Andrée Clark Bird Refuge, a 42-acre saltwater marsh, is one of the largest wildlife refuges in Santa Barbara County and is managed by the City of Santa Barbara Parks Division. The refuge has a 29-acre freshwater/brackish lake, an artificially modified estuary that is usually about four feet deep, which drains through East Beach into the Pacific Ocean. Three islands are located in the lake. A great overlook of the Bird Refuge is available at the neighboring Santa Barbara Zoo, below the Condor Exhibit.
- Features: Alcohol Not Allowed, Biking, Parking On Site, Passive Open Spaces, Wildlife and Birding
- Dog Policy: Dogs Allowed On Leash
The park provides passive recreation opportunities such as bird watching, hiking, and biking. Boating and fishing are prohibited, as is feeding the wildlife. The Bird Refuge is a scenic resource with views to and from scenic highways and provides a view of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The refuge is bounded by the Santa Barbara Zoo, Highway 101, and East Cabrillo Boulevard. The eastern and southern perimeter of the refuge have a bike path around the lake, connecting to the one along the beach to Shoreline Park. There walking paths along the northern shore and three viewing platforms for birdwatching and other wildlife observation. Over 200 species of birds have been observed at the Bird Refuge. Native and non-native turtles can be observed basking on floating vegetation and along the perimeter of the islands.
Periodically algal blooms occur at the Bird Refuge which subsequently exeriences an unwelcome and widespread smell similar to rotten eggs that permeates the area around the scenic body of water. The intense growth of algae creates hydrogen sulfide, which causes the unpleasant smell.
In the mid-1800s, this low-lying area was known as the Estero (Lagoon) or the Salt Pond. Storms and high tides would inundate the site with ocean water. During the summer locals would gather salt from the lagoon bed. The area was also a popular recreation spot. In 1873 horse breeder John Bradley bought the property and built a horse race track on the site, named the Ocean Beach Park Track, that lasted until 1886. In 1909 the city of Santa Barbara purchased the land which was then named Citizen's Park. A popular idea at the time was to transform the lagoon into a harbor, to be named "La Puerta al Mar," but the city didn't pursue it because area roads would have to be re-routed.
In 1917 a group of 500 schoolchildren presented the city with a petition to turn the park into a bird refuge which ultimately came to fruition 10 years later. The refuge is named for Louise Amelia Andrée Clark, older sister of the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who owned the Clark property, Bellosguardo located across East Cabrillo Boulevard from the salt pond. In 1928, Huguette Clark donated money for the refuge in honor of her sister, who had died of meningitis in 1919, a week before Andrée's 17th birthday.