As I find great places and resources, I’ll add them to this list. The places that I’m listing for birding aren’t necessarily the most traditional places, but they are the insider places that I’ve found are the best for taking awesome pictures and seeing lots of birds up close. Plus, lots of them are near food and/or tourist locations so you can take non-birds with you too.
Unusual and Unique Locations in San Diego:
Moonlight State Beach – Great place to take people who aren’t birders with you. There are volleyball nets, fire pits, concession stands, and great bathrooms. The area gets crowded during the summer, but the other times of year are great for birds. You can get great shots of seagulls, sandpipers, and pelicans. See sketches.
Bull Taco, Cardiff State Beach – Enjoy awesome tacos on a deck overlooking Cardiff State Beach. The staff are always baked out of their gourd, but the food and view can’t be beat. Lazily watch surfers while flocks of brown pelicans dive into the ocean. You can park for 30 minutes in the state beach (or longer if handicapped), but that’s never enough time because slowness of the staff. Park outside on the side of the highway and walk the short distance. You can take a long flight of steep sandy stairs down to the beach and hang out there if you prefer. On occasion, at dusk you can see dolphins jumping out of the surf. Not the best birding location, but you can get great shots of seagulls and pelicans flying since the deck is on a cliff right at their flight level. If you are coming from out of town, you can also camp in tents or RVs here but must reserve in advance because it’s always full. By far one of my favorite places in San Diego. We go at least a couple of times a month. See sketches.
Batiquitos Lagoon – The closest lagoon to me, this is the one that I visit most often. This area holds the breeding grounds for the endangered Least Tern and the area is swarming with them. There is are also herons and egrets all over the place. Part of the path is near the lagoon and part is covered with trees full with songbirds. The dirt path provides easy walking with wheel chair access and several benches. Dog friendly. One bathroom when the nature center (a trailer) is open. The nature trail has a trail guides and is kid friendly. See sketches.
Buena Vista Lagoon – The only “fresh water” lagoon, this lagoon has been dammed up with a weir allowing minimal salt water to flow in. This has caused the lagoon to be filled mostly with fresh water and is currently experiencing a cattail explosion because of it. The fresh water is also helps breed mosquitos which is unfortunate. The area doesn’t have a path that goes all around, but a series of several paths and multiple points of entry and viewing of the lagoon. The lagoon is very diverse because of the fresh water/salt water combo so the closer you are to the ocean, the more shore birds you see. The nature center is awesome with wonderful displays, classes, and great bathrooms. See sketches.
Safari Park – Ok, I know this sounds like cheating but since the Safari Park is the only water around for miles, you get a huge amount of birds hanging out there. I’ve created a guide to places in the park that I particularly enjoy for birding, so check that out. We have a season pass, which is completely worth it if you go a lot, have kids, or lots of out-of-town visitors. Obviously, there are plenty of bathrooms, places to eat, and the park is ADA accessible. Hundreds of native species have discovered this oasis in the desert, so you can actually see a higher quantity (but not higher variety) of shorebirds here than at the lagoons. See sketches.
Wild Birds Unlimited, Carlsbad – If you are interested in getting into backyard birding, this is the place to go. They have the best bird food and feeders in the area, with a knowledgeable and friendly staff. No question is stupid and they can point you in the right direction for your birding needs. See my backyard sketches.