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Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Chula Vista Nature Center

Sweetwater Marsh, once the site of a factory that extracted chemicals from kelp to make explosives, may at first seem a still, drab environment, but it is actually a place of great abundance and constant change. It is a particularly good place to see birds, and if you follow the 1.5-mile trail through the marsh you may glimpse some of the nine rare and endangered species that live here, including Belding's savannah sparrows, burrowing owls, and California brown pelicans, gnatcatchers, and least terns. Binoculars can be rented at the nature center.

Visitor center: The Chula Vista Nature Center and surrounding Sweetwater Marsh offer many opportunities to learn about wetlands and the plants and animals native to San Diego Bay. Begin your visit at the nature center, where interactive exhibits include a lagoon where you can watch endangered green sea turtles through underwater windows and a shallow-water tank that allows you to touch sharks and rays. You will also see jellyfish, eels, amphibians and reptiles, raptors, shorebirds, and other coastal life. Native plant gardens surround the center, and artworks illustrating local animals and plants are displayed throughout the grounds.


Trail/Pathway Details

Center Trail

Trailhead: At crosswalk by nature center

Length: 1-2 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Returning to the trailhead, manual wheelchair riders may have difficulty negotiating a 1.5-inch lip between the trail and the concrete, as it is at the top of an incline.

Terrain: Firm


The nature center offers free guided walks around the grounds and in Sweetwater Marsh. If you opt to hike the marsh on your own, take the Center Trail from the nature center straight to the bay, where a nice breeze invites you to linger while enjoying the views of downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge on the horizon. For a slightly longer hike, take the first left onto Coyote Trail, which loops back to Center Trail in less than .25 mile. 

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Visitor Center: Accessible

Accessible Parking: Yes

Cars are not allowed at the nature center and marsh, but a free shuttle with space for two wheelchairs leaves from the lot at the corner of E Street and Bay Boulevard approximately every 15 minutes.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

Nature center

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

Three accessible tables are located on the patio of the nature center, overlooking the marsh.
Landscape of Sweetwater Marsh
Landscape of Sweetwater Marsh (Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)

Features icon key

  • hiking
  • particularly good for families
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Managing Agency: City of Chula Vista
Address: 1000 Gunpowder Point Dr., Chula Vista
Nearest City: Chula Vista
Phone: (619) 409-5900
Hours: Marsh and nature center: Tues.-Sun., 10 am-5 pm; last shuttle to center is at 4 pm
Fees: Entrance
Dogs: Not allowed
Public Transportation:  San Diego Metro Transit System

Did You Know?

Sweetwater Marsh is the only place in the United States where Yerba reuma (Frankenia palmeri), a member of the heath family common in some coastal marshes of Baja California, grows naturally. 

Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, August 1, 2007
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
  Hiking icon is silhouette of a hikerHiking & Trails
Biking icon looks like person riding a bikeBicycling   Good for Familis icon is a child on a swing'Particularly Good for Families
Boating Icon is a boatBoating   Picnic Area Icon is a picnic tablePicnic
Camping icon is a tentCamping   Swimming Icon is a person swimmingSwimming
Fishing Icon is a fish biting a hookFishing   Wildlife Viewing Icon is a pair of binocularsWildlife Viewing