San Diego National Wildlife Refuge


Location: South San Diego Bay (9 Miles / 12 Minutes South of Downtown San Diego)

Hours: Varies by Location

Features: Four National Wildlife Refuges; Two Nature Centers; 370 Species of Birds; Guided Nature Walks

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Highlights: The southwestern corner of the United States is home to one of the most internationally significant wetlands in the world. This area is comprised of four National Wildlife Refuges, which together, make up the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Over 370 species of birds either live or migrate through this flyway. Many endangered species call this area home.

Visiting the San Diego National Wildlife Refuges

There are three main access points for visitors to learn about the wetlands and enjoy the wildlife. Select the links below for details on visiting the two nature centers and the state park.

nwr-viewChula Vista Nature Center – This is the closest location to downtown San Diego. It is located very close to highway I-5 and rests along the eastern shore of San Diego Bay. Here you will see a bald eagle, two golden eagles, an aviary, aquarium, and a Discovery Center. Guided tours of the Nature Center and the local trails in the Wildlife Refuge are available.

Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center – Located just past the south end of the San Diego Bay, the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center is free to the public and provides a number of exhibits explaining the wildlife found in the surrounding Wildlife Refuge. There are walking trails where you can walk up to three miles through the Refuge. Guided bird walks and nature walks are provided on a weekly basis.

Border Field State Park – Visit the most southwestern corner of the United States. Just a few miles south of the Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center, the Park is home to stark contrasts. To the north, you see the Wild Life Refuge extending up the coast with few signs of humans. Looking south, you see the International Border Fence and a hundreds of Mexicans at play on the beaches and at the Bull Ring Stadium.

More Information on the San Diego National Wildlife Refuges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides a map of the San Diego Wildlife Refuges. Below is a brief descriptions of each one and a link to their respective pages on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife web site. You can support the improvement of these Wildlife Refuges by joining the Friends of San Diego Wildlife Refuges or donating to one of the Nature Centers noted above.

nwr-birdTijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge – This area includes over 1,000 acres of wetlands, the Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center and Border Field State Park. The Tijuana River crosses the international border near highway I-5 and then flows west through this Refuge into the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. side of the border.

South Bay Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge – This area includes nearly 4,000 acres of wildlife surrounding the southern portion of San Diego Bay.

Sweetwater Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge – This 316 acre parcel on the east side of San Diego Bay is home to the Chula Vista Nature Center.

Otay-Sweetwater Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge – This large 44,000 acre parcel is east of Chula Vista and Otay Mesa in the open space that spreads between these communities and the Cleveland National Forest.


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