Living Coast Discovery Center is a small facility located on the south end of San Diego Bay that offers opportunities to learn about the plants and animals that are part of the surrounding ecosystem.

My six-year-old daughter and I made a recent trip from the Los Angeles area for a visit. While I highly recommend the center be on your list of attractions to see during a visit to San Diego or on your field trip list if you reside nearby, I would not encourage making a day trip from the LA area just for it. We ended up spending more time in the car than we did exploring (we went knowing this was a possibility).

Since the Living Coast Discovery Center is located on a wildlife preserve, visitors must park at the edge of the preserve and take a complimentary shuttle to get to the center. The parking lot was just off the freeway and the lot was practically empty when we arrived around 12:45 p.m. A shuttle bus arrived just as we parked and waited for us and another guest to gather our belongings and board. (Note: Restrooms are not available at the parking lot.)

After a short two or three minute bus ride, we arrived at the entrance. To the left of the main entrance was the sea turtle exhibit that contained two male green sea turtles who were munching on a midday snack of lettuce. Knowing we were going to attend the sea turtle feeding later that afternoon, we didn’t stay too long and headed inside.

Once we paid our admission ($16 for adults, $11 for kids ages 3-12; very reasonably-priced memberships are available too), we made our way to the main gallery displays. With over 20 tanks and enclosures, the exhibits are arranged in sections that represent the habitats of the bay–bay, marsh, and upland. Wildlife represented included fishes, moray eels, octopus, seahorses, jellyfish, sea stars, sea anemones, lizards, and snakes. There is a small tide pool touch tank at the end of the gallery that kids who are hands-on will enjoy with a “two-finger touch.”

By the time we finished in the gallery, it was almost time for the first feeding of the afternoon at the shark and ray exhibit. For those who have brave kids that would like to feel a ray, there is a smaller tank with several ray species they can touch. The larger tank includes the leopard sharks, fishes, and a partially-paralyzed loggerhead sea turtle from Florida. Sapphire, as she is known, was rescued after being hit by a boat (twice!) and is paralyzed in her lower half. It was fascinating to watch her and hear how she has been able to adapt to her circumstances to live comfortably at the Discovery Center since 2014.

After the shark and ray feeding, we went to the sea turtle feeding, and then explored the bird exhibits while waiting for the eagle feeding. There are about eight enclosures that feature various birds of prey, including falcons, hawks, owls, and eagles. There is also a separate shore bird aviary that gives you an up-close look at some of the birds you can see when you walk out to the water’s edge in the preserve.

Part of the reason we chose to go in the afternoon is because of the daily feedings that are scheduled every half hour, beginning at 1:30 with the sharks and rays, followed by the sea turtles, and ending with eagles. During the scheduled feedings at each exhibit, some interns fed the animals while others talked about the various species in the enclosures – both in captivity and in the wild. They also explained how they feed and care for the animals, and answered guest questions. The feedings were not very crowded (20-30 people at most) and they were the highlight of our visit (at least for mom).

After playing in the “Fossil Dig” sandbox for about 20 minutes, we decided to walk through the pollinator garden before heading out on a few of the trails in the preserve. The pollinator garden includes many native plants that are great for the native pollinators–bees, birds, bats, and butterflies. It also includes displays explaining the importance of these plants and pollinators to our environment.

The walking trails that wind through the upland to the edge of the marsh are very well maintained and stroller accessible if you have little ones (I’d still recommend a jogger or sturdy stroller since they are dirt trails). In addition to the wildlife, you can also see the foundation of the old gunpowder factory and railroad tracks that used to bring kelp from the bay to the factory.

While they do offer guided walks of this area on select days, you can also check out a backpack for free that contains binoculars and information about what you might see in the preserve. I definitely recommend this! We didn’t get a trail backpack because we didn’t know about it in advance and while the walk was nice, it would have been even better with some information to help guide us.

One area we didn’t explore was the compost demonstration garden. It’s to the north of the main building and kind of tucked away. They offer composting classes and demonstrations included with admission at various times during the week as well.

The last thing I want to mention, so you don’t find yourself caught off-guard and without quarters or dollar bills like I was, is the craft table they have set up just outside the doors near the shark and ray exhibit. For a small fee of just 50 cents, kids can choose from a number of different simple animal crafts. They take about 15-20 minutes to make and if you have a child who loves arts and crafts, it’s worth the small fee!

Once we made it back to the center, we made one last restroom stop before getting back on the shuttle bus to our car for our long drive back to Los Angeles.

Let us know if you’ve visited the Living Coast Discovery Center and what you enjoyed about your trip!

For hours of operation and information about visiting or scheduling a field trip to Living Coast Discovery Center, check out their website.


As with all of our “Out & About” posts, the information included in this article are accurate as of the publication date. Contact the location to confirm hours of operation, admission, and available exhibits/experiences prior to your visit.

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