The Real Southern California: Marina del Rey’s Ballona Wetlands
National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott is trekking through the Los Angeles area with his family in search of the real Southern California. This is his fourth dispatch; read the previous one here.
This is Marina del Rey, California. Seriously.
In the middle of a densely-developed part of Southern California, only three miles from Los Angeles International Airport, we found this secluded wetlands preservation. We could see the northern outlines of the 600-acres of saltwater marshes and sand dunes from our room at the Marina del Rey Marriott, and wondered: Why haven’t they paved it over and built condos yet?
Turns out there’s a good answer.
Back in the 1960s, developers had big plans to turn this this part of the Ballona Creek estuary into a mixed-use development, but they were stopped by conservationists. Good thing they did. In the process, they saved one of the last remaining wetlands in the Los Angeles Basin, which today serves as a habitat for 200 bird species, including the Canada Goose and the endangered Savannah Sparrow.
Taking a walk through the Ballona Wetlands is like going back in time. There’s an old rail trestle from a bygone era when trains, not cars, were the way to get around LA. There’s a Tongva straw hut, used by the indigenous people who inhabited this area before the arrival of Europeans.
We were fortunate enough to have a tour by the co-executive directors of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and protecting one of the last pieces of undeveloped Los Angeles. Richard Beban and Lisa Fimiani explained the three-decade process of removing the invasive, non-native plants and replanting natural vegetation, such as the rare Ventura marsh milk-vetch.
You can spend the day soaking in the rays at nearby Venice Beach, but nothing says adventure like trudging through the shoulder-high grass of the preserve. Because it’s relatively compact, it’s an ideal (and educational) way to spend a morning with young kids.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Not all of the wetlands are open to the general public, although volunteers and tour groups can get in to see Ballona by special arrangement.
It’s well worth it. You’ll see one of the last remnants of the real Southern California in Marina del Rey.
Photo: Christopher Elliott