San Diego’s beautiful harbor was discovered by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Spanish maritime explorer, in 1542. At the point where Cabrillo would have turned his ship to enter the harbor, there is a hilly peninsula over 400 feet high. At this location now stands Cabrillo National Monument Park. Why should your visit to San Diego include this park? Keep reading and I’ll tell you…
One of the best viewpoints of San Diego
From Cabrillo National Monument (CNM), you will have views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the south, as well as views of the Islas Coronado (Coronado cayes) of Mexico. To the east, you will see the San Diego harbor, downtown San Diego, and Coronado Island’s Naval Air Station. To the north you can see Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and beyond to the San Diego river valley.
The Historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse
One of my favorite things to visit at Cabrillo National Monument is the old Point Loma Lighthouse. (Who doesn’t love a lighthouse?!) You can climb the spiral staircase of the lighthouse, see the rooms furnished as they might have been in the 1850’s, or walk next door to see a lighthouse lens exhibit. I like to imagine what it would have been like to live here during the early days of San Diego.
Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center
The Visitor Center includes a well-stocked bookstore, exhibits, viewing patio, restrooms, vending machines, and an interpretive center with a theater, small museum and space for docent lectures for school groups.
This beautiful statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo overlooks San Diego harbor and memorializes the Spanish maritime explorer who discovered San Diego (he actually called it San Miguel) and then mysteriously died a short time later on the island of Santa Catalina.
Whale Overlook and Trails
Paved walking paths take you to a Whale Lookout and other scenic vantage points on the peninsula. You’ll see a set of simulated whale bones, historic military bunkers, environmental information, and placards. You can get in a good workout walking through the park, or you can find the best places to take photos. Be sure to keep an eye out for the plume of a whale spout, just beyond the kelp beds. You can even check out binoculars from the Visitor Center.
Military History and Coastal Defenses
Point Loma provides a natural barrier to the entrance of San Diego harbor. For that reason it was an ideal place for strategic military defenses. Between 1918 and 1943, searchlight bunkers were built, as well as fire control stations, and gun batteries. You can still see several of these, although most are sealed up. It reminded me a little of my visit to Normandy Beach and Pont du Hoc, except that no real military action ever took place here.
If you’re really interested in military history, you might also enjoy walking through the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, directly adjacent to Cabrillo National Monument park. Those who have served in the military are buried here in perfect rows marked with white marble tombstones. How fitting that the Pacific Ocean would serve as the backdrop.
This has always been a favorite of our family’s: driving down the road from the entrance to CNM and exploring the tide pools at the bottom of the hill. You can walk among the rocks and look for the sea creatures that survive in the pools of water created by the receding tide. You’ll see crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea hares and sometimes even a baby octopus!
Great Family Activity
When it comes down to it, a visit to Cabrillo National Monument is a wonderful activity for a family. Whether you decide to explore the tidepools, tour the old Point Loma Lighthouse, or enjoy all that the Visitor Center has to offer, there’s something for everyone.
- The entry fee for Cabrillo National Monument is $15.00 per vehicle.
- Open daily, from 9 am to 5 pm.
- There is no food service at Cabrillo National Monument, but you are welcome to bring your own picnic, as long as you dispose of your trash properly.
- You can join the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation ($50 for two adults and one CNM pass) and receive free entrance for a year, as well as access to special evening events, activities, and lectures. This also gives you a 15% discount at the Cabrillo National Park bookstore.
- Much of the park is wheelchair-accessible — the visitor center, theater, and museum, plus the whale overlook can be reached by paved walkways. A pass to drive to the lighthouse can be obtained at the entrance station or the visitor center. Service animals are welcome.
Want to visit another great family destination nearby? Check out Liberty Station, the former Naval Training Center (now converted to a community food and arts district) in Point Loma. You can learn what’s available there by reading: