San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument offers sweeping ocean views from the rugged sandstone cliffs on California’s Pacific coast.
The park lands are home to hundreds of endangered native species under the protection of the Point Loma Conservation Area and Cabrillo National Monument. Park rangers monitor the tidal pools and continue their research, discovering new species regularly. Download a map of the area.
This area is named after Spanish explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, the first European to land on California’s west coast. On September 28th, 1542, he sailed on the San Salvador into what he named San Miguel (San Diego).
Top things to do at Cabrillo National Monument
- Whale Watching – More than 25,000 Pacific gray Whales migrate from the Arctic to Baja California each winter. Prime viewing spots are from the Point Loma Lighthouse and the Kelp Forest overlook during the month of January. Be sure to bring binoculars. Learn more about the Pacific gray whale.
- Explore the rocky marine tidal pools. They are considered among the best viewing on the Southern California coast. Remember it is against the law to remove or pry any sea life from rocks… observation only please. Do not place buckets or other objects into the pools. Optimal viewing time is 2 hours before or after low tide. Tidal pools close at 4:30 pm. Download a intertidal guide.
- Hike the short 1 mile/1.6 kilometre round trip Coastal Trail. This rugged trail offers sweeping views of the Pacific coast and the sandstone cliffs. The trail can be accessed from the main park entrance, down along Cabrillo Road to Gatchell Road or from parking lot 1 and 2.
- Take a self guided tour along the Bayside Trail. The expansive views, historic sites and informative interpretive signs make it an interesting route. The easy 2.5 mile/4 kilometre trail can be challenging however on the return trip, due to the 300 feet/91 meters uphill climb. Start at the lighthouse. Halfway down, stop at Ballast Point where you can see nuclear-powered submarines below. In 1542, Cabrillo’s ships would have been anchored at this location. The trail will also lead you past a searchlight shelter and a 1919-built search light power station used to light up the entire San Diego harbor. These are some of the items that helped protect San Diego during World War I and World War II.
- Discover Point Loma Lighthouse. The lighthouse is a nationally registered historic landmark. It was one of the first lighthouses on the Pacific coast to guide ships. For 36 years, from 1855-1891, it helped ships safely into San Diego harbor. Built 400 feet (120 meters) above sea level, the lighthouse was one of the the highest in the continent. Fog and low cloud presented challenges for ships seeing the Point Loma Lighthouse, so the Pelican Point lighthouse was built at a lower elevation in 1891. The Point Loma Lighthouse became part of the Cabrillo National Monument in 1913. During World War II, the navy called it back into service to use it as a signal tower. The National Park Service restored it in 1984.
- Stop at the Visitors Centre for more historical information and watch a film about the national historic monument.
- Birdwatching is popular all year. Up to 200 species have been spotted in this area. Download a birding field guide.
- Take your photo at the Cabrillo Monument and enjoy breathtaking views of San Diego harbor.
- Visiting in September? Attend the annual colorful Cabrillo Festival. Here you can witness a re-enactment of Spanish explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo’s historic landing made on September 28th, 1542.
- Giant Kelp forests grow in the waters off Cabrillo National Monument. These giants can grow 150 feet long and are found 25-70 feet from the shoreline.
Best time to visit Cabrillo National Monument
- The park is open all year from 9 am – 5 pm.
- Best viewing of low tides during the day is in the late fall and winter. Be sure to check the tidal chart so you will not be disappointed. Be patient and observe.
- Winter months, beginning in December are the best time to view migrating Pacific gray whales. January and February offer the peak viewing times. In the early spring the whales return north.
- Spring is the best time to see wildflowers in bloom.
- Annually at the end of September, the colourful Cabrillo Festival takes place at Ballast Point. The festival celebrates the Spanish, Mexican, Native America and Portuguese cultures and is part of the Age of Explorations. Watch history come alive with re-enactments of 16th-century life including explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepping ashore.
- Sandstone cliffs are enticing, but they can be very dangerous. Avoid fatal falls. Resist trying to get a closer look over the edge as they can suddenly collapse.
- Watch for changing tides when visiting the tidal pools. Rocks covered with algae are very slippery. Make sure you have non-slip sturdy shoes.
- Be aware there are rattlesnakes in this area. Always watch where you place your hands and feet.
- There is no cell phone reception in the tidal pool area.
- Stay on trails. Some vegetation like the prickly Fishhook cactus can puncture and rip your skin.
- Do not swim, surf or dive within the park area.
The park fee is $20 per private vehicle and allows access for 7 days. The Cabrillo Annual Pass is $35. The annual America the Beautiful Pass is $80 and offers unlimited visits to all US national parks. Purchase passes online if you are a US resident or buy in person at the national park gate or visitors center.
Fast Facts about Cabrillo National Monument
- Cabrillo became a National Monument on October 14, 1913.
- More than 25,000 Pacific gray whales migrate off the coast each year.
- The original statue of Cabrillo was to
- Point Loma Lighthouse is one of the first lighthouses on the west coast.
- The light from the lighthouse could be seen 32 miles away.
- During World Wars l and ll the lighthouse was painted olive green by the military.
- On September 28th, 1542, the first European to land on the California’s west coast was Spanish explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo. He sailed on the San Salvador into what he named San Miguel (San Diego).
- Kumeyaay Indians are indigenous to San Diego and the surrounding area.
- Point Loma Naval property and Cabrillo National Monument has the largest collection of the rare Shaw’s agave plant in the United States.
- The rare Golden Club Cactus is also found in this area.
Getting to here
Cabrillo National Monument is located on Point Loma about a 30 minute drive from the heart of San Diego, California.
Don’t miss a stop at the San Diego Maritime Museum for a chance to step onboard a replica of the San Salvador, the first European ship to reach America’s west coast.
Do you have any questions about the area? Contact us and we will be glad to assist.