Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

I can not tell you how excited I was to go and check out the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center! I have always been fond of this lagoon. When I worked as a Fisheries Technician, I would find many shore anglers fishing on the western edge of this lagoon.

In San Diego, several lagoons and complimentary Nature Centers are filled with valuable information on local flora and fauna.

I have a page that lists all of these Coastal Lagoons and Nature Centers in San Diego County on my site here.

It has been my goal to visit everyone! Today is the day to check out the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center!

Let’s go!

Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Map

Located in North County San Diego, the Agua Hedionda Lagoon is a 400-acre saltwater lagoon forty minutes from Downtown San Diego in Carlsbad.

 Agua Hedionda means “Stinky Water” in Spanish. Before dredging in 1954, the lagoon was initially cut off from the ocean by a massive amount of sand, so I can quickly see how it received this name.

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon is unique in that several businesses share this lagoon:

  • The Encina Power Station, owned by NPG Energy, uses the lagoon water for the Power Plants cooling systems. Of special note-they are the stewards of this lagoon who are in charge of dredging it every two years.
  • Carlsbad Aquafarm, which raises oysters and mussels
  • Hubbs-Seaworld Institute runs a white sea bass hatchery
  • YMCA Daycamp
  • California Water Sports- Carlsbad features a dock and launch ramp as well as rentals and picnic areas
  • Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center, located on the eastern edge of the lagoon, is also where the Ecological Reserve section of the lagoon is. (refer to the map below)

Agua Hedionda Lagoon pamphlet with map

Agua Hedionda Lagoon pamphlet information

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center building

Let’s now concentrate on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center!

1580 Cannon Rd

760 804-1969

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation

When I first pulled into the parking lot, I was already happy with what I saw. Much care has been given to maintaining a pristine environment in and around the Center.

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation owns and operates the 3800-square-foot Agua Hedionda Discovery Center, which was completed in 2004.

Here you will find some fantastic displays that showcase the historical and biological significance of the area.

Let’s have a look around, shall we?

Ranchero room inside Center

When I first walked in, I encountered the guinea pig cages within the Rancho Room.

In the early history of California, the Spanish and later the Mexican governments would hand out large land grants and deeds to set up Ranchos to raise cattle and sheep.  

Ranchero Room coyote buffalo skin

Ranchero Room animal skin on wall

Over in the far left corner, there is an insect display showcased.

Animal Displays

Wetland Habitat Sign Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Bird Room Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center
In the display case are six bird nest examples.

Here we have the Birds of Agua Hedionda Lagoon Exhibit. Each tile has relevant and interesting facts on several bird species.

Nine professional bird portraits information tiles
Professional photos of birds seen at the lagoon.

Back door view Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

The Reptile Room display showcases several species and gives you the option of handling them if you wish. I have to say that I passed on that opportunity today, but I wouldn’t mind holding one of the snakes if I did have the chance.

Reptile Displays six tanks

Reptile Room Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

More reptile display tanks

Across the room, you will find the Discovery Centers Fish Aquariums. Here you can get a general idea of what is happening underneath the waters and see some of the native species that call this lagoon home.

Fish Aquarium Room tanks

Fish Display with information posters

Discovery Center Adopt a Fish Display
Adopt a Fish! Here are a few examples of fish seen at the lagoon.

Column of Life Display Discovery Center

In the Column of Life showcase, you get a first-hand look at each lagoon layer. In essence, here, you will learn the lagoon’s ecology, see how each layer works together, and know how important wetlands are to the coastal environment.

Here, see for yourself what lives in each layer! Column of Life Information side display

Luiseno History and Cultural Exhibit at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Luiseno Heritage Display

This display was a collaborative effort between the San Luis Rey Band of  Luiseno Indians and California State University San Marcos.

Native American Display Discovery Center

Grab Station Kids Corner

Luiseno Instruments showcased display
Luiseno Instruments

One of the primary emphases of this display is showing how important the native plants played in general to the Native American lifestyle.

California Native Plant Poster

Kid’s Corner at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Archaeological Dig Display Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

In the Kid’s Corner, there are several activities for the children to experience. These include an Archaeological Dig, many books, and many things to color and draw on.

I know that if my kids were still small, they would find many things to do here!Kid's Corner bookshelves table

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center
Withing the Beachcomber display, kids can close their eyes and guess what is in the sand.

Agua Hedionda Lagoon History Hallway

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center History Hallway Sign

I always get a little excited when I see a designated History area, as I revel in learning as much as possible about the past of San Diego. There is something to be said about prior knowledge that adds to the experience of any location.

Let’s now take a stroll down History Hall!

