10 Ways to Escape into the Wild Lands in O.C.

#6: Educational – Explore Pristine Wetlands

Behind the Naval Weapons Station, the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge is a coastal treasure.

These aren’t like the restored wetlands of Bolsa Chica, which attract plenty of birds and fish but have a bare, man-made look. The 965 acres here are lush, with tall emerald grasses sectioned by natural waterways. Overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the estuary was preserved because the naval station and local activists had a joint interest: stopping the planned extension of the 605 Freeway in 1971.

Once a month, refuge staff and volunteer naturalists are allowed to take a couple van loads of visitors to see one section of the wetlands. The morning involves about a mile of walking, and for those with mobility problems, the vans are nearby to help. This has an educational focus, with presentations at various stations about birds, marine life, and more. During one recent tour, a spotting scope was trained on the distant nest of a red-tailed hawk that stood sentry over the easily visible chicks.

You’ll have the best experience if you plan your trip for a morning when the tide is high; the wetland birds are scarce when the ponds are dry. This is a particularly good outing for children 8 and up, who find the presentations and all those people in military garb fascinating. California has lost 95 percent of its coastal marshes, so this site is a local treasure.

Yelp Chatter
“Come in the winter time (if you’re a birder). They said January and February are the best in terms of volume, the height of migration.” Bella C., Orange County

Good to Know

➔ One mile; a flat and easy walk
➔ Tours at 8:30 a.m. on the last Saturday of each month. Free, advance reservation required. U.S. citizens only. There are extra security precautions to enter the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station; photo ID required.
➔ 800 Seal Beach Blvd., 562-598-1024