Visitor Activities


This refuge is a natural gem with the most preserved wetlands in South Bay. You can ride your bike around the refuge, observe and photograph wildlife, and view tens of thousands of migratory terns who nest in the interior of the refuge. 

You can get involved in our education and interpretation programs with our partners, attend special events, and volunteer during our habitat restoration events. 

Whatever you choose, the San Diego Bay NWR is a beautiful place to relax and recreate. 

  • Wildlife Observation/Photography

    flock of sandpipers

    Wildlife can be observed all around the refuge, but the best spots are at Sweetwater Marsh, our Habitat Heroes outdoor classroom, and the Bayside Birding and Walking Trail. The best times of the year are spring/summer for all the thousands of migrating terns and winter for the migrating waterfowl. Click here for a map!

  • Bird Walks at Sweetwater Marsh

    Sweetwater Safari- Saturdays 12:45 p.m. 
    Enjoy an interactive, guided trail walk with one of our wildlife educators. You’ll get binoculars, bird ID sheets, and more. We’ll learn about the natural flora & fauna and talk about the history of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This program is generously sponsored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  
    *Subject to availability. If a wildlife educator is unavailable, the trail walk is self-guided. Backpacks can be checked out from the front desk for free any day of the week.   


    Bird Walk- Second Saturday of every month at 11:30 a.m. 
    The Sweetwater Bird Walk offers those interested in viewing wildlife a unique opportunity to see a new side of South San Diego Bay. Guests will walk the trails of the Sweetwater Marsh Wildlife Refuge, where they can come face to face with snowy egrets, ospreys, burrowing owls, Ridgsway’s rails, and more. 
    Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring any bird guide books you have and binoculars.
    Limited loaner binoculars may be available to use during the walk.


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  • Bayside Birding & Walking Trail

    BBWT thumbnail

    This new 0.4 mile trail runs parallel along the Bayshore Bikeway, from 7th Street east to 10th Street in Imperial Beach. Stroller and wheelchair-friendly, this easy trail has interpretive signage and the most beautiful views of the refuge. You may park your car at 495 10th Street, next to the City of IB Public Works department, and cross the bike path to the refuge's trail.

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  • Hunting & Fishing

    No hunting sign on Refuges

    Hunting is not permitted on the refuge, however fishing is allowed in the open water areas. Please click on the link for a brochure and map of the fishing area. The closest fishing piers to the Refuge are located at Pepper Park in National City and Bayside Park in Chula Vista. 
    Waterfowl hunting is offered seasonally at Barrett Lake and Lake Sutherland, both operated by the City of San Diego.
    Upland game hunting is available within the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area and Boden Canyon Ecological Reserve, as well as within portions of the Cleveland National Forest.

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  • Boating/Kayaking

    FWS Law Enforcement bay patrol

    Within Refuge boundaries, boating and kayaking are only permitted in the open water area of the refuge, not the salt marsh/wetland areas. Also, this area is a rather shallow, no-wake zone.

    Please refer to our map for the boundary locations. 
    Public boat ramps are available at Bayfront Park and Pepper Park. Other marinas located in proximity to the refuge include Loew’s Crown Isle Marina, and two marinas in the Coronado Cays. 

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