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 once before but never took the quarter-mile hike just outside of 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!
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.
I think it is also important to mention that there are no other freshwater lagoons in Southern California.
So, needless to say, 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 see it as well on Hwy 78, which runs east.
This waterway (Buena Vista Creek) runs parallel with Hwy 78 for almost 10 miles inland.
Who is in Charge of the Buena Vista Lagoon?
The lagoon is owned and maintained by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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 very first ecological reserve to be 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 the tidal action to help with the water circulation.
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. With the adding of 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 migrations in the Winter and Summer?
Needless to say, but this is an excellent spot to go bird watching!
The Four Basins of Buena Vista Lagoon
Buena Vista Lagoon aerial shot above shows that it is broken up into four separate basins.
The last one is hard to see in this photo, but it is right before you get to the beach, where a weir is set up.
A group of private community homeowners at Saint Malo Beach own 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. This 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 have been four options:
- Restore the lagoon to 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 is in the best interests of the lagoon. It is also the most economical.
Advocates for removing the weir site 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 chocked off, thus making the water stagnant and,, in turn, making for 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 Really 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 would decrease in size and become a stinky mudflat. The bottom line is the homeowners do not want to see a decrease in home value.
On the other hand, many inland residents feel as if 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 that we came here in the first place, to take that walk around the Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center Trail.
We started just outside of the Visitor Center and proceeded to follow the path to the left.
I want to add that the local Eagle Scouts have posted classifications placards for many of the plant species all along the trail (see map above.), which I appreciated so much!
The lagoon edges are taken over by narrow and broadleaf cattails, spiny rush, and bulrush.
It is evident here that the lagoon’s water level is rather 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 we were making our way back to the Nature Center.
If you are not familiar, 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 one of the Channel Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara in Central California.
Would you like to see a grove of Torrey Pine trees up close? A hike at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is just 20 minutes south of here!
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 of the Nature Center!
The Audubon Chapter of Oceanside is responsible for this facility. They built this Nature Center, along with having members and fellow volunteers on staff.
There are many free activities offered here.
For example, every Monday from 10 am-12 pm, volunteers meet to do a little maintenance work around the native plant garden and trails.
Other activities include nature-led walks as well as 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, there have been over 200 bird species 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 of 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 taken place, which means more sedimentation by the day, month, year.
On Jan 25, 2018, because so many public comments came in at the last minute, a court ruling was set back once again.
Thank you once again for joining me on a mini-tour to 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 be showcasing the owners of the weir- the mysterious Saint Malo Beach!
Until next time!
Great news! After decades of debate, it has been finally decided that the Buena Vista Lagoon’s weir will be removed in the not-so-distant future. The only thing next is to find the money actually 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 have never seen such a strong current before. It was at least four feet deep as well!
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!