Beginning of History Hall

5000 BC to 1769 facts History Hall

It is so fascinating that the history of this area goes back to 5000BC!1796 to 1842 Agua Hedionda Lagoon

A Spanish commander, Gasper de Portola, was the first to sight the lagoon and named it “Stinking Waters.”  I find this interesting because where I live (20 miles inland) in Temecula, one of the major roads is De Portola Road!

1860 to 1879 facts in History Hall

Before the 1920s, the Agua Hedionda Lagoon was closed off to the Ocean, but that all changed after a series of powerful storms finally opened up the lagoon to saltwater circulation.

History Hall Facts 1920's to 1954

On March 3, 1990, the Aqua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation began.

1980-1990 History Hall Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Between 1992 and 1998, a system of trails was planned and eventually created around the lagoon. During these formative years is when I became familiar with the lagoon.

At the time, the only Trail I was aware of was the Hubbs Trail, located at the northwestern shore of the lagoon. This area has always been a favorite spot to fish from shore.

1992-1998 History Hall

History Hall 1999-2000 facts

History Hall 2000-2003 facts Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Between 2000 and 2003, an invasive seaweed species named Calerpa taxifolia was introduced into the lagoon after being released from a home aquarium.

As a rule, never dump your aquarium water into the wild, as you will introduce foreign, competing species!

This seaweed strain grows extremely fast, up to 12 inches a day. Because it is so fast-growing, the lagoon almost came to ruin, but the seaweed was eradicated through due diligence.

If you are interested in learning more, please click here.

History Hall Facts 2005-2006

I immensely appreciate how much time and effort the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation puts into educating the children in the area about the importance of the lagoon. All of the awards that they receive are proof of that! 
History Hall 2013-2015 Facts and photos

1954 Aerial shot lagoon with information
A 1954 aerial shot of the lagoon.

Tour Around The Outside of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

When I walked outside the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center for the first time, I was swarmed by a flock of swallows! I had no idea they were back in town, so it was a pleasant surprise!

Fun Fact- Each year the swallows return in large groups to Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19, St Joseph’s Day. The birds travel over 6000 miles from Goya, Argentina. To read more, click on the link above, it is fascinating!

Swallows outside Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Side of Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

If you zoom in and look under the roof’s eave, you will find holes where the swallows can build their mud nests.

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Backside of Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Can you imagine yourself sitting here with a cup of coffee, taking in the sights? I sure can!

Viewing Station Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Let’s now take a walk around where the Trail starts.

Bridge to sitting area Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Here we are on the back patio.

Native American Mural Back Patio
This mural depicts when the lagoon was cut off from the Ocean and was a freshwater lagoon. You can tell because cattails only grow in freshwater.

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Back Patio

Looking back at the back patio, we are on our way to take a short .25-mile hike!

Let’s go!

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Trail Map
Here is a list of all of the Trails at the lagoon

Discovery Center Trail Head Sign

Beginning of the Discovery Center Trail

Walking down this slope, you can not help becoming overwhelmed with all the smells of the coastal sage scrub community of plants. Within the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center’s grounds are more than 800 native plants, highlighting over 60 different species!

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center from trail

Here you can sneak a peek of the Discovery Center from the bottom of the first hill.

Bush Sunflower on trail

Walking down a little farther, I spy a bit of orange, which can mean only one thing our State Flower, the California Poppy!

I get so excited when I find them!

Fun Fact- You may pick a California Poppy, but only if it is not on any state grounds. If it is outside a school or a courthouse, or even on a street median do not hurt it or pick it!

Bottom of Discovery Trail poppies

California Poppy Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

California Poppies Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Mid-Trail

Here we are, on the final stretch of our hike. Did I mention that it smells delightful?

California Coastal Sage Scrub Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Discovery Trail halfway down

If you are ever in the area, guided bird walks are offered monthly here at the Discovery Center! What a fabulous opportunity to go bird-watching with an expert for free!

Poster for Monthly Bird Walks

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

Ecological Reserve Sign at Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Here we come upon the Ecological Reserve portion of the lagoon. No one is to enter this area, as it is a critical habitat for many species.

End of Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

East of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center near end

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Trail

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Ecological Reserve

End of Discovery Trail looking toward lagoon

End of Discovery Trail Looking Back
Looking back at the end of the Trail

It is essential to mention that this is not a closed-loop trail, so now it is time to make our way back.

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Native Garden

Carlsbad Garden Club Sign

After our lovely walk, let’s head to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center’s Native Garden, which hosts over 50 native species of plants.

First off, here is a list of all the species found here for later reference.

Native Plant Species List Side 1

Native Plant Species List Side 2

Two sand boxes at Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Heading over to the Native Garden, we pass by these fun sandboxes for children to explore.

Franciscan manzanita Native Garden

Over here, we find the Franciscan Manzanita, which is extinct in the wild. How fortunate to have this particular plant on display!

