A bird-friendly de-stressify zone. Once in awhile the state does something right.

A little beachfront controversy was stirred this past summer when environmental writer Jenny Price co-developed an app designed to help beach lovers access miles of public coastline.

Tucked in between the homes of some of the entertainment industry elite are public access foot paths leading right to the sand and ocean. And it isn’t uncommon for the homeowners to go all out to disguise the public access points. Β It’s a bit understandable that they are less than thrilled to deal with the noise and inconvenience of the public on what would otherwise be a pristine landscape reserved for a limited few.

The app is designed to help the public determine which access decoys to ignore.

Wooden Bridge

You can feel free to ignore the “no parking” or “private beach” signs. Security guards can attempt to shoo you away…but you can shoo them right back.

No California beach is entirely private. Between wet sand and the water is public space.

I’m quite sure that if I lived in one of those gorgeous beachfront properties I wouldn’t be a fan of the California Coastal Commission. Since the early 1970’s the state has protected and preserved public access to our coastlines and beaches guaranteeing they belong to everyone, not just those fortunate enough to own homes right on the sand.

Beautiful Sky

During economic hard times there are calls from wealthy developers pressuring the state to let go of some of its well-protected and beautiful land. Understanding land trusts is beyond my ability to successfully decode, but I can quote numbers. Currently there are 115 California land trusts protecting 1,243,737 acres, which in partnership with national organizations have successfully protected 2,326,737 acres.

Bolsa Chica Reserve

On a recent trip through Huntington Beach I asked my personal driver if he’d make a quick veer off Pacific Coast Highway into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. It looked like the perfect spot to stop and de-stressify.

Habitat Area

Humans aren’t the only ones to enjoy the coast. The state has protected some prime coastal land for birds and animals, too.

Bolsa Chica means “little bag” in Spanish, a name associated with the former Mexican land grant Rancho La Bolsa Chica, but the history of the area goes back to the earliest of native California Indians. Cog stones dating back 8,000 years were found in the area and are now housed in local museums.

Great Egret

In the 1940’s the U.S. Military constructed two bunkers at Bolsa Chica to defend the coastline. Remnants remain, but are closed off to the public.

Pacific Ocean View

And Huntington Beach is oil-rich, too. I’ve watched the pumpjacks, sometimes called nodding donkeys or rocking horses, since I was a child, in the days when there was little interest in disguising the environmentally challenging industry.

birds watching pumpjacks

Currently the oil companies cooperate with the state in providing environmentally friendly habitats for coastal birds and animals. The 300 acre sanctuary is home to one of the best birding locations in southern California. The conservancy lists 186 regularly occurring species and a supplemental list of 116 species less frequently seen, meaning often less than once a year.


The nesting areas and many parts of the wetlands are not accessible to the general public, so it’s best to bring binoculars. But it’s a quiet and lovely location, and I’m certain many people drive by every day completely unaware of this beautiful spot.

Bolsa Marshes

An additional 56 acres of uplands still remain in private ownership and the California Coastal Commission is involved in ongoing hearings to monitor considered development. It’s an interesting dance between encouraging development with potential Β economic growth and the protection of wide open spaces.

Diving for fish

You know where I land on that one. Fingers crossed!

53 thoughts on “A bird-friendly de-stressify zone. Once in awhile the state does something right.

  1. I love that you have these protected areas for the birds and animals … and long may it remain so… we have willy nilly destroyed so many areas that are important to certain specie in the name of monetary gain, at the demise of some that we have never considered in the past… This has seen certain projects never get off the ground in our country, due to EIAs being done and discovering that certain frogs or lizards would become endangered if the project went ahead… for this I’m grateful to our government for their concern of our environment… Like there, here the State or Public own the beaches… no property owner owns the ground down to the sea edge, just down to where the beach begins… so it’s easy, “sand is our land”

    1. I hear what you’re saying, Rob, about how much habitat and land loss is now lost and won’t be recovered, but I’m grateful to the environmental lobbies and activists who continually work, often worldwide, to make sure that even the smallest of toads or fish aren’t lost due to human contamination. So often there is scoffing at the idea that we would protect a newt and halt human progress, but I have never understood why it is so hard to understand the interconnectedness of living species and why it’s important to our lives, too, to maintain ecological harmony. This little Bolsa Chica area isn’t huge, but it’s very impressive when it’s seen in such a heavily populated area. It cheers me to think about all the people who worked tirelessly to make sure it was given a high priority! πŸ™‚

  2. Gosh, I needed that vicarious trip through such a lovely peaceful area after the last few days I’ve had, Debra! I’m still reading this with my cataract in place, but it’s too long a story to go into here. Details are on my blog.

