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Free Things To Do In San Diego County - Imperial Beach
The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve contains the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge as well as the Border Field State Park. It is also adjacent to the Tijuana River County Open Space Preserve, which includes the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. This expansive region is less than a 30 minute drive from the center of San Diego, yet feels like an entirely separate world: It is very rich in coastal plant species and wildlife rather than people and pavement, and makes for a great child-friendly day trip.
To begin, stop in the northern part of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve at the visitor center, which is open Wednesday - Sunday from 10 - 5. Here, you can read about the natural habitat and wildlife of the region. There is plenty there for kids to look at too. You can then either explore the network of trails leading out into the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge on your own, or attend a free lecture or guided nature/bird walk, with binoculars available upon request. For the current schedule of these events, click on the following link: http://trnerr.org/?page_id=362 -
Next make your way east to the adjacent Tijuana River County Open Space Preserve to visit the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. This area contains more trails for exploring the indigenous flora and fauna, as well as the Bird and Butterfly Garden, a nice area for a picnic with kids.
Heading south along the eastern border of the Tijuana River County Open Space Preserve and then westward back into the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, be sure to visit the Border Field State Park in the southwestern-most corner of the reserve. Although there is normally a $5 entry fee for vehicles, it is perfectly acceptable, and even advisable during the winter and spring rains, to simply park outside the gate and walk the approximately two miles into the beach and up onto the mesa, from which there are amazing views of the ocean and Mexico.
Also nearby is the Imperial Beach Pier, where you can fish or take a stroll out over the ocean and come back to some ice cream or coffee from one of the local shops. Check water conditions before swimming, however, because this stretch of beach is sometimes contaminated due to run-off from the Tijuana River.