Best San Diego Birding Hotspots

Here I  present a comprehensive list of the best San Diego birding hotspots. I will include all of San Diego County, starting first to the north and going south. Each site will have a link to an address and habitat type, amenities,  tour information (if available), and any notable birds of Interest.

Did you know many free San Diego birding tours are offered all over San Diego County? I will also include any insider information in my research, such as prime locations within each site.

San Diego County Map San Diego Birding

San Diego and the Pacific Flyway

Did you realize that 515 species of birds have been observed in San Diego County? That sure is a lot of different species of birds! San Diego is often called the “birdiest county” in the United States.

First, you should note that San Diego County is part of the  Pacific Flyway, the north-south migration many birds utilize yearly.

Pacific Flyway poster san diego birding

San Diego’s High Biodiversity

Did you know that San Diego County has the highest biodiversity of plants and animals in any other county in North America?

Along with California, did you also know that San Diego County is in the top ten biodiversity regions on Earth?

All I can say is wow, and I sure have my work cut out for me!

Why So Much Biodiversity?

 It all concerns the mild Mediterranean climate (hot summers and cool nights) and diverse habitats. These two factors make San Diego County a prime location for birds to stop, rest, and gather food.

San Diego County Has Six Coastal Lagoons

Another great feature on the San Diego County coast is a plethora of lagoons, salt marshes, and two huge bays. Over the years, it has been estimated that up to 90% of the coastal wetlands in Southern California have been destroyed through land development. Therefore, we must protect the remaining wetlands that we still have!

How To Identify Birds

There are many types of birds found in San Diego County, and these various birds can be grouped mostly on feeding behaviors and are divided into five groups:

  1. swimming divers-brown pelicans, grebes, diving ducks, and others
  2. surface swimmers- dabbling ducks
  3. flight feeders-terns, skimmers, and others
  4. walkers/runners-plovers, and most sandpipers
  5. waders/fishers-herons, egrets, and others

Additional Resources– San Diego Audobon Society might come in handy. lists the most popular San Diego birding sites according to the number of species observed. Click on a site, and you will see all the different species of birds that have been seen there!

#Click on any photo to see a larger version.

San Diego Birding Hotspots You Must Visit!

Are we ready to see all the fabulous places to go bird-watching in San Diego?

Let’s go!

Seagulls flying blue sky

Trestles at San Onofre State Beach

San Mateo Creek san diego birding
San Mateo Lagoon

3929 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente

I have written extensively about Trestles Beach and San Onofre State Beach. There are two ways to get here, but I suggest you come here via the Beach Trail. Please see the links above for additional info and other ways of getting here.

—>Exploring Trestles Beach Trail<—

Trestles Native vegetation san onofre state Beach

The Wild Wonder of San Onofre State Beach

 I wanted to quickly add that San Onofre State Beach is one of the most beautiful natural beaches in San Diego County. Only Torrey Pines State Beach can give it any competition regarding its “naturalness.”

—>Getting to Know San Onofre State Beach<—

San Mateo River san diego birding
The end of the line for the San Mateo Creek in July.

San Onofre State Beach is the Trestles Wetlands Natural Preserve, which includes the San Mateo Creek. A sandbar often cuts the creek off from the ocean (except with intense storms.) And where it ends (its terminus) is known as the San Mateo Lagoon.

So if you factor in the “wildness” of this beach and a water source, you have an ideal spot for migrating birds to visit!

Habitats– open water, coastal strand, coastal brackish and freshwater marsh, coastal sage scrub, riparian woodland

Amenities– There is not much here as everything is natural. There are porta-potties, though, and this beach has some of the most famous surf breaks in Southern California.

Tours– I could not find any tours per se, but if you want to explore more inland, the Trestles Beach Trail turns into the Panhe Nature Trail, where you park. If you go west, this will be the Beach Trail.

—>Walking the Panhe Nature Trail<—

The Panhe Nature Trail to the east is a self-guided trail with stations posted every hundred yards pointing out native plants and other formations.

