A visit to San Diego’s “only” National Park offers tremendous views of the San Diego region and excellent opportunities to explore the natural, historical and cultural history of the area. The Visitors Center is a good place to start your exploration of the park. It’s on the precipice of beauty, this park, rising above the Pacific Ocean over four hundred feet, as well as a site of navigation and west coast history with a California flavor all its own. The Cabrillo National Monument Park commemorates Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s West Coast exploration, Point Loma’s 19th century lighthouses and San Diego’s WWII coast defenses, and protects sensitive tide pools and coastal sage scrub habitat.
On any given day, you’ll see photographers snapping panoramic shots of the ocean and downtown San Diego, fitness enthusiasts walking or biking and tons of families enjoying the outdoors. Though the park is smaller than other national parks, where to start exploring can be a tough decision. Let the kids decide through participation in the Junior Ranger program.
Ask for a free Cabrillo Journal newspaper at the Visitor Center. The back of the paper has a section with tasks for kids ages 3 and up to complete in order to become a Junior Ranger. Kids ages 7 and up have a different Junior Ranger activity book, also available at the Visitor Center. Bring the newspaper or activity book back to the Visitors Center after touring the park to discuss findings with a Park Ranger or volunteer. A Junior Ranger badge will be awarded! The only catch is that kids must earn the badge while actually at the park, but it’s a great way to visit at a leisurely pace while keeping the kids engaged. Also, the Visitor Center is where National Park Passport books get stamped.
A stroller-friendly path winds from the Visitor Center to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse where kids can see what life was like in the 1880s at this once-lonely outpost. During the winter whale migration (usually January and February), whales can be seen just south of the lighthouse at Whale Overlook. As babies and toddlers are too young to appreciate a Junior Ranger badge, they may enjoy a nice walk or hike in a carrier along the two-mile Bayside Trail instead, which also starts near the lighthouse.
The tide pool area, lauded the best in California, is a big draw for both residents and visitors. During winter, when low tides are more prevalent, a volunteer or Park Ranger will be onsite to answer questions and point out sea creatures which can include star fish, anemones, crab, octopi and more.
There are a few beach access points in Cabrillo National Monument near San Diego and this park is loaded with things to see. Point Loma, the peninsula where the park is located, is surrounded by high sandstone bluffs. The beaches at Cabrillo National Monument are known for tidepooling, not for sunbathing or surfing. So if you want to walk around at the beach here, then time your visit for low tide when these world-class tide pools are exposed. As you enter the park, ask the attendant for a map or directions to the Point Loma Tide Pools.
Current & Upcoming Exhibitions
Guided Walking Tours (Saturdays 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) Join a park volunteer for a one-hour walking tour of Cabrillo National Monument including the Cabrillo Statue and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. This program is suitable for all ages. No reservations required. Meet in front of the Visitor Center and keep in mind that the walk includes a hill up to the lighthouse. Masks are required for everyone, regardless of location or vaccination status, in all NPS buildings and crowded outdoor spaces.
Snake Meet ‘N Greet (Thursdays – 1 p.m.) Meet a live, native snake in the breezeway by the Visitor Center! Cabrillo’s three snake ambassadors provide an opportunity to learn about the park’s natural resources, local ecology, and why snakes are important to the ecosystems they live in.
Military Bunker (Saturdays) From 9 am – 2:30 pm volunteers will bring the coastal defenses of Point Loma to life. These are your only chances to tour the bunkers on Point Loma. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to learn more about the soldiers stationed at Fort Rosecrans during WWII and see the weapons and instruments that protected our coast during the tumultuous war years.
Visit Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
Open daily from 9AM - 5PM
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA