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The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation operates the Discovery Center. The Discovery Center is an extraordinary collection of hands-on exhibits, gardens, and live animal ambassadors allowing visitors to “taste nature.” We are open to the public, but we primarily serve families with school-aged children who care about the environment, the watershed, and the local community, and we are stroller friendly. These families come to Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation for active ways to involve their kids in fun, hands-on, educational experiences that give them a sense of accomplishment.



Kids Corner

 Color pages featuring our Animal Ambassadors, read books about nature, play with toys, and touch real dinosaur bonesWith so much to explore this is the perfect place to take a break and get creative. 

Invertebrate Island

 Meet some of the smaller creatures that share our planet, bugs!  These spineless wonders have important jobs, unique adaptations, and interesting ways of life.  Learn all about these fascinating creatures and see them up close!  All of the animals currently living in Invertebrate Island are species that can be found in our local regions, from the coast to the deserts. . .

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History Hall

Learn all about the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and the Discovery Center dating back to 5000 BC.

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Archaeology Digs

Out in Discovery Center's Learning Island, young explorers can become certified "Awesome Archaeologists" by finding and identifying 9 different artifacts including dinosaur bones!

Native Plant Garden

Visitors always enjoy browsing through our extensive California Native Plant Garden and accompanying colorful and informative interpretive signage. In partnership with Greg Rubin, owner of California's Own Native Landscape Design, the AHLF is proud to host the premiere native plant garden in North San Diego County. Our landscape is comprised of more than 800 native plants featuring over 60 different species. We have extensive interpretive signage in both the front and rear portions of the Center's grounds. Visitors are welcome to roam through the grounds and learn about the ecology and ethnobotany of California's native flora.

Live Observation Bee-Aquarium

Check out our Observation Bee-Aquarium built by local Eagle Scout, Branden Lintner with the guidance of The Encinitas Bee Company. You will see the inner workings of a bee hive through the outdoor paned exhibit and watch the bees busily working. 

Succulent Living Walls

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation has two living walls on display. Living walls provide a beauitful, sustainable decoration that improves the atmosphere of the area that it is installed in.

Mammal Manor

Come visit our guinea pigs, Petunia and Dolly and Holland Lop Bunny, Cupcake. Their home is located inside the Discovery Center where guests will have the chance to hold and pet them while learning more about their personalities 

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Butterfly Corner (Seasonal)

The Butterfly corner houses live monarch caterpillars to allow guests to watch them transform into butterfly’s by displaying all segments of their life cycle. The milkweed is grown in our pollinator garden, and when the caterpillars are close to reaching the chrysalis stage of their life, brought inside. Once the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, they are then re-released to help contribute to their population numbers. (Spring and Summer only)


Explore the brand new Fairyland Exhibit at Learning Island. Fairyland features an array of succulents provided by the Succulent Café in Carlsbad, Carlsbad Village Fairy’s very own fairy doors, and a sprinkle of imagination. We thank AHLF Board Member Chris Crespo, for envisioning this new exhibit.

 Luiseño History and Cultural Exhibit

On April 22, 2006 (Earth Day) our first major exhibit was open to the public. This exhibit, entitled the Luiseno History and Cultural Exhibit, is the result of a collaborative effort between CSU-San Marcos and the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseño Indians. The exhibit includes photographs and displays featuring various aspects of the  Luiseño culture, with an emphasis on the critical role that native plants played in the Native American lifestyle.

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Birds of Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Photographic exhibition. This beautiful display of local wildlife photos features over 20 different species of birds that were photographed at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Some are year-round residents while others visit the Lagoon to eat and rest while on their annual migratory journey. In addition, we also have bird nest replicas from over 6 types of birds!

Robert Kelly History Exhibit

Learn about the history of Robert Kelly, an émigré from the Isle of Mann who traveled across the United States and ended up in San Diego.

Discovery Center Aquariums

Featuring three salt water aquariums; these tanks exhibit species native to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

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The Column of Life

Explore the ecology of the lagoon through visual, verbal and physical descriptions. Thanks to the North County Board Association's efforts, the column provides a clear representation of the how the lagoon function layer by layer. This exhibit demonstrates the importance of wetlands to many animal species and how our daily action can harm or help the lagoon. Ever wondered what lives in the bottom of the lagoon? Come visit the Column of Life to find out.


Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture (raising fish) with Hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The grow bed acts as a bio-filter that converts the ammonia in fish waste into a nitrate food that the plants can use. The product grown feeds critters at the Discovery Center offering a teaching tool, and sustainable food option. 

Tire Snake

Easily recognizable, the "tire snake" begins the Discovery Center's 1/4 mile trail down to the Agua Hedionda marshland. Modeled after a California King Snake, the sculpture also serves as a perfect marker for your family's scenic photo op!