    Given the huge pressures on wildlife in our increasingly crowded world, it’s great to see such positive action being taken to protect it.

    1. I’m so far behind my own reading, Perpetua! I have every intention of getting caught up tonight, so I’ll be checking in on you! I hadn’t yet realized you had your cataract surgery! I hope it is a relief to have the surgery behind you, even if you’re struggling a bit. As you well know I’m sure, if not from other sources than definitely from what I share, my little corner of California is so highly congested and impacted by human activity it’s always a wonder to me when I discover that we’ve managed to prioritize nature, birds or animals–any living thing. I absolutely get celebratory when I can see a refuge done well. I am so glad you stopped by, Perpetua. You have undoubtedly been stretched for time!!

    1. That’s so true! I think there are parts of the United States where coastal access isn’t easily available to everyone, either. I don’t know the history behind the California Coastal Commission, but I think I’d like to learn a bit more about what was occurring that made it so important to have the new regulating agency!

  3. We have something very similar here in the bay area…and the same concerns about maintaining open space. As it is, our Baylands are great for birdwatching and photography. Sometimes the state does know what land to keep public….

    1. I keep coming across wetlands and wildlife refuge areas in some of the most otherwise congested and unlikely places, Stewart. It’s really sometimes funny. I think a lot of credit must go to “every day” citizens who work tirelessly on behalf of environmental concerns. I admire citizen coalitions who give so much of themselves. I keep thinking that one of these days I should join in a bit! I sing their praise, but I’m not very active!

    1. Actually, the wildlife refuge is right in the middle of a very busy city! I think that’s partly what fascinates me. I’m afraid I am not very confrontational, even if I have a right to be…so I am someone who probably would rather go on down the road to where there is readily open access to the beaches than to push my way in to the parts of the beachfront where homeowners aren’t very happy with the public! But I love the app…and those with more nerve than I have can definitely tell a hired security guard to leave them alone! πŸ™‚

  4. Bolsa Chica is but a hop, skip and a jump from my house… and those bunkers! Sometimes, I wish I could be 007 and sneak into one to see what’s in there…besides rattlers, the biggest spiders known to man, or stand-ins for Harry Potter’s snakes. πŸ™‚

    1. You’d be the one to find a way to visit those “off the grid” bunkers, Koji! I’d be curious, too! If you live close to this wonderful refuge area good for you! It’s a lovely area, and I don’t need any excuses to make my way down there at any opportunity! πŸ™‚

    1. I was fascinated when I heard about the app designed to help the public find public beach access, Nancy! Such a clever idea. The primary stretch of beach that is the most contentious is in Malibu. There are really just a few people who have made it really difficult, but I’m sure they thought they had outsmarted the public…and along comes a woman with her app! I think that’s just hilarious! πŸ™‚

  5. I think if you’re fortunate enough to be able to buy beachfront land then you have to have enough intelligence to understand that you are going to have to share your view and position with the public. Buying a beachfront property buys you the land your house sits on but like you say, the sand and the beach are for everyone and do not come with the beachfront purchase xx

    1. The Malibu homeowners claimed that public beach-goers would come to their homes and ask to use the restroom! LOL! I don’t know if abuses like that actually occurred, but it always makes me laugh just to think how invaded I’d feel if that happened to me. On the other hand, there really isn’t a need to go to the lengths of hiring guards to frighten people off the public beaches. Personally, I just pick another stretch of beach, but I love the idea of the app! Someone is always there to outsmart those who think they’re privileged and don’t need to follow the “rules.” Ha!

  6. You really have to love when the State gets something right — it seems so rare these days! Now if other states would only do the same. There are many beaches in my area that are reserved for the wealthy, whose homes line the beach. But when a winter storm or hurricane comes ashore, wiping away the sand, it’s the taxpayers who pay the bill to replenish the beaches.

    1. My cousins lived on the east coast for several years and were the first to tell me that the coastal access we enjoy in California is somewhat unique. I really hadn’t heard that until recently. And I understand the concern about how it is that following a natural disaster the same people who “barricade” against the public want the public’s help in relief dollars. That would frustrate me, too! I’ll bet you really enjoy the Florida beaches! πŸ™‚

  7. I don’t feel bad for people who live next to the public access paths. You knew that land was public before you bought the place! Same thing with the tract homes that spring up on top of public access hiking trails along the foothills here. I feel a little worse for them because the developers were the ones that ignored, and then failed to disclose, the matter…but not that bad. If you can afford a multi-million dollar home, you can afford to give some of the land back to the people and sue the developer for selling you land that wasn’t theirs to sell.

