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NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA

History and Stats

Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. Cabrillo’s exploration party was the European expedition to set foot in what later became the West Coast of the United States. Cabrillo would die a few short months later as a result of a gangrene-infected wound incurred during a skirmish with a group of Tongva, a nearby native tribe.

Point Loma, where the Monument and visitor center is located is also home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, completed in 1855. While the lighthouse has since been replaced by more modern facilities and was decommissioned in 1891, it has been restored and is open to the public as a historical museum, displaying both the importance and maintenance of lighthouses as well as the daily life of those who tended them.

Point Loma was off limits during World War II, as it was heavily utilized for military purposes, namely coastal defense batteries. The remains of some of the facilities are still intact and offered as historical displays.

Cabrillo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

Date Founded: October 14th, 1913 by a declaration from President Woodrow Wilson; greatly expanded from its original half-acre in 1949 by President Eisenhower and later, President Ford.

Size: 144 acres

Elevation: 422ft

Rainfall: 10in

Visitors: 800,000+ a year

Open: Cabrillo National Monument is open year round, 9-5, though the Tide Pools and Bayside Trail close slightly earlier.

Fees: Entrance fees range from $7 for a bicycle to $15 for an automobile. *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites. Commercial vehicles for tours are subject to a higher fee.

Mission

“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

Facilities

The Visitor Center features a history museum and several rotating films, as well as general information about the park. Close to the center is the monument itself, positioned against the backdrop of the Pacific.

Along the paved trails through the park, you will find the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which has been restored to illustrate both the history of the structure and the overall importance and culture surrounding lighthouses.

A former military radio post has been re-purposed to commemorate Point Loma’s past as a vital, albeit isolated, military installation. Stock footage, newspapers, and speeches from World War II are used to communicate the very real terror and paranoia that pervaded the West Coast after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Rangers man a small outpost at the Tidal Pools, and both rangers and volunteers are on hand to answer questions.

Closest Civilization

Point Loma itself is somewhat isolated, but you’re within the city limits of San Diego. The facilities on site are designed to handle large tour groups, so are well-equipped. A short drive back down the point will find you back in the thick of the city.

NPS Cabrillo.jpg

Lodging

While the park is day-use only, there are a number of campgrounds in the area, and a full listing can be found here.

Additionally, the city of San Diego has a wide range of lodging options. As a major metropolitan area, there is a vast selection at various price points.

Camping Level

Prepping like a Newbie can’t hurt if you’re just walking around the park. Our Newbie Gear Guide can be found here. If you choose to camp outside the city, outfitting for a Novice affair is a good start. Our Novice Camping Gear Guide can be found here.

If you’re planning on camping near San Diego, our full list of Camping Gear Guides  (with printable PDF packing lists) and other Traveler’s Tips can be found here.

Seasonal Programs

Cabrillo offers an extensive catalog of daily programming, ranging from a variety of films at the visitor center to history lessons on early explorers to guided nature walks and tours of the area. The full listing can be found here.

Of special note are the three days the lighthouse tower is open to the public; March 22, August 25 and November 15 from 10AM to 3:30. More information can be found here.

Our experience

Though it’s relatively small, there’s a wealth of information there. There’s plenty of trail for a leisurely stroll, and a range of history spanning a variety topics and timelines. Paired with gorgeous views of the bay, ocean, and city below, it’s a true urban oasis. We had the good fortune to hang out briefly with a ranger while she was showing a small group a snake, and there was no shortage of things to do and explore. We came away with a lot of new information.

Things we’d like to try next time

Our timing was poor and the Tidal Pools were completely underwater, so we’d definitely go again at a different time for that. Some of the programs involve volunteer historical re-enactors, and we would definitely make that a priority on a future visit.

Special Note

  • Cabrillo Day is celebrated in the state of California on September 28th.
  • A replica of Cabrillo’s ship, the San Salvador, was completed in 2015, and now tours the Southern California coast as a historical and education resource. Tickets can be booked for a four-hour cruise.
  • There is a panel in the lighthouse detailing the rigors of brasswork and lighthouse management in the form of song lyrics from the 19th century. While entertaining, certain portions of it have not aged well, especially when the lyrics scapegoat brasswork for spousal abuse.
  • The 14ft statue commemorating Cabrillo is actually a replica. The original, commissioned by Portugal in 1939, was constructed of sandstone and became badly weathered. It was replaced in 1988 by a limestone replica.
  • On Founder’s Day (August 25th), historical re-enactors are a part of the celebration that includes an open lighthouse tower.
  • Point Loma is also known as a fantastic location to spot migrating Grey Whales, and stretches of kelp forests can easily be seen off the coast.
The Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA
The Historic Point Loma Lighthouse, Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA

Did you spot any grey whales at Point Loma? Any amazing ships? Any tricked-out military helicopters? What creatures did you find in the tide pools? Did we miss anything?

Official NPS Site

Check out more of our guides to the National Parks.

Read more about our experience at the Cabrillo National Monument here.

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