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Cabrillo National Monument

Learn about San Diego’s Spanish roots, go tidepooling, and watch for whales at this historic park

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Charged by his native Spain to explore new worlds, Spaniard explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped ashore at this tip of land in 1542, making him the first European to set foot on the West Coast. The Cabrillo National Monument, established in 1913, commemorates his discovery on the point of Point Loma in San Diego.

Start at the visitor center, where short films and ranger talks offer interesting insights into Cabrillo and his history. Walk to the Old Point Loma Lighthousewhich has been restored to reflect what lighthouse life was like for lightkeepers and their families in the 1800s.

But locals (and sage visitors) also know that this tip-of-land perch offers astounding views of the San Diego skyline and the seething Pacific. Hiking trails twist through 660 acres/267 hectares of coastal habitat, so it’s easy to strike out on your own for even more panoramic beauty.

The 2.5-mile/4-km Bayside Trail looks out to San Diego Bay, and the easy Coastal Tidepool Trail takes you to some of the best tidepooling in California (look, but don’t touch). Visit in late fall or winter for the best viewing opportunities, when low tides occur during daylight hours. Keep an eye out for multiple tidepool species, which range from periwinkle snails and acorn barnacles to anemones and sea stars, in a variety of different intertidal zones. 

Look for the coastal defense systems the city put in place in World War II to fend off the Japanese Navy. From mid-December to late March, the bluffs—and specifically the Whale Overlook—are a great place to watch migrating Pacific gray whales. If you forget binoculars, a limited number are available at the visitors center.

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