Cabrillo National Monument is the most southwestern nationally protected area in the country. Though it’s small and somewhat out of the way, it offers views of the San Diego Bay and some incredible hiking experiences that you won’t find anywhere else.
In this national park spotlight, I’ll give you a little rundown of this park’s history, what you need to do when you visit, and what the surrounding area has to offer. Let’s get started!
A Brief History of Cabrillo National Monument
The first known European to ever step foot on the West Coast of what is now the United States of America — specifically the San Diego bay — was a man named Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. His boat, the San Salvador, made landfall here nearly 500 years ago in 1542. While Cabrillo would die just a short time later, he was credited with the discovery and honored as such with the foundation of Cabrillo National Monument in 1913.
Cabrillo was actually considered a failure by fellow explorers throughout history. But without his bravery and exploration of this area, who knows how long it would’ve taken for the San Diego area to become colonized and what the area would be like today?
What to See & Do While at Cabrillo National Monument
Relatively speak, Cabrillo National Monument is not very big. However, this small area is made up of several unique features including a seashore, the Point Loma Tide Pools, and several miles of scenic coastal sage scrub. When you visit Cabrillo National Monument, you should…
- Stop by the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center — Here, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge about the park in the form of the dedicated park rangers. Ask them about Cabrillo (both the man and the park) and even try on some of the original chain link armor that Cabrillo and his conquistadors wore when they came up from Mexico.
- Take in the Sights of the Actual Cabrillo Monument — Yes, there is an actual monument that was erected in Cabrillo’s honor. This monument can be found on the walking path near the visitor’s center overlooking the bay.
- Set Out on a Self-Guided Two-Mile Hike — Cabrillo National Monument is littered with beautiful sage scrub which is incredible to hike through. Take a peaceful scenic hike around the park and enjoy great views of the harbor, the city, and the many wild flowers that grow here.
- Take a Short Walk to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse — This lighthouse, which was first constructed in the 1880s, guided sailors for many years until it was restored and set up to give visitors an authentic look at lighthouse keeper life.
- Explore the Intertidal Zone During Low Tide — When the tide is low (which it thankfully was when we were there), you can hike down to what is known as the “intertidal zone” which is where the water would be if the tide was in. This was, by far, my favorite part of this park and totally worth the rather steep hike down and back up.
Where to Go & Eat near Cabrillo National Monument
As a peninsula, Cabrillo National Monument is nearly surrounded by ocean. So, you’ll have to drive back inland to get your hands on some grub. Thankfully, you’re only about seven miles from one of my favorite places in the San Diego area — Old Town.
In short, Old Town is where Cabrillo and his conquistadors first settled after heading inland from Point Loma — there’s no better way to round out your Cabrillo National Monument experience than at one of Old Town’s many authentic Mexican eateries. When my family and I were there, we ate at Cafe Coyote and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting especially if they like tacos — their tacos were BANGIN’.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter than a four-course Mexican feast (including margaritas, of course), though, stop by my other favorite place — 85C Bakery Cafe. This scrumptious little bakery in Loma Square (which is about six miles from the monument) serves authentic, freshly baked Thai pastries that are ridiculously affordable as well as a variety of drinks including bubble tea.
Enjoy Cabrillo National Monument!
God, I can’t wait to get back to this park at some point. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy it if you make it there. As always, leave only footsteps and take only memories.
For more information about the park, its hours, and more, visit their website!
Your excellent write up has now got me intrigued to check this out for myself. Would like to see the tide pools, but a little concerned when you described it as a steep climb. Not sure how to judge that. If climbing Kilimanjaro is a 10 and a stroll on a boardwalk a 1, how would you rate it? I’m no spring chicken 😁😬😁
Hi there — thanks so much for reading! 🤗 I’d probably rate the climb around a five or six. It’s definitely do-able if you have the right shoes and equipment and take it slow!
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