the state, country, or world, you are sure to see the San Diego Zoo right at the top.

 Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden Balboa Park

o Balboa Park is a vast, influential outdoor space in San Diego that borders the San Diego Zoo, with the two sharing a parking lot. The Japanese Friendship Garden is arguably the star of this park’s outdoor attractions.

  Living Coast Discovery Center

o This unique zoo and aquarium space is a great way to keep the natural exploration going during your time in San Diego. The nonprofit zoo aims to provide benefits to various species and spread education to visitors.

  Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

o If you’re looking for a nearby place to hike on some waterfront trails while learning a bit about San Diego’s history, this is the place to be.

 La Jolla Trails & Sunny Jim Sea Cave

o For some better, more diverse trails, La Jolla and the Torrey Pines coastal areas are great locations. A bit further north than the San Diego Bay area, it is a worthwhile trip if you have some extra time to spend on the I-5.

No matter where you go and what you do in San Diego, we do not doubt that you’ll find the perfect place for you and your aspirations.

Enjoy your Stay Near the Bay

Whether you’re a visitor experiencing this space for the first, and likely only, time, or a local who has visited numerous times, you can be sure that you will learn or experience something new here.

This urban refuge located toward the south end of San Diego Bay comprises the South Bay Unit and Sweetwater Marsh Unit. It provides an exclusive habitat-based center for endangered, threatened, and other local species.

Have you been before? Let us know about your experience on socials @sandiegodotcom.