On the morning of March 9, 2018, my mother-in-law and I decided to trip to the Buena Vista Lagoon in Oceanside, California.
I had been here before but had never taken the quarter-mile hike around the Buena Vista Lagoon Audubon’s Nature Center.
I have been intrigued ever since, so we are back!
Come and join me for a tour!
Table of Contents
Buena Vista Means “Good-View” In Spanish
# Please click on each photo to see a larger version size.
Let us now go over a few things before we take our hike.
The Buena Vista Lagoon is 223 acres of freshwater wetland that serves as a natural barrier between two cities- Oceanside and Carlsbad.
It is also important to mention that there are no other freshwater lagoons in Southern California.
So, we have a unique coastal ecosystem here!
You may fish from shore, and hiking is allowed on designated trails only.
I have always wondered about this lagoon/ coastal wetland ever since I moved down here 30 years ago.
Not only do you notice it when driving on Interstate 5, but you can also see it on Hwy 78, which runs east.
This waterway (Buena Vista Creek) runs parallel to Hwy 78 for almost 10 miles inland.
Who is in Charge of the Buena Vista Lagoon?
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife owns and maintains the lagoon.
Two non-profit organizations help support and preserve this site:
- The Buena Vista Audubon Society
- Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation.
Buena Vista Lagoon History
The history of the Buena Vista Lagoon is fascinating.
In 1939, an ordinance was passed stating that firearms were not allowed to be discharged within the adjacent areas around the lagoon. Ultimately this is what turned this location into a bird sanctuary.
In 1968, the Buena Vista Lagoon became the first ecological reserve designated in California.
Initially, this body of water was a salt marsh. The inlet once connected to the Pacific, so the lagoon relied heavily on tidal action to help with the water circulation.
The Placing of the Weir
In the 1940s, the Saint Malo Community put up a weir to stop this connection and, as a result, created a freshwater lagoon.
A weir is a small dam used to raise the level of a stream, or in this case, a small lagoon.
A group of private homeowners at Saint Malo Beach damned up the lagoon to keep it freshwater only.
Saint Malo is a unique private gated community of multimillion-dollar homes built in a French Normandy style situated right on the coast. By adding the weir, they now had their private lake as well.
There has been significant controversy over weir ever since.
More on that later.
Pacific Flyway at the Buena Vista Lagoon
Do you like birds?
Did you know that the Buena Vista Lagoon is a part of the Pacific Flyway?
Can you believe that millions of birds pass by this area during their annual winter and summer migrations?
This is an excellent spot to go bird-watching!
The Four Basins of Buena Vista Lagoon
The Buena Vista Lagoon aerial shot shows that it is broken up into four separate basins.
The last one is hard to see in this photo, but it is correct before you get to the beach, where a weir is set up.
A group of private community homeowners at Saint Malo Beach on the last of the four basins.
Their primary objective is the keep the Buena Vista Lagoon as a freshwater lagoon.
The Buena Vista Lagoon has been in a state of decline, and this is due to excessive sedimentation and the uncontrolled spread of cattails and mosquitos because of this weir.
As of today, there has been no dredging of the sediment since 1982! Whenever something is about to be done, another court case is filed once again.
Talk about red tape!
The Big Question-Saltwater Lagoon or Fresh Water Lagoon?
I can not tell you how many headaches this small little dam has given to this community
There are four options:
- Restore the lagoon to a saltwater marsh flushed by the Ocean.
- Create a hybrid lagoon with the eastern half freshwater and the western half saltwater.
- Dredge and improve the existing freshwater lagoon.
- Do nothing.
Pro Saltwater Lagoon Argument
After several years of environmental impact studies done by the city and the state, the conclusion was that removing the weir was in the best interests of the lagoon. It is also the most economical.
Advocates for removing the weir site have numerous studies showing how the infestation of the cattails and mosquitos would disappear, and biological diversity would increase.
You see, the cattails have been growing out of control. Many of the waterways have been choked off, thus making the water stagnant and, in turn, a natural breeding ground for mosquitos.
Opening up the lagoon to the Ocean would also help improve the circulation of the waterways.
Additionally, a brackish (salt/fresh) water environment would be ideal for many marine species as a nursery ground.
Is Freshwater Best?
Opponents of the measure (the private homeowners) claim that if they agree to remove the weir, then sooner or later, the water from the lagoon would create a 100 ft wide channel on the beach.
Because of this, it would be impossible to walk between the two city beaches over 37% of the year.
They also fear that the lagoon will decrease in size and become a stinky mudflat. The bottom line is that homeowners do not want a decrease in home value.
On the other hand, many inland residents feel they are being held ‘hostage” by the few who own the weir.
Their main complaint is the ever-growing mosquito problem overtaking adjacent areas around the lagoon. Everything can be resolved by just getting rid of the weir.
Mosquitos cannot live in saltwater!
Are you interested in more information?
Check this video out!
