Stretching across 979 acres of land, San Elijo Lagoon is a protected wetlands. The earliest known inhabitants of this area probably arrived between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago. Many people have utilized this land since then; the Portola Expedition passed through in the 1700s, Europeans began farming cattle here in the 1800s, and settlers from the East Coast came flooding in during the Gold Rush. Farmers planted seeds that they had brought with them from afar, and as time went on those plants became problematic for the ecosystem. In the middle of the 20th century there was talk of turning the area into something completely different, such as a theme park or a golf course. Plans for development were opposed by a group called the San Elijo Alliance, and today the lagoon is managed by the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.
Visitors traverse the lagoon on foot, by bike, and by horseback. A handful of winding trails carve out 7 miles from which visitors can observe plants and animals in their natural habitat. Some of the native species are endangered, making this a unique sanctuary in such an urban part of the country. Keep an eye out for a wide variety of small creatures including the trapdoor spider, honey bee, western fence lizard, and desert gray shrew. The lagoon’s larger residents include the southern mule deer, coyote, and bobcat. In the water you may glimpse the California killifish, the striped mullet, the ghost shrimp, and the California sea hare.
The lagoon’s educational programs attract locals and tourists alike. Photography workshops and events that combine beer and hiking tend to sell out well in advance. An hour-long tour is given every Saturday at 10 a.m., and volunteers congregate monthly to remove weeds, maintain trails, and plant native flora. Whether you would like to meander through the lagoon in solitude or join a group of nature lovers in volunteering, San Elijo is worth a visit.