Masterpiece Marshland + Beers

Visit San Dieguito Lagoon in Del Mar San Diego

Sure the San Diego coastal town of Del Mar is famous for its beaches, but no trip there is complete without seeing the hidden havens of this shoreline suburbia. One of those is the San Dieguito Lagoon. At over 1,000 acres it’s one of the biggest wetland habitats in America. Uncover the magical marshland masterpiece on a gentle 3-mile out-and-back urban hike.

Find street parking and start from the staging area off San Andres Drive, where you’ll find the trailhead and an interpretive sign detailing the ongoing habitat restoration project (current efforts are working toward restoring 84 acres of wetland by 2024). The trail is actually the tail-end of the 71-mile Coast to Crest trail—also experiencing ongoing development. It starts in Julian, and provides a beautiful ending. The path actually doesn’t stray far from the neighboring shopping mall and goes under the traffic-riddled I-5 freeway, yet feels like a respite as you flank the salt marsh environment.

Right before the freeway, check out your first close-up lagoon vista point, which also has an interpretive sign telling hikers about local marine life. You can see classic waterfowl such as egrets and great blue herons. But scan the waters for a truly unique spectacle—resident mullet fish jumping not-so-gracefully across the water’s surface. It’s certainly an entertaining phenomenon, though they apparently do this to trap air in environments with lower oxygen concentration.

Continue under the freeway and alongside both the brackish water and the racetrack. That concrete view to your right may not seem as appealing as the serene lagoon on your left, but if you look closely, you can spot manmade poles that serve as osprey nesting grounds and a wonderful opportunity to see the pescatarian raptors up close.

After just over 1.25 miles, you reach Jimmy Durante Blvd. as well as a sign for the San Dieguito River Park and a “trail and wetland buffer.” Here, you’ll find a boardwalk venturing out onto the sand, following the flow of the river, and extending gorgeous scenery. Large flocks of cormorants can also be found catching zzz’s on the power lines above and across the water.

Viewpoint Brewing Co. is a perfect breakpoint for a beer with the birds (lagoon lager, anyone?). You can also cross Jimmy Durante Blvd. and resume the Coast to Crest Trail all the way to Del Mar Dog Beach, the trail’s finale. Otherwise, head back the way you came.

TIP: We recommend going at sunset to experience golden hour reflections on the water and best wildlife viewing.

To get to the San Dieguito River Park trailhead and street parking, take the I-5 to the Via de la Valle exit and head east. After 0.4 mile (just past the shopping center), turn right onto San Andres Dr. Take that street south for 0.2 mile to its terminus and the trailhead. Dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

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    San Dieguito Lagoon is one of the biggest wetland habitats in America. Uncover the magical marshland masterpiece on a gentle 3-mile out-and-back urban hike with a pit stop at a brewery.