Buena Vista Lagoon

Go on a Meditative Stroll at Buena Vista Lagoon in Carlsbad

Woman hiking on a boardwalk at Buena Vista Lagoon in Carlsbad

Mother Teresa once advised to not look for big things, but rather “do small things with great love.” She may not have been speaking about the importance of hitting any trail (no matter the size), but her words can certainly apply to the passion that the team at Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center give to preserving the Buena Vista Lagoon in Carlsbad. Take your time enjoying the gentle 0.3-mile nature trail that rewards you with an up-close glimpse of the county’s northernmost coastal lagoon and its resident flora and fauna. Then, visit neighboring Carlsbad City Beach for a 1.25-mile out-and-back beach stroll that visits the lagoon’s connecting point with the Pacific Ocean.

Woman hiking on a trail surrounded by foliage at Buena Vista Lagoon in Carlsbad

Woman standing at an overlook at Buena Vista Lagoon in Carlsbad

Woman walking on the ocean shoreline at Carlsbad City Beach

Park at the Buena Vista Audubon Center, grab a trail guide at the wooden kiosk/picnic area, and find the trailhead at the northeastern edge of the lot. There are interpretive signs detailing various plants throughout the hike, the first of which describes the towering Torrey pine on your left. You will also traverse under western sycamores and alongside lemonade berry before the trail bends left and splits through the salt marsh environment. You are immediately surrounded by multiple wetlands staples, including spiny rush, pickleweed, and the memorable hot dog–like pollinated flowers of cattail reeds. Look to your right to find a jutting wooden dock to enjoy a great viewpoint of the lagoon, perfect for spying local waterfowl, such as mallards, coots, and pied-billed grebes. 

Woman on a boardwalk amid Buena Vista Lagoon in Calsbad

Continue through the dense bulrush as the trail turns right and deposits you at a second dock and vista of the water. Continue your birdwatching and look for other winged residents, including black phoebes, bushtits, and various flycatchers like Cassin’s kingbird. There is also a short interpretive trail through coastal sage that completes the loop. Now, head to the visitor center to chat with helpful docents, peruse the cool interpretive displays, and most importantly, head upstairs to the observation deck (buena vista means “good view,” after all). Here, find picnic tables and two telescopes aimed at the lagoon for additional perspectives on the beautiful wetlands and west towards the ocean. It’s the little things in life!

Woman walking towards a large house on Carlsbad City Beach in San Diego County

Woman walking on a wide open beach at Carlsbad City Beach

BONUS: Carlsbad City Beach is a pristine stretch of sand (north of Carlsbad State Beach) that features the outlet of the Buena Vista Lagoon into the Pacific. Find street parking and head down the Grand Street staircase to the sand. From here it’s a just over 0.6 mile up the coast to the lagoon channel, where you can spot fish darting around the murky waters and a great way to end your lagoon tune on a high note.

To get to the Buena Vista Lagoon Audubon Center parking lot and nature trailhead, take the I-5 to the Vista Way exit and head west. After 0.6 mile, turn left onto Carlsbad Blvd. and after 0.3 mile the lot and nature center will be on your left. Dog-friendly (no dogs on beach)!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik

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