Birds of Interest– western snowy plover, numerous gulls, California brown pelican, willet, black-belly plover

Oceanside Harbor, Jetties, and Beaches

Oceanside harbor heron colony top of tree Oceanside
Heron nesting colony

1900 N Harbor Dr, Oceanside, CA 92054

The Jolly Roger Parking Lot

I found this next spot by complete surprise. While photographing the northwestern corner of Oceanside Harbor one day, I turned into the parking lot for the Jolly Roger restaurant. Once exited my car, I heard the strangest sounds above in the trees.

Outside the Jolly Roger restaurant parking lot are numerous trees with many nests belonging to Great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, and snowy egrets. They all have the most strange and unusual vocalizations, eerie. I recommend experiencing something for yourself, but do not stand under the trees too long.

—>Oceanside Harbor Boat Launch- A Closer Look<—

Oceanside Jetty and Harbor

Oceanside Harbor beach jetty san diego birding

1540 Harbor Dr, Oceanside, CA 92054

Habitats-open water, rocky intertidal

Amenities-parking fee, restrooms, Oceanside Harbor Village is nearby

Tours– No tours, but sitting on the jetty, you can see all of the action in the inlet, especially when fishing boats are coming in. Also, many birds are on the rocks and trees inside the harbor. There is a bait barge in the middle of the harbor that birds like to hang out on, as well

Birds of Interest– Great blue heron, snowy egret, great egret, numerous gulls, double-breasted cormorants, California brown pelicans

San Luis Rey River Estuary 

San Luis Rey River inlet spring san diego birding
The inlet was blocked off in May.

San Luis Rey River Trail, Oceanside, CA 92054

The San Luis Rey River Estuary is found right next to Oceanside Harbor. The river’s terminus is usually blocked off from the ocean but opens up for a few months in winter.

San Luis Rey River Inlet san diego birding
Here the inlet was entirely open in March 2017

Habitats– freshwater/saltwater marsh, coastal strand, riparian scrub

Amenities– there is a 9-mile bike trail running parallel to the river with signs pointing out native plants and animals

Tours– no tours here, but the river mouth is an excellent spot to see rare shorebirds and gulls during the fall and winter.

Birds of Interest– least Bell’s Vireo, yellow-breasted chat, American coot, killdeer, western snowy plover

San Luis Rey River san diego birding
San Luis Rey River looking east
San Luis rey river terminus san diego birding

*On the last inspection of my old photos, I found one from May 2015 with several species of shorebirds present. If you look closely, several terns exist among the gulls and pelicans.

Loma Alta Creek/Slough

Loma Alta Creek Trail Oceanside California

1506 S Pacific St, Oceanside, CA 92054

Loma Alta Creek/Slough is a 7-mile-long wildlife corridor surrounded by development in south Oceanside.

Even though this site does not boast the number of sightings listed here, I want to include the short but quaint Loma Alta Creek nature trail. It is a great place where you can sit and watch birds.

Habitats– Freshwater marsh, riparian willow scrub, coastal sage scrub, coastal grassland.

Amenities– There is a short nature trail with informative signs on the native birds and plants. There is the Buccaneer Cafe near the parking lot and restrooms.

Tours– No tours here, but there is a self-guided tour.

Birds of Interest– snowy egret, Great blue heron, American coot, black-necked stilt

Buena Vista Lagoon

Buena Vista Lagoon 10 san diego birding

2202 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054

—>A Walk Around  Buena Vista Lagoon<—

Habitats– Freshwater lagoon, coastal sage scrub, riparian woodland, coastal strand near the weir (lacks an outlet to the ocean)

Amenities– Buena Vista Audobon Society and Nature Center with copious information, benches, and trail.

Tours– Monthly bird counts are held on the last Saturday of every month from 9:00 am to 11:30; all are welcome to join.

Birds of Interest-Belding’s savannah sparrow, marsh wren, breeding waterfowl, geese, terns

For more information- Buena Vista Audobon

Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Agua Hedionda Lagoon down NE water view panoramic

Carlsbad, CA 92008

Habitats– tidal salt marsh, eelgrass beds, freshwater marsh, coastal sage scrub, riparian, 330 acres with 186 acres are an Ecological Reserve.

Amenities– The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Nature Center in the south has a short trail and several benches.

