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!

Cabrillo National Monument San Diego

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 together. 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. Here is what we discover on our first visit to this stunning Cabrillo park.

Early History at Cabrillo National Monument

Appreciate this closer look into the early beginnings of this spectacular coastal park in San DIego.

Cemetery at Cabrillo NM
Cemetery at Cabrillo NM

This very unique park holds a different kind of history. Because of the location of land that meets the ocean. Maritime history is totally fascinating as well. The San Diego Bay had to be observed and protected from evil sailing on the ocean waters. So as you immerse yourself in the historical artifacts here; wander wisely and enjoy the views! These scenic overlooks are full of colorful sail boats, old time ships, and unique bay area landscape. You can actually walk through the old time iconic Lighthouse here. Read on to learn more as we explore Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma.

Fitlifeandtravel.com near Cemetery

The Bayside Trail

In addition to the San Diego bay and lighthouse history, you can take a hike on the Bayside Hiking Trail. The trail is about 2.5 miles roundtrip and you can soak in the vibrant beautiful marine plant life here. When there is an active rainy season, it will definitely add a spark of color into the park, because of all the blooms.

NPS Photo: Bayside Trail

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 cliff sides to life! In addition, there is an Eastern side of Bayside Trail and a Western side. And a few other short hiking areas such as the tide pool area, whale watch overlook, and the lighthouse.

Cliffs and Tidepools:

Enjoy this journey 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 brilliant sea cliff 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 history. Together 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 explanation is 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.

Walking through the interior of the lighthouse, I 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 at Cabrillo National Monument

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 (because as the whale prepares to dive, it raises its tail fluke out of the water).

Hiking at Cabrillo National Monument

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 San Diego Bay Harbor Cabrillo NM

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


And 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.

My sister and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cabrillo National Monument San Diego. Sharing experiences of something new together creating lasting memories. Spending the day learning a bit of history and enjoying quality sister time will be cherished moments forever. And to top it off, experiencing it in such a remarkable place. What a memory this will be for us!

Cabrillo National Monument 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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