Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument, located on Point Loma Peninsula, is a historic landmark where you can enjoy nature and learn about the history of the peninsula.
Cabrillo National Monument
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Discover Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego is a coastal city with a rich history rooting back to Spain and European explorers. When learning about the history of this fascinating city, why not head to where it all began?

Point Loma is often thought of as “California’s Birthplace” as it was the landing place for the earliest Europeans. Cabrillo National Monument pays tribute to the explorers who first touched down on San Diego Bay.

The Cabrillo National Monument is located at the southern tip of Point Loma peninsula. This area is a national park and marks where Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo landed in 1542. This was the first time a European traveler reached the west coast of the United States.

The Visitor Center is a great place to start when you get to the Monument. You can learn when presentations and tours begin and get an idea of when the best time to visit the Point Loma tide pools will be. There are also park rangers available to offer their insights and an overview of the area.

During your visit to the national park, you will not only learn about 16th century European travel, but also you can learn about the military history of the peninsula. Point Loma was a stronghold during both World War I and World War II. There are bunkers, artillery and other exhibits commemorating the military available to explore.

If you are looking to go hiking during your trip to Cabrillo, the park has you covered. Two trails are available: Bayside Trail & Point Loma Tide Pools and Bluffs Trail. During your hike enjoy wildlife and plant life native to the area, while also reaching the world-famous tide pools at the end of your journey.

If you are visiting between December and March, keep an eye out for some of the best whale watching in San Diego as the Gray Whales migrate from the Arctic. These majestic creatures come through the area in the winter months as they head towards Baja. Grab your binoculars, get to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and take in the view!

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History of Cabrillo National Monument

History buffs will soak up all the information available at Cabrillo National Monument. Learn about the earliest explorers to California and the monuments that commemorate their lives, all while enjoying breathtaking coastal views!

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo

Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542, and this marked the first time a European traveler set foot on what is now the west coast of the United States. He was a Portuguese explorer who discovered San Diego on behalf of Spain.

On October 14, 1913, the Cabrillo National Monument was built. A statue and a museum in the Visitor Center celebrates Cabrillo's journey along the Pacific Coast.

Local Tips
Arrive Early
Make sure you arrive early, as the tide pool parking lot can get filled pretty quickly. The sea cave parking is also available to park, but you do have to do some walking back to the tide pools.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

In 1854, construction began at the southern point of Point Loma. Located 400 ft above sea level, with 360-degree panoramic views, this location was ideal for a lighthouse to help guide those traveling in the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay.

The lighthouse was only in operation from 1855 until 1891, but throughout the years it was renovated and rehabilitated. It remains a popular destination for those visiting the park and serves as a museum for visitors.

Military History

Point Loma has been a key area for the military over the years. The peninsula forms a natural barrier to the mainland and has been used as a strategic stronghold. During World War I and World War II, the military facilities on Point Loma provided important defense of the harbor and the shore.

The bunkers and artillery can still be seen when you are visiting the peninsula. The park has base-end stations, fire control stations, searchlight bunkers and a radio station in an exhibit for you to enjoy.

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Hiking at Cabrillo National Monument

If you are looking for some adventure during your visit to Cabrillo National Monument, you can head out hiking on one of the trails. Lace up your hiking boots and prepare to experience the nature of Southern California and some amazing views!

The Bayside Trail

The Bayside Trail is a 2.5-mile trail with views of Ballast Point, downtown San Diego, Coronado Island, Tijuana and all the docked ships. It is a trail that is great for all ages and skill levels. Perfect for a family outing.

While on your hike, aside from seeing the beautiful views of the city and landmarks, you will also encounter much of the native plant life and wildlife of the area. Much of the plant life is the same that was in the area when Cabrillo arrived!

The trail is one of the only places in the world where the Coastal Sage Scrub can live. Much of the plants are part of a vulnerable and precious habitat, including the Southern Maritime Chaparral. Other plants include Prickly Pear, Eucalyptus, Lemon Berry and California Sage to name a few.

Bayside trail is also home to a variety of wildlife. California Quail, Morning Dove and other birds use the Point Loma peninsula as a stop-over on the Pacific Flyway. During the springtime, birds such as the hummingbird, wrentits and bushtits migrate to the area.

The area is also home to many other animals. Watch out for lizards, foxes, rabbits and snakes during your hike. During the summertime, please be cautious of rattlesnakes.

Point Loma Tide Pools and Bluffs Trail

Cabrillo National Monument is home to a shorter trail called the Point Loma Tide Pools and Bluffs Trail. The one-mile trail is suited for all skill levels and is great for a family hike. While the trail has lots of stairs and cliffs, it offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean - don’t forget your camera!

