Cabrillo National Monument

By Wendy VanHatten

First…a little history.

As the park’s namesake, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European expedition to explore what is now the west coast of the United States. Cabrillo departed from the port of Navidad, Mexico, on June 27, 1542. Three months later he arrived at “a very good enclosed port,” which is known today as San Diego Bay. Historians believe he anchored his flagship, the San Salvador, on Point Loma’s east shore near Cabrillo National Monument. Cabrillo later died during the expedition, but his crew pushed on, possibly as far north as Oregon, before thrashing winter storms forced them to back to Mexico.

Cabrillo National Monument, established in 1913, commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s voyage of discovery. A heroic statue of Cabrillo looks out over the bay that he first sailed into on September 28, 1542. At the Visitor Center, the film “In Search of Cabrillo” and an exhibit hall present Cabrillo’s life and times. Ranger-led programs about Cabrillo are usually available on weekends and on many weekdays during summer months.


Stop at the Visitor Center. Information about the park, tidepools, and trails, exhibits showcasing Cabrillo and the native people, films documenting the park and its history, and commanding panoramic views make the Visitor Center here an ideal place to start your visit.

Bring your shoes if hiking is on your agenda. The Bayside Trail is about 2.5 miles roundtrip. You’ll descend about 300 feet as you walk past native coastal sage, prickly pear, and chaparral. Leftover military control stations, bunkers, and other remnants of the defense system which protected the harbor during WWI and WWII dot this coastal Mediterranean ecotype.

Wear waterproof, sturdy shoes if you want to explore the tidepools. Keep in mind the rocks get slippery. Remember to explore by looking. These are protected to maintain the marine life in their natural habitat. Don’t take anything home with you.

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a reminder of sailing ships and oil lamps. When in operation, a dedicated keeper was on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No vacations. No time off. An oil lamp was lit in 1855 to reflect the light off the newly installed Fresnel lens. This was reported to be seen 32 miles away, protecting ships from the rocks and coast. Being the highest lighthouse along the coast, it seemed like an ideal spot. It wasn’t. Fog and low clouds often obstructed the light. In 1891 the lamp was extinguished for the final time. It was shut down and a new one was constructed at a lower elevation.

Definitely worth a trip, the Cabrillo National Monument offers an insight into San Diego and California history. With so much to do here, plan on spending the day.

If You Go: Cabrillo National Monument is located at 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA 92106. The entire park is open from 9am until 5pm. The only exception are the tidepools which close at 4:30pm. Park passes are available at the Entrance Station until 4:20pm. For more information,


Featured image: Spiral Staircase Cabrillo National monument (source: pixabay)



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