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Hotspots Near You

212. Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Playa Del Rey, California

Find ducks, shorebirds, hummingbirds, and passerines about 10 minutes from LAX.

In the Los Angeles Basin, the last significant wetland is the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. It once occupied 2,000 acres of coastal habitat, but since the 1920s, industrial encroachment, agriculture, and population growth have shrunk the area to about one-fourth of its original size.

The state purchased the property in 2003, and over several years, volunteers removed invasive plants, trash, and debris to help restore it to a flourishing marsh. A rich variety of birds has returned: Ballona’s list exceeds 250 species, and in midwinter and during migration, more than 70 species can be seen in a day. The most accessible spot is the 51-acre freshwater marsh at the corner of Lincoln and W. Jefferson Boulevards. An L-shaped, woodchip-covered trail leads along the perimeter, offering views of ducks, shorebirds, waterbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and passerines. Spring visitors include Yellow-breasted Chat and Western Tanager.

Farther west, along the south levee of Ballona Creek, scan the wetlands in fall and winter for Belding’s Savannah Sparrow. In early-morning hours along the breakwater and beach in Playa del Rey, look for scoters, peeps, cormorants, seabirds, and Snowy Plover. — Shirley L. Ruhe

Shirley L. Ruhe is a reporter and a former congressional staffer. She also wrote about Monticello Park, Alexandria, Virginia, Hotspot Near You No. 191, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, No. 199, and Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Preserve, Key West, Florida, No. 205.

212. Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Playa Del Rey, California


The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve protects 600 acres of coastal marshes in Los Angeles County. From Santa Monica, head southeast on Lincoln Blvd. (Rt. 1) for five miles. Turn right on W. Jefferson Blvd. and drive about 0.25 miles to the main trail. Park along the south side of the road.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
33°58’11.31″N 118°26’5.02″W


Estuarine marsh, freshwater wetlands, riparian areas, uplands, coastal dunes, willow thickets, coastal bluff scrub.


Flat. Sandy in places.


More than 250 species. Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Bufflehead, Whimbrel, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, Black Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover, Surfbird, Brandt’s, Double-crested, and Pelagic Cormorants, Heermann’s, Western, and California Gulls, Short-eared Owl, Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, Black and Say’s Phoebes, Black-throated Gray, Wilson’s, and Townsend’s Warblers, Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (in pickleweed).

When to go



Bird walks organized by Los Angeles Audubon on third Sunday of each month (except December); meet at 8 a.m. at Del Rey Lagoon parking lot. LA Audubon also holds “Open Wetlands” event at salt marsh on first Saturday of each month from 9-12. Friends of Ballona Wetlands offers tours of salt marsh and dunes, freshwater marsh, and two-acre Ballona Discovery Park; see for schedule. Checklists also available on website.


State ecological reserve. No fees. Freshwater marsh and Ballona Discovery Park open dawn to dusk. Access to salt marsh and dunes through tours only. Public transportation: Take Metro Bus 110 to Playa Vista or Big Blue Bus Line 3 to Lincoln and Jefferson. Ten minutes by cab from Los Angeles International Airport.


Dress in layers and wear closed-toe shoes.

For more info

Friends of Ballona Wetlands
Los Angeles Audubon

Sites nearby

Del Ray Lagoon
Small tidal estuary between Ballona Wetlands and the ocean. Egrets, herons, and the occasional parrot.

Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, Hotspot Near You No. 49
About eight miles north of Ballona Wetlands, next to the UCLA Medical Center. Great for hummingbirds, warblers, and Cooper’s Hawk.

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