San Elijo Lagoon

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is one of the largest remaining coastal wetlands in San Diego County, California, United States.

San Elijo Lagoon
San Elijo Lagoon, 2015


Native American tribes hunted and gathered along the shores of the estuary at least 8,500 years before European settlers arrived. Shell middens, the refuse of hunting-gathering societies, show the earliest inhabitants relied heavily on coastal resources, including foods such as scallops, clams, shark, barracuda, bonito, and abalone. More recently, the Kumeyaay occupied the area. They traveled seasonally to take advantage of resources both along the coast and inland.

In 1769, the Portola Expedition named the area San Alejo in honor of Saint Alexius.[1] In the early 1800s, Spaniards and other Europeans settled the region and established cattle ranches. The California Gold Rush brought an ever-increasing influx of people. Settlers established the community of Olivenhain, along Escondido Creek, as an experimental farming community. Farmers plough and planted the riparian corridors upstream of the estuary. It was the first time habitation had radically changed the vegetation and terrain surrounding the lagoon. Non-native plants were introduced that later proved highly invasive.

Between 1880 and 1940, dikes and levees were built that allowed duck hunting, salt harvesting, and sewage settling ponds. The most permanent changes were the construction of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1887, Pacific Coast Highway 101 in 1891, and Interstate 5 in 1965. Each required supporting berms that restricted water circulation and the natural influx of ocean water.[2]

In 2016, as part of the North Coast Corridor infrastructure project, both road and rail bridges across the lagoon were planned to be replaced by 2021, in addition to environmental restoration of the lagoon and added preserved acreage.[3]

Geography and natural features

San Elijo Lagoon as seen from a helicopter, 2011

The lagoon lies within the southernmost part of the city of Encinitas and is bordered by Solana Beach on the south and Rancho Santa Fe inland and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Reserve encompasses an area of 915 acres. The lagoon is the terminus of the Escondido Creek watershed which covers an area of 54,112 acres. The water in the lagoon comes from the Escondido Creek watershed and the Pacific Ocean.

The Reserve is managed by the California Department of Fish and Game,[4] County of San Diego.[5] and San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.

Habitat and wildlife

Within its 915 acres there are 6 plant communities; coastal strand, salt marsh, riparian scrub, coastal sage scrub, freshwater marsh, and mixed chaparral. There are more than 300 species of plants, at least 23 species of fish, 26 mammal species, 20 reptiles and amphibians, more than 80 invertebrates, and 300 bird species.[6]

San Elijo Lagoon is part of the Escondido Creek Watershed. Within its approximately 54,000 acres, stretching from the foothills to the coastline, the last remnants of an imperiled coastal scrub habitat connect the northern and southern parts of a globally important ecological region. This coastal scrub habitat is vital to the integrity of San Diego County’s open space network and to the persistence of some of Southern California’s most endangered species, many of which occur nowhere else on the planet.

Nature Center

Visitors can begin their exploration of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center. The nature center provides a unique glimpse for the public to see “green” building concepts in use. The 5,600-square foot building is Platinum-Certified by U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The two-story building is made from recycled materials and relies on solar energy, natural light, and ventilation. Visitors can see solar panels and irrigated roof plants. Recycled water is used in landscape irrigation. The Nature Center opened to the public in Spring 2009, replacing the former center that opened in 1988.[7]

Inside are nature and history exhibits that detail the lagoon’s plant and animal communities, Native American history, and the various natural and human influences that affect this sensitive ecosystem. San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center is San Diego County owned and operated. Rangers are on staff daily from 9 am until 5 pm, except Christmas Day. There is free parking.


Eight miles of trails, open from dawn until dusk, wind through distinct plant communities of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve. An easy hike to experience wetlands begins at the Nature Center in a ¼ mile loop with expansive lagoon views and excellent salt marsh habitat animal sightings. Other trails take about 1.5 hours to complete. Most trails are considered easy to moderate for hiking and jogging. There are no restroom facilities located on the trails. Dogs are allowed on leashes. All wildlife and natural resources are fully protected in the California state and county reserve.

Scientific monitoring

Successful efforts by County of San Diego, State of California, and San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy have greatly improved water quality, habitat, and biodiversity. There are actively maintained projects that focus on water quality testing, habitat restoration, invasive plant removal, and bird counts

There are continuous and weekly water quality measurements taken of the lagoon's water that test the water for dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and pH levels. The water measurements help determine the health of the ecosystem and also when mouth of the lagoon should be reopened. The lagoon’s mouth, located at Cardiff State Beach, is mechanically dredged and reopened each spring following the last winter storm. The opening of the mouth of the lagoon restores the tidal circulation between the lagoon and the ocean which ensures a healthier ecosystem.

Restoring native plants and removing invasive plant species helps restore the native habitat. This is important since numerous organisms rely on native plants for food and protection. Invasive plants upset the ecosystem by crowding out and out-competing native vegetation. The invasive plants are removed by either spraying herbicide or by manual pulling. Native plants are then planted to restore the habitat.

Bird counts are conducted on a monthly basis in the lagoon. Approximately 40% of all bird species in North America have been spotted in the lagoon.[8] Conducting the bird count helps keep track of how some of the threatened and endangered species are doing.


