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Living Coast Discovery Center

Chula Vista Nature Center on Sweetwater MarshSurrounded by numerous gardens, the Living Coast Discovery Center soars like an ark above the 316 acre Sweetwater Marsh. The Discovery Center provides visitors with interpretive and interactive exhibits explaining the marsh habitat, self-guided environmental education programs, guided nature and bird walks, a shark and ray exhibit, and the opportunity to view native birds in outdoor aviaries that support burrowing owls, shorebirds, egrets and herons.

Visit the Living Coast Discovery Center website here.


The Discover Center combines first class zoo and aquarium exhibits with the birds, marine life and other living organisms that the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge naturally supports.

Formerly operated by the City of Chula Vista, the Discovery Center (formerly known as the Chula Vista Nature Center) transitioned in 2010 from a public, taxpayer-funded institution to an independent, 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization.  They rely on donations, memberships, and scientific and educational grants to offset costs of operations.



For over 20 years, the Discovery Center has hosted thousands of school children every year for field trips, science classes, scout events and other kid-friendly opportunities. “Sweetwater Safari,” a self-guided field experience for elementary students is only one of the many programs provided each day at the Center.


Get an up close and personal visit with the Discovery Center’s own endangered Eastern Pacific Green Sea Turtles at Turtle Lagoon. Turtle lagoon logo Learn about sea turtles and how you can help preserve this amazing species. 

The David A. Wergeland Shark & Ray Experience is a state-of-the-art, 21,000-gallon aquarium that includes a shallow-water touch tank where you can touch the resident rays. Learn about the importance of our local watershed and what you can do to help protect all the animals that live downstream.

Step into the walk-through Shorebird Aviary and enter the home of native water and shorebirds. Wander through the aviary with egrets, ducks, herons and other local birds in the peaceful tidal slough habitat. 

At Eagle Mesa, you will be face-to-face with the majestic national symbols of the United States and Mexico: the Bald eagle and Golden eagle. Visit the eagles during feeding time every day at 3:30, and get a chance to interact with the keepers to learn even more.


1.5 miles of walking trails lead from the  Discovery  Center Trailhead at Sweetwater Marshexhibits out to the shore of San Diego Bay.  Stroll the trails and you will find the foundation of the old gunpowder factory that used to exist on Gunpowder Point and see the railroad tracks that were used to bring kelp to the factory from the bay.  Catch a glimpse of a soaring Harrier, shorebirds, rabbits, and maybe even an Osprey diving down for lunch.


Light-footed clapper rail breeding pair at the Chula Vista Nature CenterThe  Discovery  Center partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, and independent biologists to captive - breed and release one of California’s most endangered water birds - the Light-footed Clapper Rail.

The  Discovery  Center has been involved in the breeding program since its launch by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1997; in partnership with SeaWorld San Diego, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The light-footed clapper rail breeding program has contributed to producing over 300 endangered clapper rails for release back into the wild. 

Most clapper rails in the breeding program incubate and rear their chicks naturally, but some eggs produced by the pairs are artificially incubated and reared by hand at SeaWorld San Diego. Both naturally raised and hand-reared fledgling clapper rails are transferred to proving enclosures at the Nature Center where they live in conditions that mimic a natural marsh… on the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay NWR. During their time in the pens, the fledglings are monitored to ensure they develop natural foraging and survival skills before they are released to the wild.



The  Discovery  Center is located at the foot of E Street and Interstate 5 in Chula Vista.  Please call the  Discovery Center or visit their website for times of operation, admission to the Center and Refuge, reservations, and scheduled activities.  For reservations of large groups, please call (619) 409-5900.

1000 Gunpowder Point Drive

Chula Vista, CA 91910 



The Discovery Center at the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego Bay NWR is also the location of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s new San Diego NWR Complex Headquarters, located at:


1080 Gunpowder Point Drive

Chula Vista, CA 91910

Sweetwater NWR staff can be contacted at 619-476-9150 (Visitor Service staff can be reached at extension 105 or 106) 

Last Updated: Mar 06, 2013
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