Pollinator Path

Installed in the Spring of 2019, the pollinator path features beautifully crafted mosaic stepping stones by the Don Myers Foundation with the help of volunteers from the San Dieguito United Methodist Church. Encompassing the area to the South of the Discovery Center, present plant species include varieties of milkweed and yarrow providing breeding grounds for many pollinators including the infamous Monarch Butterfly. In the summer of 2019 we saw observed hundred's monarch caterpillars and three chrysalis' formed and emerged on the installed wood railings. 

Reptile City

The Discovery Center animal ambassadors are ready to meet you in our reptile city exhibit! Although most are reptiles including bearded dragons, snakes, geckos, turtles, tortoises and more, we do have a few insects, amphibians and crustaceans as well.

Sanders Tech Ed Foundation Tortoise Terrace II

Created in honor of the Sanders Tech-Ed Foundation, where funding was provided,  Tortoise Terrace II is an outdoor oasis for our 3 tortoises, Tammy, Leo, and Spikey, to call home. 

Bill & Elaine Smith Chicken Courtyard

Our 6 hens are full of love and personality! They love treats, being pet, and running around. Come say hi to Ms. Wyatt, Savanna, PB, Lucy, Clucky,and Maggie!

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The earliest inhabitants of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon were the native Indians who lived on the shores and upland areas of the watershed. There were no grocery or drugstores during these times. All of their food, medicine and shelter came from the plants or animals of the lagoon and coastal areas. Although there was an ample supply of fish and wildlife, the majority of the food they consumed came from the native plants. Many of the native plant medicinal applications first discovered by the Indian people have been successfully commercialized by modern day pharmaceutical companies and are used by millions of people around the world.

Our native garden contains over 750 plants, comprising over 50 different species. There are eight different types of sage plants, five varieties of manzanita, four species of wild lilac, and a variety of buckwheat, coffeeberry, currants, honeysuckle and hummingbird fuschia plus many others! All of our native plants are drought tolerant and require very little water. In fact, a good way to kill a native plant is by overwatering it.

Although modern day Californians do not rely on native plants for food or medicine as native people once did, there are many other reasons why the cultivation and use of native plants is important. The use of native plants benefits our ecology by promoting biodiversity and reducing the use of water. Growing native plants in our backyard gardens helps to restore some of the natural biodiversity of southern California which has been drastically reduced through development and urbanization. Restoring balance to our ecosystems benefits wildlife, many of whom are dependent on the habitat provided by native vegetation. Once established, native plants require very little irrigation. Using drought tolerant natives conserves one of our most precious and scarce natural resources and saves money on water costs as well!

The following is a sampling of some of the plants found in our native garden and some of their early uses:

Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)

To alleviate fevers, headaches, toothaches and as a cold remedy; also as an aid in childbirth; has a legendary ability to halt the flow of blood. Cream-colored flowers are in 3- 4"clusters; native to the western U.S. and is drought and swamp tolerant; cottontails love to munch!

California Lilac (Ceanothus Concha / Yankee Point / Maritimus / Thrysiflorus Repens)

Many varied uses: soap and detergent, deodorant, as a salve for sores and burns, for relief of coughs, arthritis, fevers, flu, and even diaper rash! One of the most fragrant and colorful shrubs in California. Very drought tolerant, prefer very little water, vary in habitat from groundcover to trees.

Sages (Salvia Apiana / Munzii / Spathacea / Gracias / Mellifera Repens / Leuchophylla "Point Sal")

One of the most sacred native plants for the Indian people. Used in ceremonies and as a cleansing herb. Also used for deodorant and shampoo. Medicinal uses: reduce eye irritation; alleviate colds, sore throat and chronic coughs; internal cleanser; as a salve for sores; for heart disorders; for measles and kidney troubles; as a bath for paralysis and earaches; treatment for epilepsy. Food uses: seeds ground into flour to make mush; as a spice for flavoring. Depending on the flora there are 17 to 18 sages native to California. Flowers range from pink, red, blue, purple and white. Sages are visited by hummingbirds, bumblebees, and wasps. (Hummingbirds kill for sages. They defend the sages in their territories like they are the only water in the desert.)

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos Harmony / Sunset / Austin Griffiths)

Ranks 2nd only to the oak trees in terms of important food source. It has been said that an acre of manzanita thicket would yield more nourishment to human life (if the berries were all plucked) then the best acre of wheat ever grown in California, after the expenses of cultivation. Berries used for food and drink; seeds ground into meal to make mush or cakes; used to treat maladies from diarrhea, to headaches and poison oak rashes. Makes an excellent groundcover and is great for a bird or butterfly garden. 43 different species in California.

Buckwheat (Eriogonum Parvifolium)

The "Boss" of all medicines, used as "Life Medicine" by native peoples. Range of applications: for high blood pressure and hardening of arteries; as a salve for rashes and skin cuts; to alleviate coughs and colds; for rheumatism, sore mouths, aching joints and muscles; as a lotion for pimples; for head and stomach aches and general "female complaints." As food: seeds ground into mush or baked for bread. Wood used to pierce ears. The buckwheats are very important butterfly plants and one of the pillars of their communities. The flowers, leaves and seeds are all used by all the smaller animals.


Photos used with permission of

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