Located on the Point Loma peninsula in San Diego, California, Cabrillo National Monument provides spectacular views of San Diego's downtown skyline, the bay, and the Pacific Ocean. On clear days you can see across the ocean as far as Tijuana, and Mexico’s Coronado Islands. The monument is named for explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who set foot on the shore here in 1542, the first European to do so on the west coast of the future United States.
At the entrance to the monument you will pass the Old Point Loma Lighthouse at the highest point in the park. The lighthouse was built in 1855 and closed in 1891 as its high elevation prevented its usefulness during heavy fog and low cloud cover in the region. The lighthouse is now a museum that visitors can tour.
The visitor center at Cabrillo National Monument provides a schedule of programs and ranger talks for the day, allows visitors to look out through a lighthouse “bullseye”, shows a short film on explorer Cabrillo for whom the park is named, and lets visitors get a hands-on feel for navigational instruments and armor used and worn by 16th century explorers. The visitor centre has information on weather and tides, and the bookstore provides books on the history, natural features and wildlife in the park.
Other interesting sites in the park include historic military installations and the tidepools at the base of cliffs on the southwest side of the park. Pets are only permitted in the tidepool area of the park.
Cabrillo National Monument is located on the Point Loma Peninsula. Travelers will need to access the park from the north on Catalina Boulevard/Cabrillo Memorial Drive. Heading south visitors will go through the Navy gate to the end of the road which takes you to the park.
From downtown San Diego, take Harbor Drive past the airport, turn left on Rosecrans Street, turn right on Canon Street, and left onto Catalina Boulevard which becomes Cabrillo Memorial Drive.
If you are travelling on Interstate 5 from the south take the Hawthorne Street/Airport Exit, stay to the left to go under the freeway. towards the bay, and turn right on Harbor Drive. Travel past the airport, left on Rosecrans Street, right on Cannon Street, and left onto Catalina Boulevard/Cabrillo Memorial Drive.
If travelling on Interstate 5 from the north, take the Rosencrans/Highway 209 exit, follow Rosecrans Street to Point Loma, turn right on Canon Street, and left on Catalina Boulevard, follow the road to the end where Cabrillo National Monument is located.
From Interstate 8 westbound, take the Rosecrans/Highway 209 exit, travel to Point Loma on Rosecrans Street to Cannon Street, turn right, and then left onto Catalina Boulevard.
All roads are paved, however traffic can be heavy during peak hours, so leave yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.
The county run campground, Sweetwater Summit Regional Park, has 112 campsites including sites that can accommodate equestrians and their horses. The campground is a 45 minute drive from Cabrillo National Monument and has facilities that include a community room, splash park, and amphitheaters. Other activities at this campground include 15 miles of trails, fishing at the Sweetwater Reservoir, a kitchen and picnic pavilions, a 13 station exercise course and an aquatic playground.
Pets are permitted at the campground, but not on the playground or splash pad. Many campsites have access to water and power and there are coin operated shower facilities. A local park is adjacent to the campground and has a grassy area, playground, splash park and picnic tables with fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. The Cabrillo National Park and many other San Diego attractions are an easy drive away from this amenable RV campground.
There is no RV camping in Cabrillo National Monument. However, RVers can stay at the local KOA which is a 35 minute drive from the park, and has lots of amenities for RV campers. This campground can accommodate RVs up to 70 feet in length, with 50 Amp electric hook ups, WiFi, Cable TV, a pool, sauna, hot tub, pavilion, camp kitchen, and recreational facilities such as a basketball court, climbing wall, horseshoe pits, dog park, games room and more. The easily accessible campground is set up to accommodate the needs of RVers and their families and you can even arrange to rent a cabin for additional members of your group that do not have an RV to stay in. From this KOA campground you can check out the Cabrillo National Monument and the many interesting sights and activities in and around San Diego.
The Cabrillo National Monument is rich with historical sites. Ranger led tours are available to get the most out of your visit. If you choose to go solo, interpretive information is available along the trails, and at significant sites, and you can pick up a self-guided tour information at the visitor centre.
Interesting destinations include a searchlight shelter and power plant from 1919, military installations, fire control stations, searchlight bunkers, and a radio station. The radio station has an exhibit and the Old Loma Lighthouse is now home to a museum. The location where explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed in the 16th century is another fascinating spot to visit, and imagine what the first explorers to this coast experienced.
Rangers at the Cabrillo National Monument offer a Junior Ranger Program and Scout Ranger Program to young people visiting the park. These programs are excellent ways for kids to learn about the parks natural and historical features and sites. You can participate in the program by starting at the visitor centre, picking up the free “Just for Kids” newspaper, and then visiting the different sites indicated which include 16th century and military history sites, ships and aircraft, whale watching sites and natural features. When you have completed all the questions and activities in the kids guide, return to the visitor center with your newspaper to discuss your answers with a park ranger and be awarded a Junior Ranger Badge. A Scout Ranger program for older kids is also available.
Descend the Tide Pool Trail to reach the intertidal zone where the land and ocean meet. Here you will discover a variety of marine plants and animals that are submerged at high tide and become exposed at low tide on the rocky reef. The upper tidal zone is home to snails, crabs and barnacles. The middle intertidal zone has mussels, anemones, California sea hares, lobsters and octopi. The subtidal zone is home to larger fish, sea stars, and sea urchin.
You will need to drive to the parking lot at the trailhead to the tidepools and take the short, steep trail down to the shore, so wear good shoes. Winter is the best time to visit, as low tide occurs in the day, revealing the many aquatic creatures and marine plants in this coastal ecosystem. Please note that when the parking lot fills up, the road to the tidepools may be temporarily closed until room becomes available. Pets are allowed at the tidepools but you should be prepared to clean up after your pet.
During the winter months, Pacific gray whales can be seen passing to the west of the lookout points on Cabrillo National Monument. The whales feed in the summer in the Arctic, and then swim along the coast south to mate and nurse off California. They can be viewed passing the Point Loma Peninsula from the park.
The peak whale watching time is mid-January, although whales can be spotted in the region any time between December and mid-March. The best whale watching spots are the Kelp Forest Overlook and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Binoculars will help you get a better view of these magnificent creatures. You can rent binoculars at the visitor centre, but there is a limited number so bringing your own is a good idea.
Check out the variety of wildlife at Cabrillo National Monument. To add a competitive element to your search, you can participate in the spring annual BioBlitz held in April, where teams and individuals compete to discover and document as many different animals and plants as they can, and provide the information to officials.
Rare Southern Maritime Chaparral grows along the trail and provides habitat to a variety of critters. Reptiles such as the California striped racer, southern Pacific rattlesnake, San Diego gopher snake, and San Diego alligator lizard can be spotted soaking up the spring rays. Local and migratory birds such as Great Blue Herons, brown pelicans, hummingbirds, egrets, terns, and warblers are frequent sights. Local mammals include Cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, and foxes.
The Cabrillo National Monument has many trails with outlooks and viewpoints, interpretive information, a lighthouse, and a trail down to the tidepools on the southwest corner of the park. The Bayside Trail is a two and a half mile round trip with views of the ocean, the site where Cabrillo landed, the San Diego skyline, Coronado Island, Tijuana, Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and seagoing ships, and the mountains inland. In the winter, the mountains to the east are covered in snow and are especially scenic. Wintertime is also cooler for hiking, but foggy rainy days may obscure the views. Benches are situated along the trails and at lookout points to give hikers a rest. Some trails have elevation changes that can be quite steep, so check out a trail map at the visitor centre to ensure you choose a path that is appropriate for your ability level.