What do you think?
Walking On the Trail At Buena Vista Lagoon
Now let’s get back to the main reason we came here in the first place, to take that walk around the Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center Trail.
We started outside the Visitor Center and followed the path to the left.
I want to add that the local Eagle Scouts have posted classification placards for many plant species all along the trail (see map above.), which I appreciated so much!
Narrow and broadleaf cattails, spiny rush, and bulrush take over the lagoon edges.
It is evident here that the lagoon’s water level is relatively low.
Do you see how tall these cattails are?
A Look at a Few San Diego Native Species
I was pleasantly surprised to see two Torrey pine trees while returning to the Nature Center.
If you are unfamiliar, the Torrey Pine is the rarest pine tree in the country.
The Torrey Pine tree is only found in North County, San Diego. There is one exception, though.
A small grove is located on Channel Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara in Central California.
Would you like to see a grove of Torrey Pine trees up close? The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve hike is just 20 minutes south!
I highly recommend it!
Buena Vista Audobon Nature Center Native Species Garden
A mini-looped trail with smaller-sized versions of the vegetation seen here at the lagoon is located in front of the Nature Center.
I have to say that the Eagle Scouts did an excellent job of classifying the plants.
Let’s take a look!
Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center
Let’s now take a look inside the Nature Center!
The Audubon Chapter of Oceanside is responsible for this facility. They built this Nature Center and had members and fellow volunteers on staff.
There are many free activities offered here.
For example, volunteers meet every Monday from 10 am-12 pm to do maintenance work around the native plant garden and trails.
Other activities include nature-led walks and a monthly bird census, which takes place on the 4th Saturday of each month.
Interested in any more activities offered?
Click on the photo above.
According to the Buena Vista Audubon’s official website, the lagoon accommodates 103 bird species, 18 mammal species, and 14 reptile and amphibian species.
Also, over 200 bird species have been observed and recorded here because of the Pacific Flyway!
Let’s have a look at a few of them now.
Let’s go upstairs to the observation deck!
Many guest speakers lecture here, and the public is always free to join.
The End of the Road
So there you have it, Buena Vista Lagoon, in all its glory! Did you enjoy the tour?
Which eco-friendly option do you think would be best?
In my opinion, restoring the lagoon to its original saltwater state would be the best option.
It is essential to realize that, at this point, something needs to happen sooner than later.
So far, it has been decades since any dredging has occurred, meaning more sedimentation by the day, month, and year.
On January 25, 2018, a court ruling was set back again because so many public comments came in at the last minute.
Thank you again for joining me on a mini-tour at the Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center and trail! I sincerely hope that you, too, can come here one day!
Please check back later as I will showcase the weir owners- the mysterious Saint Malo Beach!
Until next time!
Great news! After decades of debate, it has been decided that the Buena Vista Lagoon’s weir will be removed. The only thing next is finding the money to do the job. Click on the link above for more information!
A Special Visit to the Buena Vista Lagoon Weir
Hi! I wanted to add a few more photos of the Buena Vista Lagoon, highlighting different areas, especially the weir.
On January 31, 2021, my husband and I took our grandson for a quick walk on the beach. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the water of the lagoon was overflowing into the oceans. I had never seen such a strong current before, and it was also at least four feet deep!
Revisiting the Buena Vista Lagoon in 2022!
So one of my best friends was coming down to Carlsbad for a visit, so I took advantage of my free time to wait for her by visiting the Buena Vista Lagoon on a crisp November day!
I am happy to report that a couple of the volunteers reached out to me these past few months, encouraging me to check out all of the improvements within the lagoon and the new displays at the Buena Vista Audobon Nature Center.
Let’s take a look at what I experienced!
Walking Around the Lagoon- A Photo Tour
For fun, I will show you all of the features of this map! Let us pretend that we just stepped out of the Nature Center and headed towards the parking lot.
You can see that many of the cattails are not thriving, which is a good thing.
Minnow View Deck
Here is the first place to look at the lagoon for the first time. This area of water is designated as Bullfrog Pond. The water level was relatively high due to the higher-than-normal tide earlier that day.
Let’s continue our adventure, turn to the right, and follow that trail.
Following Pickleweed Path
I love how pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) changes color with the seasons in Southern California.
Here is where I noticed how so many of the cattails had been thinned out.
Mud Hen Bridge
I love this bridge! I wonder why it is named Mud Hen. After some research, I discovered that a mud hen is a marsh bird with short wings and long legs, such as coots, rails, marsh hens-; or, in other words, mud hens.
Good to know!
Ruddy Duck Dock
Sycamore Owl Roost
I have always had a deep-seated passion for the Ocean Environment which ultimately led me to receive a degree in Marine Biology. Living in the San Diego area for over 30 years, I have extensively explored the 70 miles of San Diego’s coastline, and I am here to share! Please use my website to your advantage and have a look around at all the wonders that the beaches of San Diego can offer you!