Why Cabrillo National Monument is San Diego’s Hidden Gem
Last month we headed to sunny Southern California for our latest Park Chasing adventure. A three-day work conference for Amy brought us to the San Diego area over Memorial Day weekend. We were fortunate enough to stay after the conference for some sight-seeing in the area. It gave us a chance to check two new parks off our #parkchasing list. One of those parks was Cabrillo National Monument.
Located 15 minutes from downtown San Diego, this park was by far one of the biggest surprises of our trip. Not one person mentioned it on a list of “Must-Do’s” in San Diego. Our Lyft driver–a San Diego native–had no idea the park even existed. Yet Cabrillo National Monument offered our best views of the city skyline, a break from the more crowded tourist spots, and a terrific urban hike. After five days in San Diego, we consider Cabrillo National Monument the city’s hidden gem.
About Cabrillo National Monument
Established in 1913, Cabrillo National Monument stands at the tip of Point Loma, a short 20-minute drive from downtown San Diego.
In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed north from Mexico in search of treasures and a passage from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic. The monument commemorates where the explorer and his men became the first Europeans to reach the shores of what is now the West Coast of the United States.
In addition to Cabrillo’s statue, the monument also preserves the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Built in 1855, the lighthouse towers over the area at more than 422 feet above the ocean. Unfortunately, the low marine fog of San Diego often obscured the light and a second lighthouse was built in 1891.
Top 5 Things to Do at Cabrillo National Monument
Take a panoramic photo of the San Diego skyline.
You cannot beat the view from Cabrillo National Monument. To the left of the Visitor’s Center, you’ll have good shots of downtown San Diego and Naval Base San Diego. Cabrillo National Monument is one of the most popular places for military fans to watch naval ships and planes.
Hike the Bayside Trail.
One of the most popular hikes in the monument, Bayside Trail offers a 2.5 mile out-out-and-back trip along the southwest side of the park. The hike drops rapidly down 340 feet of elevation gain through some of the most endangered habitats in the world. The park is one of the few places on the planet where Coastal Sage Scrub lives. At the bottom of the trail, visitors can look out over Ballast Point where Cabrillo’s ships anchored. The U.S. Navy now anchors nuclear submarines here.
Climb the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
Visitors can climb up the lighthouse tower (careful, it’s a steep and narrow circular staircase!), view the original Fresnel lens and photos of how the lighthouse operated, and view the light keeper’s quarters. The grounds around the lighthouse are planted with time-period vegetable and herb gardens. In the spring wildflowers around the lighthouse are a popular spot for photos.
Visit the tide pools (and watch for whales).
According to the National Park Service, Cabrillo’s tide pools are some of the best protected and most accessible in southern California. By their count, more than 200,000 people visit the tide pools at low tide each year.
During the winter months (peak in Mid-January), Pacific gray whales migrate through Cabrillo’s waters. The park is one of the most popular spots for whale watching in San Diego.
Take a ranger-led hike.
One of the best ways to experience Cabrillo is through a ranger-led experience. The park offers tours of the lighthouse, talks on 16th-century navigation and Cabrillo’s exploration, and the natural history of the San Diego area. Check the visitor’s center when you arrive for the tour times.