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. Welcome to the historic Cabrillo National Monument San Diego!

The Park

Tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument
Tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is another beautiful and interesting park that surprised me. My sister, KL, feels the same way. We made sure to stop by and explore Cabrillo National Monument while here last February to share my birthday with me. As we begin our journey through the park, we talk about the time we lived together in San Diego about 20 years ago. Our chat leads us to asking each other why we never visited Cabrillo National Monument San Diego during that time.

We discuss that KL, even having her commissioning ceremony at the cemetery nearby, we still did not visit the park. My sister obtained her college degree and was commissioned as an A.F. Officer through R.O.T.C. at this cemetery.

Cemetery at Cabrillo NM
Cemetery at Cabrillo NM

Making Memories

We decide to make up for lost time. We venture further into the park to learn more about this historic and beautiful place. This spectacular day was made for us, as we don our cameras and snap away at the stunning views. Views full of colorful sail boats, an old time ship, and the unique bay area landscape. This memorable time is incredible as we share laughs and a leisurely walk while we reminisce about our days as roommates while enjoying the park.

Fitlifeandtravel.com near Cemetery

Meanwhile, as we explore further into the park, we learn that it is more than just about a coastal lighthouse. The vibrant beautiful marine plant life has come to life! The rains from that year have definitely helped put a spark of color into the park. Some of the magnificent ground cover includes succulents such as prickly pear cactus and dudleya, toyton, lemonade berry, encelia, black sage, and chaparral broom. The buckwheat and Indian paintbrush really bring the cliffsides to life!

Views from top Cabrillo National Monument
Views from top Cabrillo National Monument

Cliffs and Tidepools:

Our journey continues down into the lower areas of the park, near the cliffs and tide pools. The tide came in so we primarily browsed around the cliff areas and enjoyed the stunning coastal views. The edges can give way and be dangerous so caution is recommended.

If you visit the park when the tide is out, you will have the opportunity to slither around the slippery tide pool rocks and shoreline beach area. This area of the rocks can be very slippery.

Tidepool rocks

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

Sea Anemone

Old Point Loma Lighthouse:

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a big part of Cabrillo National Monument San Diego 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.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set out from Mexico to explore north into unknown waters to chart the coast and search for gold.

He makes a note that the harbor (San Diego) “is closed and a very good port.” There are various accounts of his expedition north, for example, during a stop on Isla de la Posesion (one of the Channel Islands), he injures 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.

The cause of Cabrillo’s death may have been infection, it is noted. Although Cabrillos exploration ended, he did make a lasting mark, as his expedition provided landmarks, winds and currents to help make future exploration safer. 

The Lighthouse Operation

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

During the mid 1800s, this historic lighthouse is a 24-hour operation. The keeper on duty operates the coastal lights 24 hours, seven days a week, and with no vacations. The living quarters for the assistance keepers is a smaller structure located right next to the old lighthouse building.

As we walk through the interior of the lighthouse, we notice how small the spaces are. The kitchen and sitting room appear as small rooms, I feel like a giant browsing through these rooms. The stairs leading up to the main lamp is extremely narrow, curved, and has short headroom.

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. On the path of this trail, the remnants of the defense system area used during the wars are located here.

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

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cabrillo National Monument San Diego. Sharing experiences of something new together; learning a bit of history and enjoying quality sister time strolling through a beautiful park on this lovely day.

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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  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!

    1. 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!

  3. Been to San Diego twice now and still haven’t been there! But we love San Diego so we will be back to check it out! 😊

    1. I think you would enjoy this place! Very quiet, nothing fancy, but walking through the lighthouse is really cool, and seeing the views of the bay is just incredible! Thanks again for reading!

  4. This was such a great read Shannon! It brought back many memories from here. I’ll need to come back one day and do the Bayside Trail again 🙂

    1. Yes, the Bayside Trail is quite lovely! My sister and I enjoyed it so much, now I always think of her when I talk about this park. Thanks for reading Alana!

  5. I’d love to visit this park some day, looks and sounds beautiful!

    1. Cabrillo is an awesome park, and so easy to get around. You’ve gotta check out the tide pools, and of course the spectacular views of the bay! Thanks so much for reading!

  6. Great post! I’ve never heard of this national monument. And it’s pretty close to my parents place. I will have to look it up next time I’m home! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Absolutely, hope you get the chance to visit, its really an interesting and beautiful park. Its great to sit up where the views of the Bay are and enjoy a sandwich lunch. Just awesome! Thank you for reading, Lannie!

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