—>Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center<—

Tours-Every third Sunday of the month at eight 8 am, public bird walks are offered. The walks are led by an expert birder-Rick Grove. Meet in the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation parking lot. What is so remarkable is that you will be using a phone app- The Agua Hedionda Bio-Survey application, which allows users to identify flora and fauna at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. You will be given a full tutorial before the walk.

I suggest checking out Hubb’s Trail, right next to the lagoon. Here you will have a chance to watch wading and shorebirds in action.

—>Hubbs Trail Tour at Agua Hedionda Lagoon<—

Birds of Interest– On the west side of the lagoon- terns, ducks, belted kingfisher, California quail, great blue heron, cormorants, cliff swallows, California thrasher, California gnatcatcher

Click here for more information on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

The Batiquitos Lagoon

Batiquitos lagoon san diego birding

7380 Gabbiano Ln, Carlsbad, CA 92011

—>Walking the Batiquitos Lagoon Trail<—

Habitats-Estuarine open water, coastal salt marsh, mudflats, man-made nesting islands

Amenities-Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation Nature Center, 3.2-mile trail with benches set up every 1/8th of a mile. There are man-made islands specially made for shorebirds to nest.

Tours– A self-guided tour pamphlet at the Nature Center highlights relevant information on the trail. Click on the above link if you would like to get an idea of what the trail is all about.

On Friday, Nov 9, at 7:30 am, there is a free bird walk offered; meet at the Gabbiano Lane trailhead (the address that I have provided)

Also, on the third Saturday of every month, from 9 –9 –11 am, the foundation volunteer leads a free public walk. For more information, click on the link below.

Birds of Interest– nesting Forster’s terns, least terns, and the western snowy plover all take advantage of the man-made sand island, especially for these ground-nesting birds. Belding’s savannah sparrow, snowy egrets, cliff swallow, Black skimmer

Additional information – Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation.

Batiquitos Lagoon Bench 1 salt marsh tree

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

San Elijo Lagoon Trail San Diego Birding

2710 Manchester Ave, Cardiff, CA 92007

Habitats – salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats, and riparian scrub; coastal sage scrub and maritime chaparral are in the south.

 Amenities– San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center with trails

—>San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center The Nature Collective<—

Tours– Every second  Monday of the month, a lagoon-wide bird count with Avian Biologist Robert Patton from 7:30 am 12 12 pm every first Saturday of the month, offered from 10 – 11 11 am Lagoon Discovery Tour.

Also, Wildlife Walks are offered from 9–11 am each month on the second Saturday of every month, and a different trail is explored. For more information-San, Elijo Lagoon Conservancy

Birds of Interest– Belding’s savannah sparrow, western snowy plover, California brown pelican, Ridgeway’s rail, Black-necked stilts, California gnatcatcher, yellow-breasted chat.

San Elijo Bird Count 2017 San Diego Birding
The 2017 San Elijo Lagoon Bird Census

San Dieguito Lagoon

San Dieguito Lagoon Del Mar Racetrack
Looking down on the San Dieguito Lagoon and the Del Mar Racetrack

Del Mar, CA 92014

Habitats-salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats, agriculture

Amenities– The river mouth is south of the Del Mar Race Track and Del Mar Dog Beach. An overlook preserve-the North Bluff Preserve at the Del Mar Dog Beach, has an excellent vantage point to watch seabirds flying around.

—>Coast to Crest Trail- San Dieguito Lagoon<—

Tours– Every third Saturday of the month, the Buena Vista Audubon Society offers a free bird walk at the San Dieguito River Park from 8:30 am to 11:30

Birds of Interest– breeding least terns, geese, ducks, loons, grebes, egrets, killdeer, Whimbrel

If interested, I found the most recent Sept 2018 bird census for the San Dieguito Lagoon. Have a look!

