Living Coast Discovery Center
1000 Gunpowder Point Drive
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Kids enjoy hands-on fun with the shark & ray interactive exhibit!
After living in San Diego for almost twenty-five years, I thought I had seen all this region has to offer, but it turns out I had some more discoveries to make. I remember standing on the Silver Strand between Coronado and Imperial Beach a while back and looking out across the bay to Chula Vista. The power plant was still there, and the miles of parks and campsites, but I wondered what all that area just north of it could possibly be—acres and acres of mostly uninhabited shoreline. Now I know the answer. Tucked along a secluded stretch of Chula Vista bay-front is the Living Coast Discovery Center, a nature preserve that includes many exhibits, programs, and walking trails. The Center is also home to an impressive array of endangered birds that have been injured and could not survive in the wild, giving viewers like myself a memorable encounter with creatures like the Bald Eagle.
To access the Discovery Center, one must park in the lot just off Interstate 5 at E Street and wait for the shuttle that runs every fifteen minutes, even though our wait was only about five. The shuttle van goes west on Gunpowder Road, named after an earlier user of the land, a gunpowder manufacturer during WWI, through the marshlands that are home to many birds and animals. As soon as one approaches the Discovery Center, the adventure begins at the Turtle Lagoon where one can get up close to endangered Eastern Pacific green sea turtles. Once inside, the kids will love the very colorful Finding Nemo tank where viewers will find specimens of the fish from the hit film including the Clown Fish.
How often in a lifetime can kids get this close to a live eagle? The eagle and its live feeding are amazing aspects of the visit here
Other exhibits in the gallery include several snakes, tortoises, and lizards, as well as many fish from our local waters. Also on display are crabs, eels, lobsters, and an octopus. Just outside the main gallery, a viewing area allows one to scan the marshlands for cranes and other creatures in their natural habitat. Remember to bring your binoculars, or some can be rented from the gift shop. An elevated viewing deck allows one to look toward the bay and take in the full scope of the nature preserve.
Also not to be missed is the shark and bat ray interactive exhibit, where guests can touch as well as look. Leopard Sharks, Horn Sharks, Smoothound Sharks, Bat Rays, and Round Rays all circle the tank at a feverish pace. As I looked through the glass, one of the Bat Rays breached the surface and started splashing, exposing his ghost-like underbelly to me. But the fish that caused me to gaze in amazement was the Sturgeon, an endangered species that dates back to the dinosaurs. I recall reading in a history book how the lakes and rivers of America once teemed with Sturgeon to the point where the natives could simply reach down into the water and pluck one out with little trouble, providing enough food for a whole family. This amazing fish does not mature until it is about twenty years old, and can live to be well over one hundred.
Outside the Discovery Center, a path winds past a very colorful Iguana and small ponds and passes through aviaries where local water fowl can be seen darting around. Outside the aviaries, a special garden has been planted to attract hummingbirds, and a few can be seen buzzing from plant to plant. Along Raptor Row, many incredible birds can be seen—several types of owls and hawks, an Osprey, a falcon, and a Turkey vulture. I will need to spend more time studying this collection on my next visit, because we were in a hurry for the main event—the feeding of the eagles.
We were just in time to see the very knowledgeable staff feed previously frozen rats to the Center’s most impressive residents, a Golden and a Bald Eagle. Both birds have suffered injuries that prevent them from flying, but they sure are able to move around, and are quite active. The Bald Eagle came very close to us, giving us a chance to see his large eye and sharp talons. The eagles put on a good show, but refused to eat in front of our small crowd of onlookers. However, the Ferruginous Hawk that also lives at the Eagle Mesa was not shy and demonstrated the ease with which these large birds can dismember a rodent.
The Living Coast Discovery Center also has educational programs and summer camps, and a group of young children could be seen working on a craft in one of its classrooms. My family had a great time at the Center, but we will need to arrive earlier on our next visit to explore more and to take advantage of the hiking trail that leads to the bay.
Kids get to view the natural life cycle through the live feeding of the eagles who are given mice as a treat. Docents prepare the kids for the viewing.
A beautiful bat ray displayed his splendor for us in the interactive exhibit