San Elijo Lagoon, between the towns of Solana Beach and Encinitas, is an ecological preserve, home to many types of birds, which can be viewed from a small network of trails. Although bisected by two freeways and a railroad, the lagoon was saved from development in the 1960s. Within its1,000 acres are six distinct plant communities. Nearby residences and some traffic remind you that you're not far from the city, but it is a convenient place to find some solitude among the wetlands. Birds are plentiful on a quarter-mile, self-guided nature trail. You will no doubt see an osprey or a great egret or two, and on my visit in September, mullet fish were leaping all along the trail as it wound through the marsh.
Visitor center: The preserve’s new two-story visitor center was designed to be a model of “green” building. Mostly recycled materials were used in its construction, and the building is highly energy- and water-efficient, with solar panels, a recycled water system, and a “cool” roof that includes a garden with native plants. A few short, mostly level trails meander through the native plant gardens north of the visitor center, overlooking the northernmost end of the lagoon.
Interactive exhibits explain the building’s green features and why water conservation and storm water pollution control are important to coastal watersheds. Be sure to take the elevator to the second-floor observation deck, which wraps around three sides of the building and provides extensive views out over the lagoon and marsh.
Along the way are several broad pullouts on both sides of the trail, with interpretive signs and views over the marsh; to the west you can see the ocean. A short distance from the first pullout, you cross a bridge over one of the channels, where you can look down into the water and catch a glimpse of the mullets in the shallows. Soon the trail curves inland, shaded by overarching arroyo willows. A boardwalk branches off to the left, traveling approximately 200 feet along a stream, through willows, sycamore, mulefat, and other riparian plants before returning to your starting point at the visitor center. I lingered here for a while to watch an osprey perched just above me in an old dead tree, taking a break from its busy fishing schedule.
If you go straight instead of taking the boardwalk, you travel another few hundred feet through willows and other trees, including a few Torrey pines, the rarest native pine in the United States. From a bench with a view of the estuary, I watched butterflies flit and hummingbirds zoom about; you might also see red-winged blackbirds, common yellowthroats, or a western fence lizard sunning itself. The trail weaves through the forest as it approaches Manchester Avenue, then ends near the park entrance on Manchester. Return the way you came or via the boardwalk.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.