Del Mar Dog Beach river san diego birding

Los Penasquitos Lagoon

Los Penasquitos Lagoon inlet torrey pines state beach
Los Penasquitos Lagoon inlet in January with a negative tide

San Diego, CA 92121

The Los Penasquitos Lagoon is part of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Habitats– salt marsh, freshwater marsh, alkali flats, mudflats, riparian scrub, coastal sage scrub

—>Los Penasquitos Lagoon<—

Amenities– Torrey Pines Nature Center is nearby, up on the hill

—>Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve<—

Tours-Up above at Torrey Pines Nature Center; free public walks every Saturday at  10 am and again at 2  pm.

Birds of Interest- Ridgway’s rail, least Bell’s vireo, western snowy plover, Belding’s savannah sparrow, and numerous migratory fowl and shorebirds.

Los Penasquitos beach inlet torrey pines north beach
Los Penasquitos Lagoon inlet at Torrey Pines North Beach is a great place to watch shorebirds.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Ocean View Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Upper Trails

Starting point-Torrey Pines State Beach North Beach Parking Lot

11099N N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037

Habitats-coastal sage scrub, coastal strand, maritime chaparral, Torrey Pine trees

Amenities– Nature Center, hiking trails, restroom, benches

Tours– Free public walks every Saturday at 10 am and again at 2 pm- tours may be tailored to what you are interested in seeing/learning.

Birds of Interest-Gulls and terns on the rocky shoreline; above, Peregrine falcons, ospreys, swifts, thrushers, woodpeckers, and Wrentits.

A Peregrine falcon nesting site is south of lifeguard tower #1, high above the cliffs. The best time to observe the nest is in the late afternoon. At low tide, look for a Torrey pine tree on the slope; underneath it, there is a large opening and ledge on the bluff. Also, you can see the site clearly from the Guy Flemming Trail, which is above.

La Jolla Point

La Jolla 19 San Diego Birding

San Diego, CA 92037

The rocky coast terrain of the La Jolla bluffs is a fantastic place to come and watch the shorebirds out on the rocks below.

Habitats-rocky intertidal, open ocean

Amenities– there are benches situated along the pathway as well as restrooms.

—> Let’s Take a La Jolla Coast Walk!<—

Tours– the San Diego Audobon Society offers a 3-hour free birding tour every so often. The next tour is on Dec 2, 2018, with only 25 open spots. For more information, call Stan Walens at (858)450-2058

Birds of Interest-Pelagic birds come close to shore to feed in the coastal upwellings from the La Jolla Submarine Canyon. Black-vented Shearwater, jaegers, tattlers, turnstones. Also, look at the rocky shore for roosting birds, such as Pacific Brown Pelican and Brandt’s Cormorant.

Landing pelican the point La Jolla

Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay Park Google Map

Mission Bay is a man-made lagoon located 12 miles north of Downtown San Diego, and the Bay is part of what is called Mission Bay Park. Here we have the largest man-made water park in the country, spanning over 4235 acres with 27 miles of shoreline!

Many birds are everywhere here, but I want to concentrate on the spots yielding the most species.

Habitats– open saltwater, saltwater marsh (N, NE, and S Misson Bay), alkali flats, rocky intertidal, riparian, coastal strand, terrestrial, recreational.

Amenities: There are restrooms throughout the park and benches and picnic areas, docks, launch ramps, and BBQ pits. There are also a few restaurants in the Harbor section, as well.

Tours– no tours here, but I suggest you start your adventure at the northernmost point of Mission Bay at the Northern Wildlife Preserve and the Kendall-Frost Reserve (see below.)

Birds of Interest– willet, Whimbrel, spotted sandpiper, elegant terns, Western snowy plovers, snowy egrets, and numerous gulls.

Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve

Kendall Frost Reserve Mission Bay

2055 Pacific Beach Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

As noted above, the Kendall-Frost Reserve is 21 acres of salt marsh owned and maintained by UCSD and is adjacent to the Northern Wildlife Preserve, owned by the city of San Diego, 19 acres. This critical habitat represents what Mission Bay used to look like long before the dredging and construction of Mission Bay Park.

Habitats– coastal salt marsh, tidal channels, sand spit,  mudflats, eelgrass beds

Amenities– Interpretive kiosks and the park show examples of the different bird species and migration patterns. An observation deck is located south of the Reserve, which overlooks the Northern Wildlife Preserve.

Tours– No tours here, but many volunteer opportunities are available. See the link below for more information.

