The Living Coast Discovery Center, formally known as the Chula Vista Nature Center has a lot to offer for residents and visitors alike. The center was originally built in 1987 after a long period of private use and abuse of the Sweetwater river marsh. When the center originally opened, it was free and donations were encouraged. In the early 2000s, problems with the funding from the City of Chula Vista nearly closed the center. But, they formed their own non-profit association and began charging admission fees.
To get to the center, one has to park in the parking lot on E Street in Chula Vista just west of the I-5 and take a shuttle. No other access is allowed except through the shuttle. Last shuttle to the center departs the parking lot at 3 p.m. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. There are also hiking trails out to the marsh and USFWS offices and training classrooms.
One of the highlights of the center is the endangered light-footed clapper rail exhibit. The center has released dozens of clapper rails into the wild. They have their own aviary and a pre-release area where one can see them close-up. In another aviary, there is an exhibit of native birds that are either injured or un-releasable out in the open where they can fly and swim as they were born to do. These birds include ruddy ducks, gadwalls, ibises, egrets and a black oystercatcher. Roxy and Hershey, the mallards also live there. Roxy is very friendly and likes to sit on the wall near the walkway and chat with visitors. She has been at the center for many years and has a lot of personality. In other aviaries, there is a bald and golden eagle, a falcon and other raptors.
If you’re not into birds, you can see native sea turtles near the front entrance and sharks in a special shark tank in the back. There’s also a petting pond with rays and some other fish. Various aquariums with several species of fish can be seen just inside the entrance.
Out on the trails, one can see many native birds and other wildlife including least terns, little blue herons, reddish egrets, greater yellowlegs, osprey, northern harrier and many others. Depending on the time of year and the tides, one can see many migrating shorebirds feeding as they pass through the area.
Admission to the center is $14 for adults, $9 for children 4-17, seniors and students. Free to military and first responders (with ID). There are also yearly memberships including a family package. Classes and special events may cost extra. To learn more, contact the center at 619-409-5900 or visit their website at www.thelivingcoast.org.