  1. ^ Fetzer, Leland (2005). San Diego County Place Names A to Z. San Diego: Sunbelt Publications. p. 127. The Portolá expedition camped here on July 16, 1769. The following day was the feast day of St. Alexius, patron saint of pilgrims and beggars, so they called the place San Alejo.
  2. ^ San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy - Annual Inlet Excavation
  3. ^ "Work begins on 700m in North Coast corridor projects". San Diego Union-Tribune. November 29, 2016. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  4. ^ CA Dept. of Fish and Game - San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
  5. ^ County of San Diego: San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
  6. ^ San Elijo Lagoon - A San Diego Ecological Reserve Archived 2013-05-06 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ San Elijo Nature Center
  8. ^ San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy - Bird Count

Coordinates: 33°00′35″N 117°15′44″W / 33.00972°N 117.26222°W

Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area

Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) is a marine protected area in San Diego on California’s south coast. It is part of Batiquitos Lagoon, a coastal tidal wetland lying within the city limits of Carlsbad, California and adjacent to Encinitas, California. The SMCA covers 2000 miles. The SMCA protects marine life by limiting the removal of marine wildlife from within its borders.

Brackish marsh

200px|A brackish marsh section of San Elijo Lagoon in San Diego County, California

Brackish marshes develop by salt marshes where a significant freshwater influx dilutes the seawater to brackish levels of salinity. This commonly happens upstream from salt marshes by estuaries of coastal rivers or near the mouths of coastal rivers with heavy freshwater discharges in the conditions of low tidal ranges.

Burton Creek State Park

Burton Creek State Park is a state park of California, USA, located in Placer County near Truckee.

Situated on the outskirts of Tahoe City, the park offers 6 miles (9.7 km) of unpaved roadway for hiking and cross-country skiing. The 1,890-acre (760 ha) park was established in 1976.

George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area

George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area is a state park unit on the Merced River Merced County, California. It is located in the San Joaquin Valley about 20 miles (32 km) south of Modesto.

Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area

Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area is located near Jamul in California. The former cattle ranch was designated a wildlife area in 2001, and forms a wildlife corridor between Otay Mountain Wilderness and Jamul Mountains under the protection of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The area is open to the public for activities including hunting, equestrian use, hiking, mountain-biking, and (hunting) dog training.

List of California state forests

This is a list of California state forests, operated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

McConnell State Recreation Area

The McConnell State Recreation Area is on the banks of the Merced River, about two miles northeast of Livingston (on U.S. Route 99 between Turlock and Merced). Fishing is popular for catfish, black bass and perch. There are picnic, camping and play areas.

Monterey State Beach

Monterey State Beach is a protected beach on southern Monterey Bay in Monterey County, California.

It extends from the city of Monterey to Seaside.

The Seaside end of Monterey State Beach is a popular launch spot for paragliders. Surf fishing is permitted.

North Coast Corridor

The North Coast Corridor is an infrastructure improvement project in northern San Diego County, California that will upgrade road, rail, pedestrian, and bicycle transportation infrastructure, as well as fund environmental restoration. The project has a $6 billion budget, and after beginning the first phases of construction in late 2016 is planned to be completed over the following 40 years.

Quail Ridge Reserve

Quail Ridge Reserve is a 2,000-acre (810 ha) nature reserve in northern California. It is located in the vicinity of Lake Berryessa and the Blue Ridge Berryessa Natural Area, in Napa County, California.

The Quail Ridge Reserve is administered by the University of California, Davis, and is a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System.The habitat protected is of the California interior chaparral and woodlands plant community. Quail Ridge Reserve is also the location of QuRiNet, a wireless mesh network.

Rancho Las Encinitas

Rancho Las Encinitas was a 4,434-acre (17.94 km2) Mexican land grant in present-day San Diego County, California given in 1842 by Governor Juan Alvarado to Andrés Ybarra. The grant was named “Los Encinitos” which means " little oaks", but was later misspelled as “Las Encinitas”. The grant extended along the Pacific coast north from San Elijo Lagoon to Batiquitos Lagoon, and encompassed present-day Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Olivenhain, California.

San Elijo

San Elijo may refer to:

San Elijo Lagoon

San Elijo Middle School

San Elijo College

San Elijo Hills, California

San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area

San Elijo Lagoon SMCA (SMCA) is a marine protected area that protects the lagoon near Encinitas in San Diego County on California’s south coast. The SMCA covers .44 square miles. The SMCA protects marine by limiting the removal of marine wildlife from within its borders. San Elijo SMCA prohibits take of all living marine resources except operation and maintenance, maintenance dredging, habitat restoration including sediment deposition, research and education, and maintenance of artificial structures inside the conservation area per any required federal, state and local permits, or activities pursuant to Section 632, or as otherwise authorized by the department.Boating, swimming, wading, and diving are prohibited within the conservation area.

San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach is a California State Beach in San Diego County, California, United States,

Sierra National Forest

Sierra National Forest is a U.S. National Forest located on the western slope of central Sierra Nevada in Central California and bounded on the northwest by Yosemite National Park and the south by Kings Canyon National Park. The forest is known for its mountain scenery and natural resources. Forest headquarters are located in Clovis, California. There are local ranger district offices in North Fork and Prather.

Stone Lake (California)

Stone Lake is in Stone Lake State Park, a California State Park, located in Sacramento County, California. The open space property protects two rare natural Central Valley lakes and their surrounding riparian habitat and grassland areas.

The County of Sacramento operates Stone Lake.

Sunset State Beach

Sunset State Beach is a park and beach on Monterey Bay, in Santa Cruz County, California.

It is operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area

Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area is a woodland park located along the Sacramento River in Tehama County, California.


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