When you reach the end of the trail, you will see the famous Point Loma Tide Pools. Before visiting the tide pools, make sure to check the tide charts online. If it is high tide, you won't be able to get to the pools.

Fun Things to Do at Cabrillo National Monument

There is plenty to do during your visit to Cabrillo National Monument. Spend the day enjoying all the beauty of nature that the park has to offer!

Visitor Center

Start off at The Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center Historic District Visitor Center. This modern building is full of information, and also offers panoramic views of the Pacific. Here you can find the day's schedule of ranger talks and programs that are happening in the auditorium.

There are multiple opportunities for kids to learn about nature and experience all the national parks have to offer. Kids can pick up a Junior Ranger activity or get their National Parks Passport book stamped!

While in the Visitors' Center you can also learn about the day’s weather, and timetables for tide pools. This is essential if you plan to visit the tide pools, because you are unable to get to them during high tide.

Point Loma Tide Pools

The Point Loma Tide Pools, or rocky intertidal area, are a popular attraction for those visiting Cabrillo National Monument. The best time to visit the tide pools is during the fall and winter months during low tide. Keep an eye out for critters in the tide pools this time of year!

It is important to check the tide predictions before planning your visit. In general, the tide pools can be visited approximately two hours before low tide time (when the tide is receding) and two hours after (when the tide is coming back in).

Please note when visiting the tide pools, there is no phone service in the area. Also, it is necessary to wear appropriate footwear and clothing. Shoes with closed toes and good grip are highly recommended.

Whale Watching

In the winter, Pacific Gray Whales migrate past the Cabrillo National Monument. During the summer months, the whales live in the Arctic and once winter comes, they migrate south towards the Baja Peninsula. When they reach the area, they are at the end of their incredible 12,000-mile journey!

Mid-January is the perfect time to see the whales, but you can see them in the area from December to March. Old Point Loma Lighthouse area is an ideal spot to watch from and spot the whales. Make sure to bring your binoculars because the Visitors Center only has a limited amount to lend out to guests.

Learn about the Park

Cabrillo National Monument offers different programs to help you learn about the history and nature of the area. The science programs offer classes about tidepool exploration, plant adaptations, and an array of other classes.

Historical classes are also offered, with classes about the Voyage of Cabrillo, Kumeyaay tribe, and the Point Loma Lighthouse. Check out our article on the Kumeyaay Indians - The first people in San Diego.

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Getting to Cabrillo National Monument

Lot Parking
Lot Parking

Located just 8 miles from downtown San Diego, the Cabrillo National Monument is an easy ride for a historical day trip during your visit. Take North Harbor Drive to Rosecrans Street.

Take that for half of a mile until you reach Talbot Street and turn right. From there, make a left onto Catalina Blvd and follow that until it turns into Cabrillo Memorial Dr.

This drive will take you through the residential neighborhoods of Point Loma, which range from small houses to multi-million dollar homes.

While driving down Cabrillo Memorial Dr., enjoy the beautiful scenery of the picturesque Pacific coastline for 2 and a half miles.

You will then see the historic monument and you have arrived at the national park.

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Planning Ahead

When traveling to Cabrillo National Monument, there are a few things you need to know before you set out in your journey.

Pets at the Park

First, pets are not allowed in the park. You can bring them to the tide pool area along the trail, but that is all. This is to allow the preservation of the wildlife and plant life.

If you do bring your dog, please keep them on a leash, no longer than 6 ft long. You must also clean up after your pets, and please try to prevent them from barking at the wildlife that they encounter.

Weather at the Park and What to Bring Along

The weather in San Diego can vary throughout the day, and while at the National Monument, it is best to dress in layers. While it is always beautiful in San Diego, the weather changes throughout the day. A hat and sunscreen are highly recommended.

Services

Services are available for those needing accessibility access. Please call ahead to plan for those needing hearing, vision, mobility, cognitive assistance, or service animal. The park is able to accommodate guests with services to help make your visit easier and enjoyable.

Prohibited Activities

Horseback riding is prohibited in the park. There are no motorized or off-road vehicles permitted on the trails or in the park. Mountain biking is only permitted on the maintenance roads along the canyon, but not on the hiking trails.

If you are interested in eating at the park, there are no restaurants within the park, but there are many places in the area outside. You can pack a lunch and bring it in with you. While there are no designated picnic areas, there are plenty of spots to sit, eat lunch and enjoy the view.

Biking is allowed through the park, but only on the paved areas. However, skateboards and rollerblades are prohibited.

Please also note that swimming, diving and surfing is strictly prohibited within the park.

Safety

Cabrillo National Monument takes everyone’s safety seriously and provides signs throughout to keep everyone attentive.

It is important to stay away from the edges of the cliffs as they are unstable, and to always stay on the trails because rattlesnakes have been known to live in the high brush and are extremely venomous.

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