December through April is one of San Diego’s two whale watching seasons. Gray whales migrating from Alaska to Baja California can be seen from land or boat. Blue whales pass through San Diego from mid-June to September.
Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is one location where you may be able to spot gray whales from land. They also offer whale watching tours through Flagship Cruises to see and learn about whales up close. Cruises depart from downtown San Diego.
Children and ocean lovers in general should plan a visit to Birch Aquarium while visiting La Jolla. Outside you’ll be greeted by the whale fountain (pictured above) and inside you’ll get to see and learn about all kinds of creatures that live in the ocean waters near La Jolla. One of our favorite sea creatures to see at the aquarium are seadragons. We must not be the only ones captivated by these creatures since the aquarium is currently building a new 18-foot-wide, 9-foot-tall exhibit to display and breed Leafy Seadragons as part of the aquarium’s conservation efforts.
There’s a lot to like about Liberty Station. This former U.S. Navy Base (Naval Training Center San Diego) is now a community gathering space blended together with history, art, culture, trendy restaurants, and shops.
You won’t find many commercial centers featured in our Beyond the Zooguides. That’s because we value experience over stuff. That said, Liberty Station is a charming family-friendly spot that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here are some of the features your kids may enjoy:
Point Loma has long been known as a fishing community. Portuguese-American fisherman in particular made their mark here in the tuna industry. Today, a public walkway provides access to sports fishing landings, marinas, boat yards, shops, and restaurants located along the bay at America’s Cup Harbor. You get to see a different side of San Diego.
To experience this view of Point Loma, park in the lot off N. Harbor Drive. There are a number of restaurants with views of the bay (our kids like Pizza Nova). If fresh seafood is more your style, head to Point Loma Seafoods. A bowl of clam chowder hits the spot for casual comfort food by the sea.
Continue enjoying the outdoors by driving a short distance away to Shelter Island. Shelter Island has a small but scenic sandy beach with fire pits and a great view of the San Diego skyline. Kayak fisherman often use the beach here to cast off. As you go further down the path you’ll come upon a fishing pier, a playground, picnic table spots, and a public dock that you can walk out on.
A lesser-known public pathway provides access to several marinas located on the backside of hotels that line Shelter Island Drive. We love walking here at sunset.
We’ve told you about the Cabrillo Tidepools and taken you on a historical tour of the park. Here are five tips to help you plan your visit to Cabrillo National Monument.
Prepare to pay an entrance fee. Cabrillo National Monument is a national park with entrance fees. Tip: The passenger car day pass is good for up to 7 consecutive days – just show your receipt! Visit the park fees & passes page to view options, like the Every Kid in a Park pass, which is free for all fourth-graders in the U.S.
Check the tide chart before you go. Tide pools can only be explored during low tide!
Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. It’s fun to wade in the shallow water of the tide pools, but bear in mind that you’ll be stepping on a lot of rocks too. You’ll also want comfortable clothing for walking around the park. Waterproof athletic or hiking sandals work great for both instances.
Wear sunscreen! Don’t let the possible marine layer fool you into thinking that you can’t get a sunburn.
Pack water and snacks. Little (and big) explorers need nourishment.
As you enter the Cabrillo National Monument, turn right and drive downhill to the Cabrillo Tidepools or continue straight and follow the road to the Visitor Center. (Whenever possible, do plan your visit for both. See why we love the tide pools here.)
The Visitor Center is your best opportunity to learn about the park’s namesake. Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, the Spanish explorer, was the first European to navigate the coastline of present-day California. A large statue sits above the shoreline where Cabrillo first stepped ashore in San Diego on September 28, 1542. It’s impossible to miss!
Go inside the Visitor Center to view a model of Cabrillo’s ship and play “explorer” dress up (family photo opportunity). Before you leave the building ask for a Junior Ranger Program activity guide. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger patch and certificate as they practice their explorer skills in the park.
It’s easy to see the beauty that Cabrillo would have experienced with his own eyes. However, he wasn’t the first human here; at the time of his arrival the area was inhabited by native Kumeyaay Indians. They are known to have fished in the San Diego Bay using rafts made out of tule reeds.
A second impossible-to-miss landmark at Cabrillo National Monument is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. For 36 years, from 1854 to 1891, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse guided ships into the San Diego harbor. Take a peek and try to imagine yourself living in a lighthouse. One keeper and his family lived here for 18 years and even had a grandson born at the lighthouse!
As you continue exploring you’ll notice another aspect of historical significance at Cabrillo National Monument. That is, military defenses dating as far back as 1852 when the area was designated as a military reserve. Military relics such as a radio station, a searchlight bunker on the Bayside Trail and gun batteries are scattered about the park. Because the geography of Point Loma naturally protects the San Diego Bay, the area also played an important defensive role for the military during World War I and II.
On the road to Cabrillo National Monument is the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. With sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean to one side and the San Diego Bay to the other, the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is simultaneously beautiful and sobering.
Our Beyond the Zoo Guide to Ocean Beach & Point Loma is largely focused on family entertainment. However, we would be remiss to pass over the opportunity to pause and give honor to those who served in the armed forces. Our seven year old asked a lot of great questions and was really engaged during our visit.
The tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma top our list of the best things to do in San Diego. When planning your visit, keep in mind that tide pools are only accesible during low tide. Tide charts and tips on the best times to visit (fall and winter are ideal) are available through the National Park Service.
Tide Pool : a pool of salt water left (as in a rock basin) by an ebbing tide
Ready to explore? Stop by the information booth at the tide pool entrance to pick up a laminated directory of tide pool species. Volunteer guides are also onsite to answer questions and help you make the most of your visit.
Look high and low and everywhere in between. Marine plants and animals that are normally under water during high tide are exposed during low tide. As you become accustomed to the environment you’ll begin to notice… fish swimming in shallow rock basins, crabs sheltering in sandstone cliff crevices, barnacles and sea anemones clinging to rocks, an octopus hiding in the shadows. It’s easy to lose track of time in this magical place!
Bessemer Path is a public walking trail along the bay shore in Point Loma. Adjacent to a residential neighborhood, the path is popular among locals, but not overcrowded. This off-the-beaten path destination is full of beauty and secrets that make it worth a visit.
To get here, park on the street at Talbot Street and Anchorage Lane next to the San Diego Yacht Club. A marker at La Playa Cove on Talbot Street designates the site of a Chinese fishing village from around 1860 to the early 1890’s.
Bessemer Path is a portion of the historical La Playa Trail, the oldest European trail along the Pacific Coast. Native Kumeyaay Indians were first to use the trail. According to the La Playa Trail Association, the trail is referenced by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, the Spanish explorer who is credited for discovering the San Diego Bay on Sept. 28, 1542. We love that the trail is an important piece of San Diego history!
Enjoy the peacefulness of the bay and beautiful landscapes as you walk. A tree swing near the end of the path is an unexpected delight that adds to the charm! You’ll feel like you’ve discovered a hidden spot.
The path ends about a half mile north near the Southwestern Yacht Club. You can either loop around at that point, or continue through the neighborhood to Kelloggs Beach, a sandy “locals” beach overlooking the bay. If you want to take a classic picture of the San Diego skyline, Kelloggs Beach is where its at.