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.
Looking for more things to do in Point Loma? Grab our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to Ocean Beach & Point Loma.