The Living Coast Discovery Center (formerly known as the Chula Vista Nature Centers) is one of San Diego’s best kept secrets. Before I visited last weekend, I had no idea this little gem even existed. It’s a little smaller inside compared to other aquariums, but I loved that it was so much more diverse and there’s an expansive outside area to explore.
Part wildlife preserve, part zoo and part aquarium, The Living Coast Discovery Center is a non-profit organization located on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildife Refuge. All animals and plants at The Living Coast are native to the area. Right when we drove up, we saw sea turtles swimming around. My kids went nuts.
What makes The Living Coast so special is the emphasis on hands-on, interactive exhibits. In fact, many displays encourage kids to touch – like the screw-like shark egg cases near the shark exhibit or the shell display.
Here’s my oldest son trying to listen to waves in a conch shell – and note the display note says “Please Touch!” Too many times kids are told not to touch displays, it’s refreshing to see one that encouraging touch and learning.
And there’s really a diverse collection of animals, sea life and plants at The Living Coast, including sea turtles, sharks, rays, eagles (there’s even a resident bald eagle – I had never seen one before), raptors, shorebirds, jellyfish, native plant gardens – plus, there are walking trails that lead to the nearby beach.
The Living Coast is set at a beautiful location with so much to do both inside and outside. Here’s the trail to the local beach.
The Living Coast Discovery Center also offers VIP Animal Encounters – where you can get up close and personal with the wildlife, such as feeding the sharks and rays, feeding the sea turtles, meeting an owl, meeting a hawk or falcon or meeting reptiles. It’s a 20-25 minute personal encounter for a group of up to 6 people at just $45. You’ll have to schedule in advance.
My kids opted to feed the rays and sharks. Oh man, they were SO in their element. I loved that the VIP Animal Encounter was a hand-on educational session for them. They were learning about sea life and just loved it.
Petting the rays
Getting hand-on with starfish, sea cucumbers and other sea life.
Checking out recycled artwork. This sculpture is made from trash found in the ocean.
Swimming with sharks. My kids got to feed the sharks too with raw squid. No one was squeamish (except me).
While visiting, I learned The Living Coast offers a number of eco-friendly programs for families – including a composting workshop. I nearly squealed when I saw the composting area. There were displays and educational materials for kids to learn about composting. Plus, if you attend the composting workshop, you’ll go home with your own worms. My kids were so excited about it. I can’t wait to sign up.
Other programs include:
- Family overnight camps
- Nature crafts
- Nature discovery tours – like birdwatching and kayaking
- Day camps year-round during school breaks for kids ages 4-18
- Biologist days – for teens interested in working with animals
Plus, kids can even have birthday parties at The Living Coast. What a fun way to have a science- or animal-themed party while supporting a local non-profit.
Living Coast Discovery Center
1000 Gunpowder Point Drive
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Free. Park in the lot and a shuttle bus will pick you up
$14 for adults
$9 for children (ages 4-17)
$9 for seniors (ages 65 and older)
$9 for students (ages 18 and older with ID)
Free for military (with ID)
Groups get a 20% discount (reservations required)