Step into to a bird's house. Get eye-to-eye with a moray eel. Greet a sea turtle as he swims up to say hello. The Living Coast Discovery Center isn't a nature museum?it's a chance to hang out with Southern California's plants and animals on their own turf. The Discovery Center's "living, breathing, flapping, buzzing, and splashing home" sits on the 316-acre Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, the ideal location for exploration of the region's most memorable residents in their native habitats.
A walk-through aviary encompasses the tidal slough habitat of black-crowned night herons, red-breasted mergansers, and endangered clapper rail chicks, freshly hatched from the in-house breeding program. Bald and golden eagles await up-close encounters at the Eagle Mesa, but the rays get even closer: an interactive touch pool puts the aquatic creatures beneath your fingertips. Raptor Row hosts the Center's rescued birds of prey, all of which have injuries or other conditions that prevent them from surviving outside the refuge on their own. Visitors are also free to pursue their own wildlife adventure along the center's 1.5 miles of walking trails.
Shared Dreams' boat docks at Sunroad Resort Marina's pier, which is just a short jaunt away from nearly all of San Diego's seaside sights and attractions. Because of that, it's not difficult for the boat's licensed captain to customize trips. Depending on what customers want to see?whether it's whales, seals, battleships, the Coronado Bridge, or Olly, the city's beloved thicket of seaweed?he'll steer the boat in the appropriate direction.
Kayaks glide serenely through the South Bay as the sightseers dip paddles into the water or stop to take pictures of migrating birds. Led by a docent for the Living Coast Discovery Center with five years of experience, Chula Vista Kayak’s tours navigate these oft-overlooked waters in search of rare sights, such as the local Pacific green sea turtles coming up for air or the abundant wildlife including raptors, great blue herons, and egrets. Tours welcome beginners and seasoned kayakers alike; no matter their experience level, guests brush up on water safety with a 15-minute introduction before they’re clear to push off and explore.
Pumpkin Stations turn pumpkin shopping and family-park excursions into a one-stop trip. Each of the five Pumpkin Station locations houses a variety of family-fun activities, from giant slides and mini-trains to sky fighter rides and carousels. Mission Valley, for instance, enables visitors to get their sea legs with an on-site boat ride, while the El Cajon game zones gives them a place to rest in between activities. No matter the location, families, friends, and groups can stroll through an asphalt pumpkin patch to seek out a large, plump gourd to take home and carve into a jack-o-lantern.
It's hard to imagine a seaside dining experience more complete than the one at Dolphins Restaurant, Bar & Banquet. Sailboat masts bob in the harbor just beyond floor-to-ceiling windows, a red canoe hangs from the ceiling to complement nautical flags on the walls, and at the entrance visitors are greeted by a bronze sculpture depicting a human pyramid of dolphins. And that's before you get a look at the menu. Classic seafood dishes such as lobster tails and grilled teriyaki mahi mahi fill plates during dinner service but also during weddings, when tables are draped in white cloth, decorated with floral arrangements, and cleared of all single people. The restaurant also offers a weekly Sunday brunch, with more than 50 items to choose from.
At the sushi bar, chefs wrap colorful seafood and vegetable combinations into 25 largely simple rolls, including the Chef's Marina, which contains tempura rock shrimp and avocado, and the Tijuana, which pairs spicy tuna with roasted jalapenos. In the evening, a tree-studded patio glows with light from several fire-pits, and occasionally the whole restaurant fills with music from live bands, mariachi bands, and DJs.
Perhaps with the exception of a high-school prom, The Gondola Company can put almost any romantic event on the water. Its vessels ferry passengers across the canals of the Coronado Cays on several types of cruises, all of which spark a romantic ambiance with Italian music and BYOB amenities. The classic 50-minute Pasaporto jaunts depart for relaxing voyages day and night. As an optional add-on, a live mandolin or violin player can tag along to strum charming, traditional melodies.
The gondoliers do not exclusively transport small groups; they also pilot Venetian caorlinas, larger boats that can accommodate up to 14 people during family-style celebrations. For even grander gatherings, a fleet cruise dispatches as many as six separate gondolas, which can smoothly support entire wedding parties atop the water. Other specialized cruises treat passengers to more than scenic views and the melancholy mating croons of wild sturgeons. On a wine-tasting cruise, a sommelier lectures on a flight of six libations. Alternatively, a Voga massage cruise lays two beds inside the boat, permitting massage therapists to coax tension from couples' torsos and limbs as they skim along the canal surface.