Many people that visit San Diego will go to the world-famous zoo, SeaWorld, or San Diego Zoo Safari Park. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I like to do things a little off the beaten path. On our recent visit to San Diego, we chose instead to visit the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista, just south of San Diego. This is not your typical zoo or aquarium.
Before we even walked into the building we were greeted by two turtles at Turtle Lagoon. These Eastern Pacific green sea turtles are endangered and native to the area. Later in the day as we were leaving, someone just happened to be feeding these turtles some lettuce. It may seem silly that we were entranced by such a simple act, but the turtles seemed to be doing an underwater act for us as they slowly enjoyed their dinner and floated by us. It was beautiful to watch.
Inside is the Main Gallery where you can find tanks full of jellies, sea stars, sea horses, a multitude of fish, eels, snakes, lobsters, crabs, snakes, lizards, octopuses and more. There are educational placards around the center as well. While we were there we saw numerous school children on field trips but it wasn’t so crowded that it bothered us.
The center has an outdoor area with other animals such as in Raptor Row, Eagle Mesa, and Shorebirds Aviary. There is also a Native Plant Garden where they have a free compost workshop every Sunday at 1 p.m. Along with the other bird areas there is a Burrowing Owl Courtyard.
Our favorite was the Shark and Ray Experience, a 21,000 gallon exhibit with multiple viewing areas. At 11:00 and 1:30 every day there is a feeding and interactive experience. You can touch the backs of bat rays, diamond rays, and round rays as they glide past you. There are also shovel-nose guitarfish in this tank, which I had never seen in person before. In an adjacent tank but not available for touching are grey smoothhound sharks, leopard sharks, horn sharks, and swelling sharks.
Sapphire the loggerhead sea turtle also resides with the sharks here. Sapphire was hit by a boat twice in Florida, the first time in 2010 and again in 2013. She was sent to Living Coast Discovery Center for permanent residence in 2014 after it was determined she wasn’t able to survive on her own.
There are 1.5 miles of walking trails where you may see osprey, soaring harriers, and shorebirds. You can see downtown San Diego across the water. Be careful walking on the trails as there are warning signs about Rattlesnakes in the area so don’t venture off the trail.
There is not a cafe on-site and since you have to take a shuttle from the parking area to the Center it would not be an easy task to pop out for a quick lunch and come back. The shuttle runs about every 15 minutes and it takes a few minutes to get from the parking area to the Center. We brought our own lunch and enjoyed it there. They have a decent seating area outside, some under shade. There is a gift shop where you can buy snacks among the usual gift shop items.
While this isn’t an incredibly large place, you can easily spend a couple of hours here especially if you have lunch here and walk around the trails. We spent most of our time at the Shark and Ray Experience, our favorite exhibit. Including eating lunch here, we spent about 2 1/2 hours here and saw everything at a leisurely pace.
If you have younger children or even older ones who enjoy animals and nature, I recommend checking this place out. It is a nice little gem just outside San Diego. You can also take the San Diego trolley to the Bayfront/E Street station and find the Living Coast bus stop. Call 619-409-5900 to request the shuttle to pick you up.
The mission of the Center is to:
- Partner in collaborative research and restoration of coastal wetlands and bays.
- Provide student-focused education through STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.
- Increase knowledge of coastal environments, climate change adaptation, and human coexistence with the natural resources of San Diego Bay
I always love combining science, nature, and education especially when I’m visiting a new area. Living Coast Discovery Center does this in a way that makes it fun for the whole family. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission for adults is $14; children 4-17 and seniors 65 and older are $9; children ages 3 and younger are free.