Cabrillo National Monument lies on Point Loma near San Diego, California and protects several landmarks including the landing spot of Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo, an early lighthouse, World War II defenses, and an ecosystem of coastal tide pools.
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ILNP Park Review
Our Weather Upper ’70s and sunny
Overall Impression Cabrillo is a very eclectic little park. While it’s tough to pick out a central theme, there’s a little for those who enjoy scenery and hiking and a lot for those who enjoy history. Cabrillo is definitely worth a couple hours, even if its only to get a fantastic view of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.
Visiting You can drive the all the roads in Cabrillo and see most of its features in about 2 hours. Short hikes from the visitors center will take you to most of the overlooks and historical areas, and a short drive will take you to the coast and tide pools which can also be accessed by a short hike.
Any visit to Cabrillo should start at the visitors center which focuses mainly on the exploration of Juan Cabrillo who landed near this point in 1542 during his expedition up the Pacific coast. There are maps, models, displays and a film that add to the understanding of this history, and a path along the top of the ridge behind the center yields spectacular views of San Diego and takes visitors to the large carved monument to Cabrillo.
A short hike up the hill will take you to the next piece of Cabrillo’s history, the iconic Point Loma lighthouse completed in 1854. The lighthouse serves as a museum with living quarters and lenses (including a massive Fresnel lens) on display. Despite the apparent ideal location, this lighthouse was replaced in 1891 because it’s height on Point Loma meant it was often obscured by fog when it was most needed.
Surrounding the lighthouse is a series of concrete bunkers that were part of the defensive system built to defend San Diego Harbor before and during WWII. While most of these bunkers are closed to visitors, one old command center, now the Coastal Defense Exhibit, is open and full of maps and displays explaining the defenses and the perceived threat to San Diego during WWII. During certain seasons, overlooks near this area provide great spots for whale watching.
If you’re more of a nature buff, head back toward the entrance and take the road to the tide pools. You’ll pass the new lighthouse and Coast Guard station as you round the tip of Point Loma before heading along the coast. If you just want a view of the ocean from the clifftops, you can avoid the crowds by parking in the areas near the end of the road. If you’d like to hike closer to the shore and see the tide pools, you’ll need to fight for a spot in the first parking lot. If you are wanting to hike, consider the 2.5 mile round-trip Bayside Trail which can be accessed from the visitor center parking lot.
Suggestions Remember this monument is on top of a coastal ridge, so expect the wind to be pretty consistent, and check the weather as fog or clouds may obscure the beautiful views from the park. There also isn’t much shade here as trees are short and buildings scarce, so a hat and sunscreen might help, even on a cool day. If you have small children, I recommend you keep them close if hiking near overlooks or the ocean because the rocks can be slippery and unforgiving if you get to close to the edge. Oh, and the park’s brochure warns of rattlesnakes–I didn’t see any, but keep your eye out.
If you’re into photography, the park’s brief hours make it tough to get any sunrise or sunset pictures of the beautiful coast. Don’t fret, the Sunset Cliffs area just north of the monument on Point Loma is just as beautiful and can be accessed any time of day.
Nearby Towns San Diego, La Jolla (California)
Other Nearby Attractions Sunset Cliffs, Balboa Park, Coronado Island, USS Midway Museum
Official NPS Website Cabrillo NM
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