Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego

The celebrated Cabrillo National Monument and Park, called “Where California Begins,” is a historic site and wonder to behold.

Located 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument on California’s stunning southwestern peninsula commemorates the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who discoverer California. In addition to the historic monument, the area has an old lighthouse, ample walking trails, and a whale overlook.

The scenic 150-acre park/monument is perfect for fans of history, hiking, and nature as the area provides incredible views of San Diego Bay, the Pacific coastline, and the mountains of Mexico. Visitors should plan to spend one to three hours exploring this park.

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Cabrillo National Monument History

In 1542, Spanish conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed at San Diego Bay, marking the first time a European expedition arrived on the west coast of the United States. In 1913, the government established the Cabrillo National Monument. Most importantly, the statue, Visitor Center and museum commemorate the life of Cabrillo and his contribution to history.

Photo Alert: With some of the best Pacific coastal views in the state, don’t miss the many photo opportunities in this park! On a clear day, you can see the Mexican skyline.

Cabrillo National Monument Highlights

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

sunset with people walking in the path to Old Point Loma Lighthouse at San Diego Bay, San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Frank Colosi Photography via Facebook

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is an iconic piece of San Diego history located inside the monument. Built in 1854, this legendary landmark rests on an ocean crest, rising 422 feet above sea level. Though it's not an operating lighthouse it is now open to the public as a museum. History buffs will also enjoy learning about the use of Point Loma for our country’s military defense purposes.

Pro Tip: There are designated handicapped-accessible car and van parking spots at the Lighthouse and tidepool area. Restrooms in the Visitor Center are wheelchair accessible.

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Whale Overlook

Down from the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is the Cabrillo Whale Overlook. Here visitors can watch the annual migration of gray whales down the coast to Baja, California. The best time for whale watching is from December to April.

Pro Tip: The Cabrillo park has no designated picnic areas to eat. However, guests are welcome to bring in food, as long as they pick up after themselves.

Area Tide Pools

Under the sandstone cliffs at the Cabrillo Monument, visitors are welcome to check out the area's coast tide pools. Expect to see amazing sea creatures, at low tide (November through March) that might include octopi, sea stars, lobsters, and countless marine-plant life.

Top Attractions at the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center

The Visitor Center has an array of information and historical exhibits, interactive displays, movies, ranger activities and a gift shop.

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Age of Exploration

This exhibit provides an in-depth look at Cabrillo’s adventures and arrival to the coast in 1542. Cabrillo’s three-ship fleet arrived at Ballast Point, just one mile from the Visitor Center. Unfortunately, Cabrillo died three months later from unknown causes. As a result, he wasn't able to bask in the adulations upon returning to Spain.

Visitor Center with trees and plants at Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: NPS

Visitor Center Films

Inside the center’s auditorium, guests can watch dozens of free films that last about an hour each. For instance, some of the titled films include Search of Cabrillo, On the Edge of Land and Sea, and First Breath: Gray Whales.

Visitor Center Gift Shop

The gift store offers fun gifts ideas for friends back home, like t-shirts, mugs, and educational gifts on history, geography and local Native American settlers.

Cabrillo National Monument Trails

Bayside Trail

This gorgeous trek offers picturesque ocean vistas and lovely views through the region's native coastal sage scrub habitat. The trailhead can be found on the west side of the park.

The Cabrillo Trail

This 2.5 trail provides gorgeous landscapes of the Pacific Ocean, coastal skylines, Tijuana, sandstone cliffs, and Coronado Island. The trailhead starts near the old Lighthouse.

Pro Tip: Leashed furry friends are allowed on the Coastal Trail near the tidepool area. Dogs must stay on leash and are not permitted in the tidepools.

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Cabrillo Monument Hours & Entrance Fees

The Cabrillo National Monument is open 365 days a year, including holidays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (The Bayside Trail closes at 4:00 p.m., and the tidepools close at 4:30 p.m.)

The entry fees are listed below and include admission to the monument, tidepools and lighthouse.

  • Individual Permit: $10 per person
  • Vehicle Permit (groups of up to 4 people): $20
  • Motorcycle Permit: $15

Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge.

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The preferred payment is a credit/debit card. An Annual Pass to the park is $35.

Pro Tip: Rent a scooter at Cabrillo National Monument, and a Cabrillo Monument delivery driver will deliver it to you. The park partners with rental company Cloud of Goods for mobility scooters, ECV rentals, mopeds, and electric kick scooters.

Cabrillo National Monument Foundation

The National Monument receives funding largely from the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation, a nonprofit organization and partner to the National Park Service. The Foundation’s mission is to fund and support educational programs that protect the park’s resources.

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Written By Erin

Erin Poche` is a Utah-based writer and editor for Tripster and contributing writer for BeyondType1. She also writes and edits for an indie publisher of fanta ...

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