Birds of Interest– light-footed Ridgeway’s rail, long-billed curlew,  Western snowy plover, lesser yellowlegs, Black-crowned night heron

Observation Deck Northern Wildlife Marsh Preserve

Please go here for more in-depth information about the Kendall-Frost Reserve and the Northern Wildlife Preserve.

Stoney Point-Fiesta Island

stony point september fiesta island mission bay park

Located on the southern point of Fiesta Island, there is a fenced-in area within the dog park that the Califonia least tern utilizes as a nesting site.

From April to September, these birds mate, nest, and raise their chicks until they fly.

—>Fiesta Island-A Closer Look<—

San Diego River Channel

San Diego River Tidal Flats Ocean Beach
Tidal Flats in the middle of the San Diego River Channel

2536 Quivira Ct, San Diego, CA 92109

The San Diego River runs parallel to Mission Bay Park and is an excellent spot to check migrating shorebirds! In fact, during the migration season, thousands of birds are seen here on the tidal flats in the middle of the channel. It even has the nickname “San Diego’s Mile of Birds!”

Habitats– Open water, rocky intertidal, tidal flats

Amenities– I have given you the location on the north side of the channel near Quivira Way. There is an open parking lot that you may drive along and a bike path that will take you further east. Restrooms are available west of Quivira Park.

Tours– There are no tours I can find, but many volunteer projects are offered to the public to help with the San Diego River Mouth Estuary habitat restoration. For more information, go to

Birds of Interest– Numerous gulls, California brown pelicans, snowy egrets, ducks, osprey, grebes, cormorants, and belted kingfishers.

San Diego River Channel East View san diego birding

San Diego River Mouth Estuary

San Diego River Estuary San Diego Birding

2525 Bacon St, San Diego, CA 92107

Located right behind Ocean Beach Dog Beach is the San Diego River Mouth Estuary, where many birds are seen throughout the year.

Habitats-open water, coastal salt marsh, brackish marsh, tidal flats, mudflats, coastal strand

Amenities-Through a coordinated effort, there is a spectacular native garden adjacent to the San Diego River Mouth Estuary that is roped off. Ocean Beach City Beach has a restroom about 1/2 a mile away.

—>Five Hidden Gems in San Diego<—

Tours– No tours exist, but low tide is the best time to see the birds.

Birds of Interest– Numerous ducks, great blue heron, California least tern, black-necked stilt, Whimbrel, American avocet

Famosa Slough

Famosa NE View San Diego Birding
Southern Famosa Slough

The Famosa Slough was initially part of the Mission Bay salt marsh and adjacent to the San Diego River Channel. Located between Ocean Beach and the San Diego Sports Area, the slough is surrounded by urban development.

—>Slough What? Discovering the Famosa Slough<—

4275-4283 W Point Loma Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107

North Channel pipes Famosa Slough
Famosa Slough north channel

Habitats-salt pools, salt pannes, alkali flats, salt marsh, brackish/freshwater marsh, disturbed riparian and Willow scrub, mudflats

Amenities-There is a trail at both parts of the lagoon and benches scattered about the area. There is also an observation area near the most extensive salt ponds.

ToursNature and Bird Walk every third Saturday of each month at 1 pm -meet at the kiosk corner of Famosa Blvd and W. Point Loma Blvd.

Birds of Interest– Looking out at the main island in South Famosa Slough, American Avocet, and black-necked stilts nests. The rare yellow-crowned night heron, kingfisher, great egret, osprey, Forster’s tern.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary Bay View San Diego Bay

Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

The Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is located on the Point Loma Peninsula, adjacent to the Cabrillo National Monument. Here you have the number one San Diego birding site in San Diego County, with over 280 species seen here over the years.

Habitat– Maritime ornamentals, coastal sage scrub (outside of perimeters)

Amenities-Not too much regarding amenities here, except a restroom. There are many trees, so that is a great place to start looking for the birds.

Birds of Interest– Black-vented shearwater, surf scoter, black swift, black-crowned night heron, gulls, ducks.

Near the ficus trees, many rare birds are seen in the NE corner. Also, looking for birds outside the wall’s perimeter is a good strategy.