    1. I often think if the public didn’t go out of the way to be obnoxious with litter and respecting simple home boundaries perhaps those beach homeowners wouldn’t be so stingy with their public access points. I know of some of the conflicts on the hiking trails. I’m sorry to see how many of our local mountains are being carved up for homes in the first place! There are some wonderful groups of ecological/conservation minded people who put a great deal of money and effort into preserving what they can, and they have my deep respect!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed what I could share about the wildlife refuge in Huntington Beach, Jim. It’s a lovely spot in the middle of a very busy city. Thanks for asking about my well-being. I’m getting along. I’m finding it hard to get my usual energy back, but I think healing must be hard work! I’m a lot better, thank you.

  8. We don’t have the ocean and the sand. But we do have many places that are protected for natural habitats. It’s wonderful to see and enjoy. I don’t think our progress should be at the demise of our world. Seems kind of counter productive. Love your post.

    1. Thank you, Colleen. I think if I couldn’t find places where I can really immerse myself in some beautiful natural settings I’d be in emotional trouble. We live in a pressure cooker world and it’s amazing how we can recharge in nature, isn’t it? We need to do what we can to protect the habitats and natural settings we have. So much has been lost, but I’m grateful for every little bit that is protected! Hope you’ve had a good weekend. Now on to a new week. πŸ™‚

  9. Wonderful post! We don’t have beaches in Pennsylvania but we do have a lot of protected farmlands. There are constant threats by developmental companies offering big $$. I live next to a protected reserve and although I love it and would not change a thing, I also have a lot of crazy animals (wild turkeys, deer, coyotes, and others) in my yard from time to time. The only thing I hate is that we have roads that go through these places and there is a lot of roadkill (so sad). I love the app. It’s a great idea especially for visitors who would otherwise have no idea how to get to the ocean.

    1. We do have hundreds of miles of open beach and we can easily spend time on the beach without any opposition, but in the few areas that are heavily populated the coastal commission protects the public from being aced out! πŸ™‚ I loved hearing about your neighboring reserve. We are very fortunate that America woke up sometime last century and decided we needed to preserve some public land. It was well on the way to being eaten up by wealthy developers! Once in a while we have coyotes in our neighborhood, but I would like some of those wild turkeys! πŸ™‚

  10. Dear Debra, the public access information here is truly new to me and really interesting. So many people in Minnesota had cabins by Lake Superior, which is, I think, the largest inland lake in the world. And when I’d camp at the state and federal camps up there–Like Gooseberry Fall’s–I always wondered what it must be like to own the land that fronted the lake and to have that all to yourself. Sharing it would probably be hard but if it gives pleasure to you, you can be pretty certain it would give pleasure to others and I’d hate to deny them the “de-stressing” factor of being by water.

    I’ve been watching the PSB series on Hispanics in the United States. The first two hours–on Tuesday 9/17–talked about Hispanics in what is now the state of California but was then land claimed by the Spanish. It spoke of the Native American population also. I learned so much history that was all new to me. I hope you got to see the first segment of this series because I’m sure you’d enjoy it although you probably already knew most of what was new to me. Peace.

    1. I haven’t watched the PBS series, Dee, and I’m sorry I missed it. I’ll have to take notice to see if it’s still available. I would have enjoyed it. I feel like I’ always learning something new about the history of California because there are so many varied ethnic and cultural influences. California is strongly regulated and the state government steps in a lot! But that’s one reason why it’s nice to be able to say how much I appreciate the oversight of the Coastal Commission. For once, I’m right in step! πŸ™‚ I hope you have a very nice weekend, Dee. ox

  11. Tom McCubbin

    Thanks for writing this, Debra! Very inspiring to hear of people wanting to preserve beach access. I remember the abuses that were going on before the Coastal Commission came in to power. I don’t know why we have to fight to protect things that seem so natural for everybody to share, but I guess we do, and it’s articles like this, bringing issues to the attention of others, that keeps the fight alive.

    1. I love sharing posts with fellow Californians, Tom, because I feel like we can openly share how fortunate we are to live here. We both know there are a million things really wrong with this state, but as for natural beauty, we are just so fortunate–and year-round. The coasts are really special, and I, for one, really do appreciate the Coastal Commission, and I don’t think there is another governmental agency I feel good about. LOL! Now if I could just figure out how we could live right on the beach I’d be in heaven! πŸ™‚ At least I can visit quite often!

  12. It makes my blood boil at how entitled some people believe themselves to be. Good for this app, and for the state of CA for continuing to make these areas available for everyone-man and beast alike. Lovely pictures, Debra. Hope you are continuing to mend.

