While the Living Coast Discovery Center is just seven miles south of downtown San Diego, it feels worlds away. This nature center is a nice budget-friendly alternative to more expensive San Diego attractions and a fun destination for a family day trip.
The focus here is on education, animal interaction and enjoying the natural setting of the 316-acre Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. This area represents one of the last salt marsh habitats on the California coast as they have been replaced by development throughout much of the state.
The Living Coast Discovery Center is divided up into several different exhibit areas which focus on certain types of habitats and species. The center features an underwater world portion and then transitions to marsh and upland zones. Visitors can see seahorses, lizards, snakes, octopus and more.
Turtle Lagoon is the home to the Center’s Eastern Pacific Green Sea Turtles. These gentle giants can be seen from the surface and from underwater viewing windows. There is an afternoon feeding time where visitors can talk to the animal keeper and get their questions answers on the majestic turtles.
The Shark & Ray Experience is a 21,000-gallon tank that also includes an interactive shallow-water touch area. This is where visitors can roll up their sleeves and get hands-on and actually touch the resident rays and sharks. A neat experience, for sure.
There is also a large underwater viewing area which provides an observation area for sharks and other marine animals.
There are a morning and afternoon feeding at the Shark & Ray Experience with friendly and knowledgeable staff available to answer questions and give you information on the different animals. Eagle Mesa features the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle, two amazingly powerful birds. In this area, you can learn about bird flight, how these big raptors hunt their prey and more.
Shark & Ray Experience
The Living Coast Discovery Center also has a Raptor Row, which focuses on native birds of prey that were injured and would be unable to survive on their own. Visitors to Raptor Row will see several kinds of hawks, owls, falcon, kestrel and even a turkey vulture.
The Discovery Center’s location in the National Wildlife Refuge means that the area attracts an abundance of shorebirds that thrive in the area where saltwater and freshwater mix. The Shorebird Aviary focuses on the education of endangered birds, including the Light-Footed Clapper Rail. Other birds that can be seen include egrets, mergansers, ducks, oystercatchers, ibis and more.
There are 1.5 miles of walking trails which go from the Nature Center to San Diego Bay. Because San Diego has such a mild climate, this trail is lovely year round. The trail will take you past some historical remnants, including the foundation of the gunpowder factory that used to stand on the aptly-named Gunpowder Point.
The Hercules Powder Plant Company took kelp from the bay and processed it into acetone. The resulting acetone was exported to Europe where it was used to make explosives that were used by the British in World War I There are also remnants of the railroad that delivered the kelp to gunpowder factory. Trail walkers will also be delighted by the shorebirds, raptors and rabbits and more.
San Diego Bay Trails
Feel free to bring food and snacks to the Nature Center and make a day of it. They also sell some snacks and beverages at the gift shop. Be sure to bring sunscreen and binoculars if you plan to walk the nature trail.
Don’t forget the camera to take photos of the little one (and big kids too) petting the rays and sharks. A light windbreaker is a good idea too since the winds can pick up along the bay.
The Center is open daily, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is very affordable, with discounts for seniors, students, and children. Children under 3 are free. There is always plenty of staff, including volunteer docents who are on hand to make your visit a fun one.
In addition to the typical day visits, the Living Coast Discovery Center runs a variety of programs, including arts and craft session, composting workshops, day camps, docent training program, bird tours, overnight stays and also kayaking opportunities.
Living Coast Nature Center Directions
From I-5 take the E Street exit in Chula Vista and head west. Follow the signs to the parking area at 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive.
The Living Coast Discovery Center is accessed by a shuttle that runs from the main parking lot to the center every 15 minutes. A shuttle system is used since the Nature Center is located in the wildlife refuge. This keeps extra auto traffic and noise from disrupting the sensitive habitats. The shuttle can accommodate strollers and wheelchairs.
Living Coast Discovery Center 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive Chula Vista, Ca. 91910.