Cabrillo National Monument


Location: Point Loma (9 Miles / 20 Minutes West of Downtown San Diego)

Open Daily: 9AM – 5PM (last entry 4:30PM)

Cost: $5 per Vehicle

Features: Best Views of Downtown San Diego, San Diego Bay, and the Pacific Ocean; Tidepools; Hiking; Lighthouse Tour; Whale Watching; Visitor Center Exhibitions and Films about Juan Cabrillo, the First European Explorer to Arrive in California.

cabrillo-entranceCabrillo National Monument Highlights: Spanish Explorer Juan Cabrillo arrived at this location in 1542 becoming the first European Explorer to find the West Coast of the United States. Much has occurred in the nearly 500 years since Juan Cabrillo first set foot in what has become San Diego, California. You will get a birds eye view of everything that has happened over those years. Cabrillo National Monument rises over 400 feet above sea level providing visitors spectacular views over the entire San Diego metropolitan area.

What to Expect

  • Plan on the weather being a little cooler and breezier than in downtown San Diego and nearby areas. Cabrillo National Monument is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay.
  • cabrillo-view

  • You can enjoy the expansive views of San Diego from inside the Visitors Center. However, you will be inclined to walk around to take in the sights and sounds from many vantage points outside. You will also have about a 200 yard walk between the Visitor Center and the Lighthouse.
  • Set aside a little more than an hour for the Visitors Center if you plan to watch the films and view the various exhibits. There is also a big gift shop. You will need another 20 minutes or so to visit the lighthouse and World War I lookout station. Beyond that, some visitors will spend 20 minutes enjoying the views while others will spend the better part of the day doing one or more of the following:
    • Watch boats travel in and out of San Diego Harbor – you will see sailboats, military ships, and an occasional freighter.
    • Watch military jets and helicopters take off and land across the way at Naval Air Station North Island (Coronado).
    • Look down at military ships and submarines docked along Naval Base Point Loma.
    • Hike along the trails that lead from Cabrillo National Monument down to the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay.
    • Take in the scent of flowers and other vegetation, including a small garden just outside of the Visitors Center.
    • Explore the Tide Pools.
  • Exhibits at the Cabrillo Visitors Center

  • There is no set schedule for guided tours. However, they are available on occasion. Check the daily events schedule when you arrive at the Visitors Center.
  • You will find Park Rangers and Volunteers in the Visitors Center to answer your questions.
  • Those with disabilities can also enjoy the national monument. Learn more on the accessibility web page.

Film Schedule – Two films about explorer Juan Cabrillo and the local habitat are shown at the top of the hour on a rotating basis throughout the day. During winter, a third video about the California Gray Whales, which migrate past the National Park, is also included.

Looking down towards the TidepoolsTide Pools – You will find one of the best Southern California Tide Pools on the west side of the hill, down from Cabrillo National Monument. (To access it, turn onto Cabrillo Road just outside of the National Park Entrance booth.) Here, you will get to see the creatures of the sea after the high tide drops them off and the low tide sets in. Low Tide only occurs during the daytime hours, when the Park is open, in the fall and winter. However, it is worth visiting this spot anytime of year. The tidepool area offers peace and serenity. Before descending down the hill to the tidepools, you have an expansive view of one of the largest cities in America. Down at the tidepool, there is barely any sign of civilization. It’s just you, the steep hill you just descended, and the Pacific Ocean. Here are a few pictures of the tide pool area to get an idea of what to expect.

One word of caution is to not take anything away from the tide pools, even just a seashell. National Parks prohibit visitors from taking souvenirs of nature. Also, be sure to wear appropriate shoes. The rocks are a little slippery. To time your visit perfectly for low tide, check out the Low Tide Schedule from Cabrillo National Monument web site. Also note that visitors are not allowed down to the tidepools after 4:30PM.

cabrillo-light-houseHiking – There is one trail that starts just east of the lighthouse. It is a mile in length each way. There are interpretive displays and benches along the trail, which works its way down the hill almost to sea level. Very few people make this relatively easy hike so it provides a nice, quiet environment to enjoy the spectacular views. In the spring time, beautiful wildflowers dot the hillside. Note that visitors are not allowed onto the trail after 4PM.

Whale Watching – If you don’t like to ride on boats, Cabrillo National Monument is probably your next best option to see the California Gray Whales. They migrate south along the San Diego Coast during December and January before returning north in February, March, and into April. There is a whale lookout point just south of the lighthouse. However, you may also want to hike down the hill a little ways to get a closer view. Be sure to bring along your binoculars. Only on rare occasions do the whales come very close to shore.

Web Cam Views – Get a real-time look at the views around Cabrillo National Monument.

Food – Bring a picnic basket with you. There are picnic tables offering great views. Otherwise, you will find a number of restaurants in Point Loma, along Rosecrans Street and at the start of Shelter Island Drive.

Information on Visiting Cabrillo National Monument

Fees: (Costs are Approximate)

  • $5 per Vehicle.
  • If you plan to visit more than a couple times in a year, ask for an annual pass that runs about $15. This is different from the other National Park Passes that you will see on the Fees page.
  • Entrance is free if you use the City Bus. (See Transit Information below.)
  • There is no fee if you only want to visit the Tide Pools, which are just outside of the National Park boundary.

Directions from Google Maps to 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive in San Diego, CA 92106.

Traffic – The closest highway to Cabrillo National Monument is about 8 miles away. The rest of the drive takes you along the main streets through Point Loma. Traffic is usually heavy as there are many traffic lights. Once you climb the hill to reach Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, the rest of the drive is quite pleasant. You will get to enjoy distant views overlooking the San Diego Metropolitan Area and San Diego Bay as you pass through a number of military installations and the cemetery. At one point, you will wonder if you have gone too far when you approach a military guard house in the middle of the road. It is generally unmanned. The guard house gate is only down at night time. Continue past this gate to reach Cabrillo National Monument.

Transit – Buses do serve Cabrillo National Monument. There is no fee if you enter the National Park on the city bus. See San Diego Transit Information for the downtown transit map and information for the online Transit Planner.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: *Top San Diego Attractions*, Hiking, Military Museums & Presence, Parks - Local, State & National, Picnics - Great Places, Point Loma Area, San Diego Bay Boating, Scenic Views, Souvenirs, Wildlife - Places to See |

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