The Insider’s Guide to the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

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Days are getting warmer. Summer is on the horizon. It’s time to look for new adventures. Leave the electronics at home and get little ones in touch with the outdoors at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center. This North County coastal is a hidden treasure and features the perfect mix of hands-on fun and learning. It’s also a great spot to spend a couple of hours.

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

About San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center
The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is one of the largest (915 acres!), and one of the few remaining, coastal wetlands in San Diego County. It’s owned and operated by San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation. The 5600-square-foot certified ‘green’ nature center and interactive museum is a great spot to learn about the plants and wildlife in the area. It is free to explore the trails and nature center, however donations are appreciated.

What to Do
The Nature Center has a mix of different activities, from hiking to indoor fun to special events. Here’s are our picks for fun things to do.

Go on a Nature Treasure Hunt: Each explorer receives a board and crayons, and is encouraged to track how many things can they can see, hear, smell and touch. These fun explorations are available anytime the center is open. The rangers keep the laminated cards behind the counter, so be  sure to ask for one when you go in. Kiddos can expect to see snakes, lizards, butterflies, spiders and herons (along with other birds). Don’t forget to look for the striped mullet jumping out of the water as you walk around the lagoon trail. Be quick, though; they move fast.

San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center

Children’s Story Time: Story time for kids on the third Tuesday and Thursday each month at 11 a.m. A Nature Center volunteer spins yarns about animals and outdoors to kiddos. Since this is indoors, it’s a great way to cool off and enjoy some relaxing time after a hike.

Story Time at San Elijo Nature Center

Family Fun Days: Family Fun Days are on the first Sunday of the month, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Unplug and learn with hands-on activities including crafts, story time and touching artifacts.

The Family Fun Days theme for summer is Kumeyaay, the Native American people who once lived in the wetland for food, shelter, clothing and medicine. Here’s a look at the upcoming programs.

  • Sunday, June 1 – Kumeyaay Life: Acorns on the Rocks: Kids will have a chance to grind real acorns
  • Sunday, July 6 – Ancient Artifacts and Skulls:  Kids can uncover secrets of the past in a mock dig site
  • Sunday, August 3 – Living Off the Land: Find out all about what native people ate

San Elijo Nature Center Activities for Kids

Special Events
Check the calendar for special events. We highly recommend the Not-So-Scary Estuary event at Halloween. It’s one of the best trick-or-treat trails in town. Kids come in costume and enjoy hands-on activities and treats at various stations both inside the nature center and around the trail.

San Elijo Nature Center EventsTips
Don’t forget closed-toe shoes, hats, sunscreen and water. There are water fountains and bathrooms at the nature center, but not out on the trails.

A $1 donation is suggested for regular and special events.

There is limited parking available. So if you’re visiting the Nature Center for a special event, be sure to arrive early and allow for plenty of time to find a parking space.

2710 Manchester Avenue
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Ca

Hours: Open daily (except Christmas), 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Have you visited the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center? Tell us about your visit in the comments!

—Written and photographed by Tonya Staab

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