Historic Cabrillo National Monument * San Diego

During the mid 1800s, some mariners on the vessels entering the San Diego harbor claimed to have seen the light from 39 miles away (unconfirmed). These lamps that lit up the sky and coastal harbor played an integral role in the history of San Diego as well as the harbor defense during World Wars I and II.

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a big part of Cabrillo National Monument along with a flourishing coastal Mediterranean ecosystem, a migration pathway for gray whales, and a small peek into the life of the lighthouse keepers who worked this demanding job.

Cabrillo was another surprise for me, as well as for my sister; KL, who was visiting me during the weekend of my birthday. As we began our journey through the park, we talked about the years we lived together in San Diego about 20 years ago and never visited Cabrillo National Monument. KL was even commissioned as an Air Force officer having the ceremony held at the cemetery areas, and still we never went further into the park at that time.


So we decided we are making up for lost time, and ventured further into the park to learn more about this historic and beautiful place. We had our cameras and snapped away at the stunning views, we laughed and walked as we enjoyed reminiscing about our days as roommates. near Cemetary

We learned that Cabrillo is more than just about a coastal lighthouse, as we took notice of all the vibrant marine plant life that included, yes, some cactus too, and spectacular views along coastal edges.

Cliffs and Tidepools:

Our journey began down in the lower areas of the park, near the cliffs and tidepools. On the day we visited the park, the tide was in so we primarily browsed around the cliff areas and enjoyed the stunning coastal views; caution is recommended as the edges can give way and be very dangerous.

If you visit the park during the time when the tide is out, you will have the opportunity to slither around the slippery tidepool rocks and shoreline beach area. Caution is recommended, these rocks are very slippery.

Tidepool rocks

One marine plant-like animal I find quite interesting is sea anemones. They will curl up into a ball if it is disturbed.

Sea Anemone

Old Point Loma Lighthouse:

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set out from Mexico to explore north into unknown waters to chart the coast and search for gold. He notes that the harbor (San Diego) “is closed and a very good port.” There are various accounts of his expedition north, for example, while stopped in on Isla de la Posesion (one of the Channel Islands), he injured himself while aiding his men during a fight with the Chumash Indians. The other account was that he injured his arm and shoulder on a previous visit there. It is noted that the cause of Cabrillo’s death may have been infection. Although Cabrillos exploration ended, he did make a lasting mark, as his expedition provided landmarks, winds and currents to help make future exploration safer. 

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

This historic lighthouse was a 24-hour operation during the mid 1800s. The keeper on duty would operate the coastal lights 24 hours, seven days a week, and had no vacations. The living quarters for the assistance keepers is a smaller structure located right next to the old lighthouse building. As we were walking through the interior of the lighthouse, we took notice of how small the spaces were, including the kitchen and sitting room, and the stairs leading up to the lamp which is a narrow curved stairwell.

Whale and Ocean Overlook:

As you walk further past the lighthouse, there is a newer covered scenic overlook area along with observatory telescopes to look for whales. Here you can witness the whales on their journey as they migrate. The key thing to look for is whale spouts (when the whale is surfacing to breath, it releases a plume of air and water) and flukes (as the whale prepares to dive, it raises its tail fluke out of the water).


The Bayside Trail is approximately 2.5 miles roundtrip and a path that takes you downward through numerous types of native coastal sage brush, and you will see the remnants of the defense system area that was used during the wars.

The Harbor:

Point Loma is a natural protective barrier to the entrance of San Diego Bay. This area provides lookout areas that offer strategic views that aids in military defense systems.

This played a fundamental role during the World Wars I and II, as the Army built searchlight bunkers, fire control stations, and gun batteries in particular areas along this coastal park.

San Diego Harbor and Bay

The views are spectacular of the entire harbor and bay area that any photographer enthusiast can appreciate.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cabrillo National Monument and made memories of experiencing something new together; a bit of San Diego history and quality sister time strolling through a beautiful park.

More Information:

This park is accessible to visitors with wheelchairs, service animals are welcome, there is an entry fee into the park. If you bring your pets, they are only allowed in the tidepool areas and must be on a six-foot leash at all times.

Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
619-222-8211 TTY

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3 replies »

  1. This is so gorgeous! I’m bummed because we were supposed to spend a few days in San Diego this summer on our way home from Hawaii and we were going to check this out- but we ended up having to fly through San Jose instead, so we’ll miss it!

    • Hey, at least you are in Hawaii!! Aww, that is too bad.. you will miss San Diego, this place is an awesome place to return from Hawaii, spend a day or two roaming around then fly home (if you live further East). Well, maybe next time, hope you’ll get to visit and see all spectacular things in SD. Thank you so much for reading!

  2. As a local, I’m so pleased you enjoyed this heavenly slice of San Diego! The tide pools are so fun, and I think a lot of visitors to the lighthouse miss going down the hill to the coastline. Your photos are beautiful!

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