Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Huntington Beach

You'd be forgiven for overlooking Bolsa Chica, at least on first glance. Against a backdrop of nodding oil derricks, this flat expanse of wetlands doesn't exactly promise the unspoiled splendors of nature. However, more than 200 bird species aren't so aesthetically prejudiced, either making the wetlands their home throughout the year, or dropping by midmigration. Simply put, the restored salt marsh is an environmental success story.

This 'Little Pocket' (bolsa chica in Spanish) of estuarine tidal saltwater marsh – home to loons, ducks, terns, sandpipers and rare species such as the white pelican – is largely untouched, other than two circular embedded gun batteries (a legacy of WWII fears of Japanese invasion). Preservation didn't come easily, however: decades of arm-wrestling between developers and conservationists resulted, in 1997, in the state buying up some 800 acres for the reserve. Eventually, about 1450 acres were saved by a band of determined locals from numerous development projects.

The park’s small interpretive center has lots of information about the reserve and leads occasional tours. On your own, there are multiple trails for about a 5-mile loop if you cover the whole reserve.

Sadly, Bolsa Chica is one of the last remaining coastal wetlands in SoCal – over 90% has already succumbed to development.