You can not go wrong at this site, as it has the best views in San Diego County.

Have fun!

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery Google Map
The Northeast section of the cemetery has the most birds to see.

Cabrillo National Monument

Birding Cabrillo National Monument Point Loma

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

The Cabrillo National Monument is located at the Point Loma Peninsula’s very end and overlooks the San Diego Bay entrance.

—>Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools<—

Habitats– coastal sage scrub, rocky intertidal, open ocean

Amenities– The Cabrillo National Monument visitor center and restrooms below at the tide pools. There is a fee to get into the park.

Tours-The park is self-guided, but each day there are tours given. The events calendar is outside the auditorium or at the Visitor Center.

Birds of Interest– chipping sparrows, Warblers, Hammond’s flycatcher,  gray catbird,  American redstart

Cabrillo Tide Pool Parking San Diego Birding
The main road for Cabrillo tide pool parking

Shelter Island-North San Diego Bay

Shelter Island Statue north point opening San Diego Bay
My favorite statue is at the tip of Shelter Island, San Diego Bay’s mouth.

San Diego, CA 92106

Shelter Island is one of our favorite places at the top of San Diego Bay. Here you can sit and watch the boats and ships go in and out of the Bay.

—>San Diego Bay- A Photo Tour<—

Habitats– open water, rocky intertidal, maritime ornamental trees, terrestrial

Amenities– There is a beautiful pathway to walk, a pier with a cafe and snack bar, restrooms, hotels, a boat launch, free parking

Tours– There are no tours here, but it is an excellent spot to watch for rare species of shorebirds in the winter area. It is important to note that the North San Diego Bay channel is very deep, and because of this, it is not uncommon to see pelicans and cormorants diving for food at a very close range.

Birds of Interest– loons, grebes, ducks, surf scoter, bufflehead, auklets, murres, lilac-crowned parrots (yes, parrots!)

Shelter Island Pier san diego birding
Looking from the Shelter Island Pier towards Downtown San Diego

Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

1000 Gunpowder Point Dr, Chula Vista, CA 91

The address above is for the Living Coast Discovery Center, located within the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, part of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

—->Touring the Living Coast Discovery Center<—

Last Remaining Salt Marshes in San Diego Bay

The Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is one of San Diego Bay’s two remaining saltwater marshes. The other, South San Diego Bay Marsh, is found in the southern part of Imperial Beach. I have yet to visit, but I will check back soon as it is on my “to-do list!”

Habitats-coastal salt marsh, wetland/upland transition, coastal uplands, coastal sage scrub, alkali flats, mudflats, eelgrass beds, maritime succulents

Amenities-The Living Coast Discovery Center is an internationally recognized zoo/aquarium that showcases the native plants and animals of the area. Here is the only place in the world with Ridgeway’s rail on public display as a special note. There is a fee to get in here.

Below the highlights are the birding hut located on Gunpowder Point. Here you have a 270-degree view of San Diego Bay.

Birding hut NW Living Coast Discovery Center
A birding hut was found at Gunpowder Point in the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

Birds of Interest– Ridgeway’s rail, hooded merganser, black-necked stilt, western screech owl, California least tern

Tijuana River Valley

Tijuana River Valley Trail Map San Diego Birding
Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve Trail Map

At the border, there are several prime San Diego birding sites. So many that I will be listing each spot individually, starting from the most northern location and finally making my way down the border.

 Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and Trails

Tijuana Estuary San Diego Birding

301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932

One of the best places to park is next to the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Center.

Habitats– salt marsh, fresh-brackish marsh, coastal sage scrub, mudflats, open tidal channels, vernal pools, dunes, beaches, riparian

Amenities– There are many trails to explore here and the Visitor Center to investigate. Benches are set up within the park to watch at various locations.

Birds of Interest– Ridgeway’s rail, western snowy plover, California gnatcatcher, California least tern, Belding’s savannah sparrow,  least Bell’s vireo

Tours– Every second and fourth Saturday from 11 am to 12  pm- there is a free public nature walk to explore and learn about the native wildlife. The meet-up is at the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center (see the above address.)

