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Hotspots Near You

116. Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, California

Shorebirds, raptors, ducks, Lesser Goldfinch, Barn Owl, and Anna’s Hummingbird are among the many great birds that rely on this coastal wetland east of Santa Barbara.

One of the few remaining coastal wetlands in southern California is also one of the healthier marsh habitats around. Throughout the year, more than 200 bird species enjoy the Carpinteria Salt Marsh’s serpentine channels.

Once slated for condominiums and a marina, the marsh avoided development 30 years ago thanks to conservation efforts by many local groups. I was fortunate enough to live in a beach house next to the marsh for 25 years. I now live on its northeast fringe and bird the many channels for shorebirds, songbirds, ducks, waders, and raptors.

While living on the marsh, I awoke daily during the winter to the Belted Kingfisher, and during the summer my alarm clock was the Elegant Tern. The raucous Marsh Wren is a year-round resident, and waders like Great Blue Herons nest in the trees bordering the beach. I like to sit on the edge of a channel and wait for the birds to come to me. At low tide, a procession of ducks swims east and west, and shorebirds scour the mudflats. The saltbush along the trails within the nature park is ideal for sparrows, Anna’s Hummingbird, and Lesser Goldfinch. — Chuck Graham

Chuck Graham is a writer and photographer who writes often about birds in California. He also wrote about Soda Lake, Bakersfield, Hotspot Near You No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, No. 154, Mendocino Headlands State Park, Mendocino, No. 167, and Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, No. 185.

116. Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, California


Carpinteria Salt Marsh is a 230-acre nature park and research reserve located 11 miles east of Santa Barbara. From Hwy. 101, exit at Casitas Pass Rd., drive south to Carpinteria Ave., and turn right. At Linden Ave., turn left and drive 0.4 miles to Sandyland Rd. Turn right, drive three blocks to Ash Ave., turn right, and park.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
34°23’46.29″N 119°31’42.47″W


Wetlands and uplands.


Flat, well-maintained trails in the nature park are wheelchair-accessible.


Summer: Sanderling, Marbled Godwit, Osprey, Elegant and Forster’s Terns, Heermann’s, Western and Ring-billed Gulls. Fall: Say’s Phoebe, Semipalmated Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, White-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrel, Barn Owl. Winter: Northern Pintail, Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Belding’s Savannah Sparrow. Spring: lingering ducks and shorebirds. Year-round: Black Phoebe, California Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Willet, Song Sparrow, Marsh Wren, Double-crested Cormorant.

When to go

Fall through spring for ducks, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds. Summer for Osprey, California Brown Pelican, Elegant and Forster’s Terns. Early morning and late afternoon are best.


Within walking distance of shops, restaurants, beach rentals, and the state beach. Restrooms located at the southern end of the nature park.


City park and university-owned reserve. Park is open year-round free of charge. Access to the reserve is limited. Guided trips occasionally offered through Santa Barbara Audubon Society. Docent-led trips at nature park every Saturday at 10 a.m.; call (805) 684-5405, ext. 449.


Bring a spotting scope. From the trail overlooking the sweeping vistas of pickleweed, watch for hovering Osprey and White-tailed Kite. Belted Kingfisher visible from the park’s footbridge and Bufflehead in the channel beneath.

For more info

Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve
SBCO Birding

Sites nearby

Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve
Hotspot Near You No. 2. Located 24 miles north of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh in Santa Barbara. The highest concentration of Western Snowy Plovers on the west coast.

Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
South of the salt marsh at the intersection of Hwy. 101 and Bailard Ave. Raptors, shorebirds, gulls, hummingbirds, and songbirds.

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