Nothing goes together better than bird-watching and buried treasure, right? Never connected the two? Consider 610-acre Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad—perhaps the most bird-friendly and certainly the most pirate-friendly of California’s remaining coastal wetlands.
Local legend has it that pirates coveted this spot back in the 16th century when it was a trading port, and supposedly buried treasure at the lagoon’s center. If you visit, a shovel is optional, but binoculars are mandatory for a gentle 3.5-mile trek. After a stop at the nature center for maps and trail guides, head east along the lagoon among native coastal sage scrub and the intermittent shade of eucalyptus trees. The trail is at a safe distance from the lagoon for the protection of migratory visitors and perennial waders, including great blue herons and snowy egrets. At about the half-mile mark, you’ll notice an interpretive sign denoting a giant, intricate wood rat home under the arroyo willows, though the rodent architects are only active at night.
This trail rocks the highest bench-to-trail ratio in SoCal, creating a relaxing vibe. Take time to sit and gaze at the resident shorebirds with your binocs, specifically searching for the swishing bills of feeding American avocets or the slender black-necked stilts scurrying along the mudflats. At the 1.5-mile mark, stay right and continue a short distance to the termination of the trail. The sandy patches here are where the endangered California least terns nest in the summer; look for their cousins, the elegant terns, in the fall. Heading back, listen and look for chaparral classics such as Anna’s hummingbird, scrub jays, and red-winged blackbirds. If you’re up for it, hike one of the spur trails up the cliffs for an overview of the wetlands, perhaps at eye-level with soaring pelicans, gulls, and ospreys. When you reach the cul-de-sac, you can extend your workout by walking the plank (er, weathered boardwalk) to sight some more of our treasured native fowl.
To get to Batiquitos Lagoon, take the I-5 to the Poinsettia Lane exit in Carlsbad, and head east. Take the second right, onto Batiquitos Dr., and then the next right, onto Gabbiano Lane. Follow Gabbiano Lane for 0.25 mile to the cul-de-sac and free parking area. The nature center is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dog-friendly!