I have to confess that I have not yet been all the way south in the Tijuana River Valley, and I am planning a trip down there this winter to check out all the migrating birds. I found the most popular spots to go birding while researching the area.

Tijuana River Valley Trail Map San Diego Birding

 South McCoy Trail

Tijuana River Mouth

Saturn Blvd

Tijuana River Valley Regional Park Border Area Trails

Border Field State Park

#Check back later, as I will be reviewing these sites soon!

Helpful Posts-


14 Replies to “Best San Diego Birding Hotspots”

  1. This was an interesting and informative article. I have never been to San Diego but when i do get the chance to go there i will use this site as a guide.

  2. Wow a very meaty page, but it is very clean and a really good read. My only issue is that the font on your headings does make the text difficult to read at some points, especially in words with ‘i’ in them

    1. Hi Adrian! Yes, meaty is a good description. This post took me over a week to do, but I had so much fun learning and exploring! Thank you for pointing out the font. To be honest, I thought it was just my old eyes! I will look into changing the font. Thanks for visiting my site!

  3. Thank you so much for this detailed post about birding in San Diego – it sounds awesome! my husband and I have been birding for years and although we have done a lot of birding in our home state of Colorado an on the east coast I did not realize that there was so much diversity in California, specifically in San Diego. I believe that we will be making a trip there soon as San Onofre State Beach sounds amazing. Thank you for opening my eyes to a whole new adventure!

    1. Thank you, Heather, for taking the time to comment! I have to be honest that I had no idea that we had so many different species of birds visiting our coast. But after realizing how much coastal salt marsh that we still have here, it makes perfect sense.
      San Onofre State Beach will always be one of my favorites. I just love how natural it is, and how few people know about it. There is something special about being one of the few people on the shore…just you, the Ocean and the wildlife. Now I know that I should bring some binoculars the next time!
      Thanks again, and I hope you make it down here soon!

  4. I miss San Diego. I remember surfing out there as a kid as I grew up in California and remember traveling up and down the coast looking for the best waves. Dana Point was one of my favorite spots when I was that far south.
    I also remember watching the birds float on the water or fly overhead as I was waiting for the next swell. Good memories, great times.

    1. Duncan, San Diego is a spectacular place and so biologically unique! I hope to one day learn how to surf so that I can watch the shorebirds on the water too! Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  5. Hi Colleen 🙂 I’ve only been to San Diego once and I loved it! I can’t remember too much about the birds there but I do remember going to La Jolla beach! It was beautiful as I am reading your article it’s amazing that there are so many different types of birds all over San Diego.
    I can’t blame them! I just loved the place! In fact if I wasn’t in Florida, that’s where I would love. Thanks for some more incentives to go back!

    1. Thank you, Rob, for taking the time to comment! I too had no idea that San Diego had so many birds! Now that I have been aware, it is so much fun noticing all of the different species. Thank you again!

  6. Wow what a great blog! Thank you so much Colleen for taking the time to write about our Wildlife Refuges down here in South San Diego Bay area. It’s people like you who we truly appreciate taking the time to get to know such special areas important for wildlife.
    Drop by our office and say hi sometime if you’re at Sweetwater Marsh again! Our headquarters is next to the Living Coast Discovery Center (USFWS labled green building).
    Also feel free to link our website to your blog!

    1. Thank you so much, Lisa, for visiting my site and taking the time to comment! You have no idea how much I appreciate it! My girls and I had such a marvelous time exploring the Sweetwater Marsh, and I especially enjoyed learning about all of the histories of the area. I will stop by the next time I am in the area. I have been looking forward to exploring down by the Salt Works this winter to photograph all of the birds! Thanks again for stopping by and I would love to link your site! 🙂 Feel free to share my website address with your friends!

  7. A fantastic article! Great job! My husband grew up in SD so I have been to a few of these spots. There are some new ones I’ll need to check out and especially appreciate some of the bird sightings you mentioned – I want to go look for the lilac-crowned parrots🦜 Keep up the good work🌸

    1. Hi Sheryl! You do not even know how much you made my day! I am so happy to hear that you found my information helpful. Thank you, and I hope you find the parrots on Shelter Island.

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