San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

Today, I would like to take you on a tour of the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center which lies between Encinitas to the north and Solana Beach to the south in San Diego North County.  I have always wanted to explore the San Elijo Lagoon as you can see it from both HWY 101 and off of the Interstate 5 Freeway.

Come and join me, would you?

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and Regional Park Sign

First off, here is a bit of information for you.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife; as well as, the County of San Diego Department of Parks are in charge of overlooking the lagoon.

2710 Manchester Ave, Cardiff

(760) 436-3944

Hours- 9am-5pm

  • Please click on each photo to see a larger version.

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Google Map

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

San Eljio Lagoon Ecological Reserve Trail Map
San Elijo Lagoon Trails

There are over 1000 acres with 7 miles of trails and eight trailheads available to walk around at the San Elijo Lagoon.

Located within the reserve are six plant communities to explore:

  • Coastal Strand
  • Salt Marsh
  • Brackish/Freshwater Marsh
  • Coastal Sage Scrub
  • Mixed Chapparal

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Nature Trail Sign

California Sage Scrub Plants looking SW
Coastal Sage Scrub-looking out toward the Ocean.
San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center
San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Welcome Sign

Let’s now have a look inside!

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Welcome Booth
Great Blue Heron- Ardea herodias

Established in 2009, the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center offers a variety of interactive displays as well as historical facts.

According to the San Elijo Conservancy website, “The 5,600-square foot building is Platinum-Certified by U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The two-story building is made from recycled materials and relies on solar energy, natural light, and ventilation.”

This state of the art center, which even uses recycled water to irrigate the landscape, replaced the nature center that had previously opened in 1988.

Watershed Display San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

People, Plant and Animal Display

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk- Accipiter cooperii
Coyote Display San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center
Coyote- Canis latrans

Scented Slopes Display San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

 There are several examples of fragrant plants in this display. It helps you get a good idea of what you are smelling while walking around the lagoon.

Fiddler Crab Display
Fiddler Crabs
San Diego Alligator Lizard
San Diego Alligator Lizard
Coastal Rosy Boa
Coastal Rosy Boa
California Kingsnake Display
California Kingsnake

A Brief Look at the History of this Area

I was very interested in going over these historical displays.

Here you can learn very quickly all that has been happening in the area for over the past hundred of years!

Let’s have a look!

Native People History Display Information
Native People
Ranchos History 1840's
Ranchos
Transportation Information at San Elijo Lagoon
Transportation
Land Development History of San Elijo Lagoon
Land Development
Storing and Moving Water History at Lagoon
Storing and Moving Water
Human Influence History San Elijo Lagoon
Human Influences

Time For A Nature Walk!

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Trail Sign
San Elijo Lagoon Nature Trail Sign

So today, we decided to walk around the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Trail Inner Loop which is only .3 miles long.

Here you get to walk next to the inside of the lagoon and experience the Salt Marsh, Brakish-Freshwater, and Coastal Sage Scrub environments.

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail Brochure Station

Before we start our adventure, I have found a couple of excellent resources to help you out in identifying the plants and birds at the lagoon compliments of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.

Plant Guide

Animal Guide

San Elijo Lagoon Enhancement Project Poster

At the time of our visit, crews were out in the lagoon dredging. There has been a consorted effort to restore the lagoon both from the city and from concerned private citizens.

Resident and Visitor Birds at San Elijo Lagoon

Here are a few more examples of several birds seen here. In fact, over 40% of North American bird species have been seen here!

Beginning of San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

Marine Protected Area Sign

Amtrak Train San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

The Amtrak Train passes by the lagoon several times a day.

San Elijo Lagoon Dredging Machine

Do you notice the dredging machine in the background?

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

Water hole at San Elijo Lagoon

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail
Turning a corner

Inner San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

San Elijo Lagoon

Seeing the San Elijo is an Ecological Reserve, it is important to remember to always stay on the designated paths.

San Elijo Lagoon Area Closed Sign
Birds Only Beyond This Sign

middle of Inner San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

Here we are entering the center of the Inner Loop Trail.

Inner San Elijo Lagoon Nature Trail

Inner San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Trail

Owl Box San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

Here is an Owl Box on the reserve, located in the middle of the Inner Loop Trail.

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center in distance

We are now heading back to the Nature Center now.

Coastal Sage Scrub Plants
Coastal Sage Scrub Plants
Bush Sunflower
Bush sunflower- Encelia californica

View From the Top

As we come to an end of our walk around the trail, let’s now have a look at the second story of the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center!