    1. We do have hundreds of miles of open beach access, but the people who live along “Millionaire Beach” in Malibu have gone all out to disguise the public access paths. It’s pretty funny! They put up phony garage fronts, and hire security guards to intimidate the public. On the other hand, they claim people come up to their houses and ask to use the restrooms. LOL! It’s probably true. I am mostly amused. And thank you for asking about my well-being. I’m getting there, thank you. I have a huge hematoma on my arm, and my inner lip is still hamburger…but it’s only been two weeks. I think I’m doing pretty well. Thank you, my friend. ox

  13. With all its warts, politicians, wheeling and dealings, city planners of Chicago made sure that the actual beach front of Lake Michigan would remain free of skyscrapers and houses and in the public domain. On a clear day, it is one of the best views around. In fact, its pretty impressive in the fog as well. Of course, this no where nears the miles upon miles of coastal beach front that California has. Good for the California Coastal Commission, all the advocates for open land and nature, and for people like you, Debra, that sing the praises of nature and of the beautiful state you live in.

    I noticed Dee’s comment about the PBS series. I’ve seen most of it and hope you can view it sometime as well. Dee’s right. You will enjoy seeing it.

    Sorry it has taken me so long to visit you. LIfe has been challenging these past few weeks. Glad to hear you are getting better. Those bruises sound nasty. Take care, Debra.

    1. Oh I do hope your challenges have been of the “ordinary” kind, Penny. That’s shorthand for simply hoping you’re doing well. I do think periodically life just gets extraordinarily complex. And that can cover a LOT of ground and for many reasons. I still have a few wounds, but I’m healing well, thank you. I’m also moving slower and with more thought! I’ll have to see if I can keep that up…it’s a good idea that I focus on that.

      I’ve seen photos of that beautiful Lake Michigan beach front and it is breathtaking. I think, like your references to Chicago’s political scandals, there is so much nonsense in California, that when “they”get something right, I’m just amazed! Typically if there’s a dollar to be made at the public’s expense then we lose! It’s nice to celebrate something without feeling a little cynical. LOL!

      I must find that PBS series…it’s probably going to be repeated, or I might find it online. I hope so. I hope you have a good week, my friend. ox

    1. It is Tammy! I find that I live more and more in the gray areas, almost incapable of definitive black and white thinking. Responsible living with ethical choices sometimes requires real soul searching. I’m very content to know that I don’t have to have all the answers! I’d never sleep at night. πŸ™‚

  14. Time With Thea

    I have driven by Huntington Beach as well as many other stunning California beaches. Aaaah… to live so close to the ocean! I had no idea that they were so available to the public despite all of the private residences running along the coastline. I also had no idea there was oil drilling in that area too. What a shame. I live in a very oil rich province where oil is one of the main industries. There are about 30 rigs and what we call donkey pumps just 5 – 20 minutes up the road from where I live. They are a common sight set against the the farm and ranch lands. The oil industry creates a real boost to the economy but it is disturbing to see what is being done to the land. Thank you again for your informative post! ~Thea

    1. The oil industry predates the houses, Thea. We are sitting on as much oil as Texas and Alaska, so it’s a way of life, but mostly disguised. The oil industry in California is so heavily regulated that most Californians don’t even recognize it. Not that it doesn’t still have environmental implications. And yes, our beaches are completely free to access. We are tremendously fortunate in that way. I only recently learned that this fact isn’t common in all 50 states. I marvel!

  15. It’s so important to keep natural coastal lands free from being over developed. I am a huge bird lover.. we’ve begun trying to create a little bird “spa” on our back deck, lol, and have a real appreciation for keeping a sanctuary for them. Having said that, I’m glad the wealthy can’t keep the public from accessing their “private” beach sanctuary!xx

    1. I love the idea of a bird spa, Barb! What a great idea. We have our own little version of a sanctuary, too, and I think ultimately what we do in our own homes is probably as important to the survival of small species as the grander efforts! I tell myself that anyway. πŸ™‚

  16. I know right!? There are so many private beachfronts in Malibu, inaccessible to public. Awful to think that they buy the proterty, then they own the oceanview? Ima jump over their fences if I spot something really nice in front of their houses. Ow, evil urges, help me. πŸ˜€

  17. I cannot thank you enough for this post and pictures! It made me reminisce about my time in HB and you provided me with some facts about places and things I am very familiar with, but didn’t know the history. Thanks so much, friend! You made this girl’s night! πŸ™‚

    1. Isn’t it interesting how we can live in an area and yet not know so many things that make it special? I didn’t know anything about the wildlife sanctuary myself until I finally made the stop the other day! I’ve driven right on by Bolsa Chica since I was a child and didn’t know anything in particular, except that whole stretch of coastline is so lovely and such a fun beach destination! I hope the reminiscence was all about very pleasant things. πŸ™‚ ox

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