Explore the senses on trails in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.


Welcome to San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve. The reserve is located in north county, between Solana Beach and Encinitas, extending inland to Rancho Santa Fe. 
Please plan ahead: there are no restrooms near trails, with the exception of San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Loop Trail. All trails are considered easy and will take approximately 1.5 hours to explore.
Address: 2710 Manchester Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea
  • I-5 to Manchester exit
  • Drive west on Manchester Avenue
  • Left into first driveway
Welcome to the Nature Center, a great place to begin your adventure. Inside, meet a few live animals of the reserve, and interact with exhibits about the ecology and history of this special place. This is the only trailhead with restroom facilities. The level, half-mile loop provides close-up views of the salt marsh and a boardwalk that traverses a riparian woodland. The Loop Trail is wheelchair accessible with paved and boardwalk features. It serves as an ideal introductory site for all age groups and is recommended for students in grades K-2.  
N. RIOS AVENUE—Solana Beach Trailhead (West of I-5)
  • I-5 to Lomas Santa Fe exit
  • Drive west on Lomas Santa Fe Drive
  • Right on N. Rios Ave
  • Drive to end of N. Rios Ave and park curbside
Choose among several directions from the trailhead with a moderate descent at the beginning. This the lagoon’s southern side. Walk into riparian woodlands and coastal sage scrub, with intimate views of the salt marsh, all hosting a wide variety of plants. This trail is ideal for grades 3 and older, especially if the students are seeking some adventure and exercise. There are no restroom facilities at this site. 
SANTA CARINA—Solana Beach Trailhead (East of I-5)

From the North:

  • I-5 to Lomas Santa Fe exit
  • Head East
  • Left at the first available street: Santa Helena
  • Left on Santa Victoria
  • Left on Santa Carina
  • Drive to end of Santa Carina and park curbside.

From the South:

  • Take I-5 North
  • Exit Lomas Santa Fe
  • Proceed directly onto Santa Helena (do not turn on Lomas Santa Fe)
  • Left on Santa Victoria
  • Left on Santa Carina
  • Drive to end of Santa Carina, park curbside
Set out on a trail traversing coastal sagebrush with chaparral communities on the hills in the lagoon’s southern side. Underfoot are broken bits of shells, reminders of the native people who lived here. You will see the freshwater marsh below, and if lucky, you might glimpse deer which reside in this eastern region of the reserve. There are no restroom facilities at this site.



Because there are no picnic or restroom facilities within the reserve, we recommend two excellent parks:
Visit Fletcher Cove Park and Glen Park for class lunches after a hike in the reserve. Both parks have picnic tables, playgrounds, and restroom facilities. Fletcher Cove is near the N. Rios Avenue trailhead, while Glen Park is near San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center. 

School Programs

Fletcher Cove Park Directions
Location: 111 South Sierra Avenue in Solana Beach
From N. Rios Ave trailhead:

  • Go right (heading west) on Lomas Santa Fe.
  • Left on South Sierra Avenue—parking lot is on the right.

Glen Park Directions
Location: 2149 Orinda Drive in Encinitas
From San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center:

  • Go left onto Manchester Avenue.
  • Stay to the left and continue on San Elijo Avenue.
  • Follow winding road and then make a right on Orinda Avenue before you come to the stop light. You will see the parking lot on your right.