Second Story of San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

DId you happen to notice the sign for Sunday Family Fun Day? I would also like to mention that every first and third Saturday, the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center, offers free naturalist-guided tours from 10 am- 11 am!

Here is a pamphlet that I picked up at the nature center which provides information of other programs that are held here.

San Elijo Nature Center

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy Environmental Education Brochure

While we are walking up the stairs to the second floor, there were these beautiful drawings of birds to take in.

Bird Poster on Stairwell

Here is a bit of the artwork that the kids make on the Family Fun Day. There is something special when you can have fun learning!

Bird Poster on Second Floor

Second Story View From San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

Second Story Panoramic View San Elijo Lagoon
Second Story Panoramic View

I wish I were able to take a few more photos up here, but a swarm of bees started to surround me, so I thought it was a great idea to head back down!

End of the Day

Beginning of the Nature Center Inner Loop Trail
Beginning of the Nature Center Inner Loop Trail.

So I hope you enjoyed a mini-tour of the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center and the .3 mile Nature Center Trail Loop!

The Nature Center is a great location to learn about the early history of the area as well as learning about what animal and plant species that are prominent in Southern California.

In Southern California, over 90% of the coastal estuaries are gone due to development. Because of this,  restoration and preservation of the remaining estuaries are essential.

It gives me such pride to see another fellow San Diegans taking the initiative and effort to keep the Southern California coast as pristine as possible.

It has been a pleasure visiting all of the Coastal Lagoons and Nature Centers in San Diego! I have been learning so much!

I hope that you have enjoyed our mini-tour and that one day you can come here in person!

Please leave any comments or questions you might have!

Until next time!

Resources Used-

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy


Learn How To Make A Business Website For Free!

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

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!

10 Replies to “San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center”

  1. I have driven up and down I-5 many, many times, on our summer vacations to SoCal. Each summer we visit the San Diego area to get out of the Arizona heat. I have always noticed this giant lagoon, but never really gave it a second thought. We are heading to Oceanside this summer and now I definitely want to take an afternoon and peruse through the nature center. I had no idea what it was all about. I love all the pictures you added, it looks beautiful.

  2. Love the post and site. I lived in San Diego in the early 90’s for 4 years and I miss the area, it’s such a great place to live! San Diego reminds me of Austraila more than any other place in the US (that’s a good thing). The San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center looks really nice as well and would be a great place to visit with friends and family. Thanks for sharing the info and spreading the word on how great San Diego is. 🙂

    Thanks,
    Curtis

    1. Wow, it is nice to hear that San Diego is similar to Australia as I have always wanted to go there! I bet the water is much warmer than here though! I have been having so much fun visiting all of the Nature Centers in San Diego. There is so much to do and learn at these establishments. I am glad that you enjoyed the site!

  3. The San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center looks beautiful with the 7 miles of trails, it would be worth planning a day trip the grounds look really nice. Inside, the wild animals are interesting along with the historical display and all the information.

    The maps for the trails have a lot of information as well and the view in the video is awesome. The pictures you have show just how great this place is.

    Thanks for this detailed article, it would make a great day trip!

    Patsy

    1. Thank you, Patsy! I was wondering if it was overkill with all the information, but I like it because it is like you are there. What I especially have like while visiting all of the Nature Centers in San Diego, is all of the volunteers. Everyone has been so helpful and loved to share information on the area. I hope one day you can come down to San Diego and visit soon! Thank you for stopping by the site!

  4. Dear Colleen,

    I love your site! I really enjoy reading your articles with valuable info regarding places not too many people know or visit. Your amazing photos make me travel and dream… I enjoyed this mini-tour of the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

    The fact you mentioned, that over 90% of the coastal estuaries in Southern California are gone due to development is really sad. Luckily, there are people like you (who care) making different efforts to keep the Southern California coast as pristine as possible.

    Keep up the great work!
    Vesna

    1. Hi Vesna! It is quite sad that so many salt-marsh estuaries have been paved over! These areas are so critical to all the plants and animals, primarily as nursery grounds. Though my research, I have found that citizens have been trying to protect all of these wetlands for at least over a hundred years! Many philanthropists have given money to do just that. Thank you again for visiting!

  5. The San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center looks and sounds like a place I need to see. I love anything that teaches and lets people explore how relaxing and beautiful nature can be. I am a regular visitor to similar places here in Texas. Very informative article and has made me add this to my need to visit list.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting Kelly! It seems that we have much in common! I also love to learn about the history of the area as well as walking around and imagining what it was like 100’s of years ago. I sure hope that one day you can visit down here. We are not as muggy as Texas, well, usually 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *