History of Ballast Point in San Diego Bay

From one of San Diego’s earliest settlements to the home of a brewery known across the nation, learn why Ballast Point is more than just a spot on Point Loma.
History of Ballast Point in San Diego Bay
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Exploring Ballast Point’s Past

When sailing vessels are empty of cargo, they’re at a higher risk of capsizing in high winds. To prevent this, sailors load ballast, disposable items like heavy stones or barrels of sea water, onto the boats to weigh them down.

As the entry point to San Diego Bay, which has seen thousands of cargo ships throughout the years, it’s no surprise this practice gave Ballast Point its name! Sailors often used the stones along the point as ballast, or dumped their ballast here in exchange for cargo, as they moved into and out of the bay.

Ballast Point is located at the southeastern end of Point Loma, where the peninsula forms the mouth of the bay, just offshore from Smuggler’s Cove, where the Coast Guard Naval Station Point Loma sits today.

While it was historically an important spot for sailors with its own lighthouse, it has since become best known for its connection to the Ballast Point Brewery. Still, the area is full of important and interesting history, as is nearly all of San Diego.

As a hub of sailing, whaling, and ale-ing, Ballast Point has a rich historic culture and storied past that dates all the way back to the earliest European settlements in California.

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Discover the History Behind the Modern Landmark

Like a great deal of modern-day San Diego, Ballast Point was originally occupied by the Kumeyaay Native Americans. Spurred by a desire to find a seafaring route from Mexico to the East Indies, Spanish explorers and future settlers set sail from Mexico. What they found instead was the California coastline.

In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the first European explorer to reach California, set sail from modern-day Acapulco in Mexico. He had previously explored alongside Hernán Cortés, but was now setting off to sail in previously uncharted waters. With him, he took three ships: the La Victoria, the San Miguel, and the flagship, a 200-ton galleon called the San Salvador.

After over five months at sea, he reached the Coronado Islands and landed on Point Loma, in the Ballast Point area. He remained here for six days, getting the lay of the land and paving the way for future European settlers to come to the area. You can find a monument to Cabrillo, constructed many years later in 1913 to commemorate this landing, still standing in this area today. This is actually a popular tourist destination called Cabrillo National Monument.

Cabrillo originally named the harbor San Miguel, but it was renamed to San Diego in 1602 by another explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno. From here, Ballast Point started to become a European settlement once it was occupied by Spain. Nearby missions were established, often displacing or converting the Kumeyaay natives, and Ballast Point started receiving and sending boats full of supplies and other cargo for the new settlement.

The original fort on the peninsula was constructed in 1795, at which time it was originally named Point Guijarros. It was later dubbed Ballast Point thanks to the large number of sailors frequenting the area, using it to load and unload ballast as needed.

Point Loma was also a hub for whaling, since so many whales migrate past the coast. Whale carcasses were towed back to Ballast Point and processed for their blubber, which was used in products like soap and oil for lamps.

Developments continued around the point for many years as San Diego’s population continued to grow. Boats carrying both cargo and passengers had to navigate around the point, and when it was stormy or foggy, this could be especially dangerous.

Previously, the original Point Loma lighthouse, constructed in 1855, was meant to help ship captains identify and avoid the rocky bluffs that could have otherwise sunk their ships. However, this lighthouse had some notable problems. It was constructed on top of a bluff, and its high altitude meant that when it was foggy, the light would be almost totally obscured, resulting in potential disaster below.

To combat this, construction started on a lighthouse on the coast in 1890. It was 34 feet high and constructed in the Victorian stick style, an architectural style that emphasizes the structural frame with well-defined stickwork and which was considered very modern at the time. However, the base of the lighthouse was made with brick and mortar, which grew more unstable with age.

The Ballast Point lighthouse is no longer standing, having been torn down in 1960 when the instability of the tower’s base made it too dangerous to leave standing. Only a post light remains in its place, but the fog signal tower remains in a home in Lakeside, while the lantern room can be found in nearby, historic Old Town.

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Ballast Point in the Modern Day

In the years that followed its early history, Point Loma and Ballast Point specifically have housed locals and tourists alike. Point Loma’s beaches are a huge draw in the area, especially as surf spots, and Ballast Point has also gained quite the reputation as a brewery hotspot.

The rocky shores near Ballast Point make it a great spot to enjoy San Diego surfing culture, whether you decide to rent a board and ride the waves yourself or you just want to watch other more experienced surfers strut their stuff. You can also check out the tide pools around the Cabrillo National Monument, or go on a hike next to the rocky shore.

