Traveling by Foot: Tijuana Estuary in San Diego

Looking for a unique new place to go for a walk or hike on a beautiful San Diego weekend? Look no further than Imperial Beach, the southernmost city on the Pacific coastline. Hidden away at the southern edge of this quiet coastal town is a small area that was set aside as a nature preserve in 1982, the Tijuana Estuary. This estuary is where freshwater from the Tijuana river mouth meets with saltwater from the Pacific Ocean. Because of the unique position of this low lying marsh you will notice the water level change in the estuary with the tides.

Finding the Tijuana Nature Preserve can be a bit tricky and may be the reason it is not very crowded. See recommended driving directions below. They have a small parking lot and a modern looking visitor center. Stop by the visitor center (free) to get a map and spend a few minutes looking at their neat exhibits. It will help you recognize what plant and wildlife you may be spotting on your hike. The center is open Wed.-Sun. from 10-5. I have met several very knowledgeable and friendly volunteers on my visits. It is a must that you bring a camera, binoculars, drinks and a nice picsnack (mini picnic). If you forget binoculars the center has some to loan with valid ID. I highly recommend this trip only on the weekends. The preserve is located next to a Navy base which has helicopters flying in and out during the weekdays. Their noise certainly ruins the serenity of this beautiful preserve when they are flying.

There are several miles of flat, well maintained trails to explore, labeled with signs so you can’t get too lost. Benches are scattered throughout the park so you can sit and enjoy nature in action. Dogs are allowed on several of the trails (ask at the center), but they must be on a leash. Wildlife is plentiful including hundreds of bird species that have been documented here. I have seen blue heron, egret, snowy plovers and a flock of a hundred pelicans. My family and I have also seen lizards, rabbits, mice, possum and even a rattlesnake (all the more reason to keep your dog on a leash). The plant life is mostly desert cacti or scrub with areas of marsh plants along the waterways and there is a large cactus garden near the visitor center. Because of all the cacti, the spring is one of my favorite times to visit the Tijuana estuary with all the gorgeous flowers in bloom.

I recommend you plan to spend three to four hours to explore all that this park has to offer. If you are interested in learning more you can find out about their guided nature or bird walks which are also free. You can even sign up to become a volunteer. I hope you will be inspired to take a trip through the Tijuana Estuary traveling by foot.

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Directions from I-5: take Coronado Avenue (not the bridge!), go west for 2.5 miles; this road turns into Imperial Beach Blvd. at about 13th street. Continue going straight until you get to 3rd Street. Take a left at the stop sign and veer left onto Caspian Way which leads into parking lot. Parking is free.

From Coronado: Take 75 South. Turn Right on Rainbow Drive. Turn right onto Palm. At the stop sign at 3rd Street take a left and follow all the way to the end until you veer left on Caspian which leads into parking lot- free.

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