The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is a great way to escape the city and experience the unique world of a protected river estuary.
Situated on 2,500 acres between Imperial Beach and the U.S.-Mexico border, the Tijuana Estuary is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the California State Parks. Border Field State Park is also within the reserve. With over 370 species of birds—five of which are endangered and two are threatened—it’s a bird watching paradise.
The Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center is located at the very north end of the reserve in Imperial Beach. It’s definitely worth a stop to learn about the reserve and to see some of the interpretive displays as a starting point for your visit. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and more than willing to help plan your experience. There’s also a small gift shop where you can purchase books, clothing, hats, and other items.
Two trails can be accessed from the Visitor Center, but the others will require a drive through Imperial Beach to the eastern border of the park to access them. The trails are well-maintained sand and gravel paths (that can be a little muddy after a recent rain), and are very easy to walk. They’re as flat as a table top. The trails lack any fresh drinking water and restrooms, so plan accordingly before heading off. Horses are allowed on some of the trails in the southern end of the park.
If you’re a novice to birding, the Visitor Center has binoculars available to check out for free if you leave an ID or your keys. The Visitor Center also offers guided nature walks; guided bird walks; free talks; and a Junior Ranger program for kids. Check their website for the current schedule for each of these activities.
If you’re more into botany, there’s plenty of diversity in the estuary as well. Don’t be surprised to see cactus and other coastal sage scrub plants in the reserve.
Given its proximity to greater San Diego, all that it has to offer, and the fact that it’s free to visit, there’s really no reason not to explore the Tijuana River Estuary. Again and again.
What You Need To Know
Location: Visitor Center, 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932
Wednesday–Sunday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday
Trails open daily from dawn to dusk
Phone: (619) 575-3613
Tips: Wear comfortable walking shoes that are suitable for sandy/gravel conditions. Plenty of sunscreen and hats are in order, as there are few places for shade. Dogs are prohibited in certain areas of the park and allowed only on six-foot leads in other areas of the park. Check the trail map to see which rule applies to which trail. (Dogs tend to frighten the wildlife.) Pack out whatever you brought into the reserve, including your trash.
Click to see full-sized photos.
Visited: 7 January 2017