Franciscan manzanita Native Garden Discovery Center

Torrey Pine Tree information sign

Since I visited the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, I have been obsessed with the Torrey Pine tree!

The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine tree in the United States. They are only found in North County San Diego, except in a grove on Santa Rosa island off the coast of Santa Barbara.

On a side note: The world’s most giant Torrey pine tree- The Wardholme Tree, found in Carpenteria, is a transplanted Santa Rosa Island. Click on the above link to see how incredibly huge it is!

Two Torrey Pine Trees outside the Center
Torrey Pine Trees!

I get delighted whenever I come across a Torrey Pine tree!

Close-up of Torrey Pine needles

You can tell it is a Torrey Pines tree by looking at the needles, as they are in five groups. Look at the picture above and see if you can count out five.

Prostrate Black Sage Native Garden

The Prostrate Black Sage has such delicate purple flowers.

Deergrass Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center Native Garden

Deergrass is a valuable material used in basket weaving.

Inner Monterey Manzanita native garden

Inner Monterey Manzanita Plant Native Garden

Lemonade Berry Sign Native Garden

I might have to try this lemonade recipe sometime!

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

San Diego Honeysuckle Native Gardens

The San Diego Honeysuckle is found everywhere! I have a few of these vines growing in my backyard.

To call them hardy would be an understatement. You can find this plant everywhere, growing like a weed.

It sure does smell good, though!

Coast Live Oak Information sign

Here is another of my favorite trees, the Coastal Live Oak. The oldest Coastal Live Oak tree is on the Pechanga Reservation, less than a mile from my house.

Nicknamed the ” The Great Oak,” it is over 1000 years old!

Coastal Live Oak outside Discovery Center

Coyote Brush Native Garden Information

Coyote Brush Near Parking Lot Native

Carmel Mountain Lilac Native Garden

Narrow-leaf Milkweed Native Garden

Foothill penstemon

I love the flowers!

Basket Bush Native Garden

Dwarf Coffeeberry Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

White Sage Discovery Center Native Garden

California Sagebrush Information

You can see a sprig of California sagebrush in the right upper corner.

California Sagebrush Plant

Gowen Cypress Information

Gowen Cypress Plant Native Garden

Dwarf Coyote Brush Native Garden

Western Yarrow Information

Western Yarrow Plant Native Garden

End of the Tour

So thank you for making it this far! So what do you think of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center? Pretty fabulous, huh?

As I mentioned, I have been visiting all of the Lagoons and Nature Centers in San Diego.

This lagoon was number three on my list. So far, I think this might be my favorite. There is so much to see and do here, and I only stayed for an hour but could have stayed even longer.

I enjoyed the short Discovery Center Trail, the interactive displays, and the very extensive Native Garden.

My only wish is that I had more time to look around!

After my visit here, I continued my adventure and toured the Hubb Trail at the lagoon’s mouth. Please check back later as I will also write about my experiences there!

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section!

Until next time!

Front of Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

Goodbye Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center



8 Replies to “Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center”

  1. I love San Diego, but have not been here….yet. Your pictures are great. Gives me a great idea of what to expect and looks so interesting. I especially want to go to the Native Garden. That kind of thing is a huge interest for me. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! I love the Native Garden too especially how each plant was utilized. I am trying to learn all of the plants so I can make a new post. I hope you make it here soon!

  2. Colleen –
    Thanks for giving us a tour of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center. Your love and excitement for the outdoors is immensely captured in this post as you made me walk that quarter of a mile hike with you. The pictures are awesome! Truly, as if I was there! And the birds chirping in that video capturing a piece of sunny California is soooo inviting!
    Looking forward to more virtual tours with you.

  3. Colleen,
    What an informative article. You have made it though I should not pass this up on any trip to southern California. Your details are amazing.
    Two questions, are there restaurants nearby and what are the cost.
    Thanks for the article

    1. Why thank you, John! When it comes to restaurants there are none close by as this is an open area, but just a short drive South will take you to Carlsbad, and there are several to choose from for lunch or dinner. Such as, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse which would be in the 12-15 dollar/plate range, or Islands Restaurant with about the same price range. You could also go to the Southern Califonia stand-by, In-n-Out Burger where the price range is a more reasonable 5-7 dollars. Heading North, it is always fun to check out the Oceanside Harbor (about 10 minutes away) as there are several restaurants there as well. In fact, my favorite- Harbor Fish and Chips is there. I hope that this has helped 🙂

  4. This is a very helpful article about the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center! Anyone who plans to visit this place should read this article, see the pics and watch the video. I know because I am so glad I did all that.

    Love every bit of this tour – the center itself with all the lovely animals and creatures, the trail, the outdoors, the swallows, everything! I feel as if I was there. And now, I will make plans to visit this place.

    Thank you for sharing your adventure here. 🙂

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