Ballast Point brewery brought a great deal of attention to the area, putting it on the map for people across the nation who enjoyed the brewery’s beer.

What started in 1996 as a small-scale operation in a homebrew supply store quickly grew into a very famous brewery chain, expanding to locations in Little Italy and Miramar alongside the original location in Ballast Point’s HomeBrew Mart. You can visit their tasting room and enjoy locally-sourced meals at all locations.

Additionally, Fort Guijarros still exists today, as part of a series of naval bases constructed around Port Loma. In 1998, these bases were consolidated into Naval Base Port Loma, which has been involved in multiple naval operations since its founding.

If San Diego’s naval history interests you, consider stopping by the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum or the Maritime Museum of San Diego, both of which are located just a short distance from Ballast Point and Point Loma along the Embarcadero in downtown San Diego. You can read all about previous military operations and even board some of the ships and aircrafts used for these missions!

Not a military buff? No worries - there are plenty of other ways to immerse yourself in Ballast Point’s history.

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How to Experience Ballast Point for Yourself

If you’re planning on visiting San Diego, your trip isn’t complete without stopping at Ballast Point. There’s plenty to do here, including visiting historical landmarks like the monument and lantern room, as well as walking the bay.

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is a park around a statue erected to commemorate Cabrillo’s original landing in Point Loma. Here, you can learn more about Cabrillo’s expeditions. You’ll also find the old Point Loma lighthouse here, preserved from its original construction in 1855.

There is a coastal road within Cabrillo National Monument where there is an excellent place to check out tide pools, where dips in the cliffside rocks catch the high tide waves and the creatures that live in these tide pools. This is an excellent way to check out some of the Pacific Ocean sea life without having to go to an aquarium.

The Lantern Room

The Ballast Point lighthouse may no longer be in operation, but you can still check out the lantern room for yourself.

Head to the West Sea Company, a nautical antique shop in Old Town, which is about six miles to the northeast. Here, you’ll find the old lantern room. This is the glass and metal structure that once stood atop the lighthouse tower, helping to guide ships into the bay without wrecking on the rocks below.

While you’re there, don’t forget to stop inside and check out some of the antiques for sale. As genuine artifacts, they’re a little more expensive than what you might expect to find at your standard gift shop, but just browsing the antiques on display is a great way to feel more in touch with local history.

San Diego Bay

There’s tons to do in and around San Diego Bay!

The Coronado Island area has some of the best beaches in San Diego, especially if you enjoy lazy beach afternoons. The bay blocks most of the larger waves, so you won’t find many swells here for surfing, but it’s an excellent swimming spot thanks to the lack of strong tides. When you’re done at the beach, walk down to the nearby beachfront boardwalk for some games and carnival-style food.

You can also explore the bay itself on a family-friendly harbor cruise. Listen to a local expert teach you about the history of the city as you make your way around the harbor, or head out into the Pacific on a whale-watching voyage.

Consider going sailing too. You can take a tour or even rent a sailboat yourself if you know how to sail it. The calm bay waters and California’s gorgeous weather mean you won’t have to worry much about fighting the currents or being blown off course.

Looking for even more to do? Head to one of the many waterfront parks, which offer incredible views of the bay that are perfect photography opportunities. Enjoy a midday picnic, or walk or bike along the park trails.

If you want to get the most out of the activities in the bay without spending too much, make sure to buy a Go San Diego pass before your trip. You can save big on admission prices to top area attractions like the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and the San Diego Zoo. You can also save on gear rentals for surfboards and other beach supplies, and if you purchase the Go San Diego pass via our website you can get an additional savings to save even more!

Tips and Tricks for Getting the Most Out of Your Trip

Before you go to Ballast Point, here are some important tips that can help you plan ahead and avoid unnecessary hassle.

Surfing Around Ballast Point

One of the best spots to surf nearby is Ralph’s Surf Break. You can find it on the eastern side of Point Loma. While you do need to take a boat to reach the waves from the break, the trip is worth it whether you’re an experienced surfer or just starting out.

Best Time to Visit

Fall is one of the best times to visit Ballast Point and San Diego in general. Not only will you enjoy the best surfing waves and some ideal weather at this time, you’ll also get to try great seasonal flavors at the brewery.

Other Notable Breweries

Ballast Point is far from the only brewery in the San Diego area. In fact, there are over 150 breweries in San Diego, so you’re sure to find one that suits your tastes.

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