San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Enjoy nature at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, home to endangered and threatened wildlife.
San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Discover the Refuge
History of the Refuge
Save on Tours
Nature at the Refuge
What to Do?
How to Get There
Planning Ahead
Stay Nearby

Highlights

Parks & Nature
Nature
Parking
Tips
Parks & Nature
Nature
Parking
Tips

Discover San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge protects a vast array of endangered and threatened species that are not only native to the San Diego Bay, but also those who have migrated to the area.

The Refuge can be found at the south end of San Diego Bay and takes up approximately 2600 acres of land and water. Some of the surrounding cities are: Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Coronado Island.

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Hilton San Diego Bayfront
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History of the Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge was created to give an exclusive habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife. These habitats were created to protect these creatures and help preserve nature.

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Nature at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is home to threatened and endangered species, as well as hundreds of birds and water wildlife.

Sweetwater Marsh

Sweetwater Marsh is a coastal salt marsh that is home to young fish and invertebrates. It also provides a nesting area and highwater refuge for the birds of the area. The light-footed clapper rail, which is federally listed as endangered, and the state endangered Belding’s savannah sparrow, call Sweetmarsh Marsh home.

The mudflats and coastal salt marsh is also an important area during the winter for certain birds. Many shorebirds, like the long-billed curlews, whimbrels, and red knots, come to the area during the winter season.

The D Street fill, which during the 1960’s was filled with dredge spoils, became a nesting habitat for some birds including the California least terns, horned larks, and killdeer.

The South San Diego Bay Unit

The South San Diego Bay Unit is made up of subtidal habitat, intertidal mudflats and salt ponds. The shallow subtidal habitat is home to twelve species of and an array of birds. It is the most abundant and diverse area of the whole refuge. The south end of the area serves as a nursery area for California halibut and sand bass.

The intertidal mudflats are a habitat for fish during high tide and during low tide, it is a gathering spot for shore birds looking for food. Here you can see the Belding’s savannah sparrow and the light-footed clapper rail.

Check Out What you Can Do at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is not just a refuge for endangered species, but it is home to lots of activities for adults and kids.

Trails for all Skill Levels

If you are looking for a hike, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers three trails for you to conquer. The San Diego Coastline trail runs from Chula Vista to Coronado and is approximately 12.5 miles. It is good for all skill levels and has activities along the way. You can also take your bike on this trail if that is more your style.

Another trail is the Living Coast Discovery Center Trail. This trail is approximately one mile and has heavy foot traffic. The hike features activities along the way and beautiful wildflowers. This trail is more of a nature walk than a hike.

Finally, a new half mile trail that runs along the Bayshore Bikeway in Imperial Beach. It is stroller and wheelchair friendly, and great for birdwatching.

Local Tips
Birdwatching Spot!
Belding's savannah sparrow is a State and Federally protected bird. It is a rare subspecies of the Savannah sparrow. It is distinguished from the Savannah sparrow by having heavier and darker streaking, and a smaller beak profile.

Bird lovers Paradise!

If bird watching is more your style, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers multiple Bird Walks at Sweetwater Marsh. Every Saturday, the Sweetwater Safari is an interactive guided tour with one of the parks experts. You get binoculars and a checklist to keep track of the birds you spot.

Every second Saturday of the month, there is a Bird Walk that is also at Sweetwater Marsh. This adventure gives you the chance to come close to birds such as the snowy egrets, ospreys, burrowing owls, and Ridgsway’s rails. Make sure to wear comfy shoes and bring binoculars (limited amounts of loaner binoculars are available).

Make your Hike Interactive

Want to have some interactive fun on your hike? Download the Discover Nature app for your mobile device. The app can be used in both Sweetwater Marsh and South Bay. The app asks questions about your journey, and the faster you answer, the more points you receive!

Lots of Fun for your Kids!

Finally, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers programs just for kids. Sweetwater Marsh Unit provides environmental education to kids and host camps, field trips and events throughout the year.

Also, Habitat Heroes is a new program started in the South Bay. This group gathers to help the growing threat of invasive species. Students and volunteers remove wildlife that is not native to the refuge, as well as clean up and plant new native species to the area.

The students and volunteers work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff.

Here you can also find the new Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers Outdoor Education Center where you can get a great view of all of the wildlife in the South Bay.

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Exterior view, Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection
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Getting to San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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Street Parking

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge can be found just south of San Diego proper. Sweetwater Marsh of San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is located on the east side of the San Diego Bay in Chula Vista.

Looking to escape the city and check out some wildlife? This is the place for you.

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is an easy ride down I-5 South. Head south for 7 miles until you reach exit 8B. Take the E St. exit. From the exit, make a right hand turn onto Gunpowder Rd.

Parking for the park can be found on E St in Chula Vista. From there, you can take a shuttle bus (runs from 10am – 5pm) to the nature center. Once you reach the nature center, you will have access to trails, as well as beaches for great birdwatching.

Popular Activities

San Diego Harbor Cruise
San Diego Harbor Cruise
$28 per person
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The World Famous San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
Discounts Available
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LEGOLAND Hopper Ticket
LEGOLAND Hopper Ticket
$127 per person
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Visit the San Diego Museum of Art
Visit the San Diego Museum of Art
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Planning Ahead

Man’s Best Friend

Dogs are NOT allowed in Sweetwater Marsh, but they are allowed along Bayshore Bikeway. Dogs must be on a leash at all times. Please clean up after your dog!

Fishing, Camping or Hunting?

Keep your camping gear at home. Camping and open fires are strictly prohibited. Check out our articles on Camping in San Diego for other places to camp.

Hunting is not permitted in the park. However, fishing is allowed in the open water areas of the refuge.

Prohibited items

Distributing or collecting plants or animals is not prohibited. The wildlife is taking refuge in the area, and they cannot be removed. Nor can outside wildlife be added to the area as it can disrupt the habitat.

No horses, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, or dirt bikes are allowed on the bike trail or refuge. Collecting artifacts is also prohibited.

Quiet please!

Please limit any loud noises (ex. no fireworks, loud radios). Swimming and personal watercraft (jet skis, water skiing) are not allowed in the park. Please clean up your liter!

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Stay Nearby

Hilton San Diego Bayfront
Family Friendly
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from $206 / night
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Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
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Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
from $189 / night
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Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection
Beachfront
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Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection
from $188 / night
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Sand Castle Inn
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from $215 / night
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Tours & Adventures
San Diego Harbor Cruise
San Diego Harbor Cruise
$28 per person
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The World Famous San Diego Zoo
Discounts Available
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