Cabrillo National Monument is located near San Diego, California. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped into history as the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. Cabrillo NM tells the story of 16th century exploration along with providing cultural and natural resources for guests to explore.
Cabrillo National Monument
- Cabrillo National Monument
- Top things to do at Cabrillo NM
- Things to know when planning a trip to Cabrillo National Monument
- National Parks near Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo NM offers guests amazing opportunities to explore the park including viewing tide pools, epic views of San Diego and San Diego Bay, gray whale watching, and so much more.
Cabrillo National Monument was established on October 14, 1913 to commemorate the September 28, 1542 landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. This landing was the first European Expedition to make landfall on the west coast of what would become the United States.
Top things to do at Cabrillo NM
The visitor center at Cabrillo NM is the perfect place to start your visit to the park. There is a fairly large parking lot near the visitor center complex that provides access to the visitor center and statue of Cabrillo.
The Cabrillo store is located next to the visitor center information desk and is filled with great books and other souvenirs. There are great interpretive displays that talk about the area right outside of the visitor center.
The view from the visitor center is amazing! Don’t miss the interpretive panels that describe the boats you can see and the scenic view. The visitor center sits 300-400 feet above sea level offering a truly epic view of the San Diego skyline.
One cool thing to know about the visitor center is it was built as part of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 Program. This program was an effort to revitalize the National Parks nation-wide after WWII. The visitor center was designed to reflect the Park Service’s modern image. The visitor center showcases the “California school of landscape design”. This design took the modernist forms and ideas and adapted them to California’s Mediterranean climate and tradition of utilizing outdoor space.
There is a theater located just down from the visitor center that shows a rotation of park films including In Search of Cabrillo, On the Edge of Land and Sea and First Breath: Gray Whales. Each of the productions rotates throughout the day to give visitors a chance to see them.
Age of Exploration exhibit room
Located next to the visitor center the Age of Exploration” exhibit room gives guests the opportunity to learn more about Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his voyage of discovery.
Statue of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo
The grey sandstone statue overlooks the San Diego Bay. The statue depicts Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo as he may have looked in 1542.
Cabrillo NM Junior Ranger
The Cabrillo NM Junior Ranger is fantastic! Make sure to pick it up right when you get to the park. The Just for Kids paper is broken into different sections of the park. You will want to have the paper with you when you are out exploring to find all of the answers.
The tidepools are best viewed during the winter when the low tides are during the day.
One thing to know is the road to the tidepools may be closed periodically when tidepool parking lots are full to capacity. This happens on weekends and holidays most often. The only access to the tidepool area is via car. There is a small parking lot and then it is a short walk/scramble down rocks to get to the tidepools.
The walk down to the tidepools can be slippery from water and algae. Make sure to plan ahead for your adventure to the tidepools. Shoes with good grip that can handle walking on rocks. Also bring a water bottle, hat, and sunscreen.
There is no cell phone service down by the tidepools. Please keep in mind that the tidepool area closes at 4:30 p.m.
Make sure to check tide charts for the best time to visit if you are planning on exploring the tide pools. You will want to give yourself time to enjoy the tide pools before the tide comes back in.
You can check the low tide times and levels by calling the park telephone at (619) 557-5450, extension “0”, use this link to look at our tide charts, or search the Web for online tide charts for the Point Loma area.
The park has a great intertidal field guide if you want to check what you may be able to see while visiting the tidepools. We were able to pick up laminated copies of the tide pool guide near the parking lot entrance to the trail.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
The Point Loma Lighthouse was built in 1855. November 15, 1855, keeper James P. Keating lit the oil lamp for the first time. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse had a Fresnel lens which was the best technology of 1855.
The Fresnel Light welcomed sailors for 36 years except on foggy nights. A dedicated keeper was on-duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no vacations. On March 23, 1891, keeper Robert Israel extinguished the lamp for the last time.
Adjacent to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse make sure to visit the reconstructed assistant keeper’s quarters to learn about lighthouses in the “Lighthouses of Point Loma”.
Whales are often seen from here in January and February. Grey Whales migrate from the waters off of Alaska and the Bering Sea to the lagoons of Baja, Mexico. Visitors can look for the whales from the whale overlook and while exploring the park.
A good pair of binoculars will help you get a great view of the whales.
The Bayside Trail is 2.5-mile roundtrip. The trail offers gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, Ballast Point, Downtown San Diego, and more. The trail is a combination of paved trail and gravel/dirt path.
There are interpretive panels along the trail sharing information about the flora and fauna found along the trail.
Plan 1 to 2 hours for exploring and enjoying the trail. There are no restrooms or water available along the trail so please plan accordingly.
The Bayside Trail is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm.
The Coastal Trail is a one-mile round trip hike that ranges from easy to moderate difficulty. There are a few steep slopes along the trail that can be difficult. The Coastal Trail offers amazing views of the coastline and a great opportunity to see different landscapes within the park.
This trail can be started from the entrances at Lot 1 or Lot 2 off of Gatchell Rd.
Restrooms are located at Lot 1.
Cabrillo NM is a great park for birdwatching! The bird checklist for both the monument and Point Loma peninsula lists 346 species, with over 200 spotted at Cabrillo National Monument alone.
Check out some of the great birds you can see.
Great Blue Heron
There is quite a bit of wildlife within Cabrillo NM. A large part of the wildlife is nocturnal and comes out after visitors have left for the day.
California Striped Racer
Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
San Diego Gopher Snake
Great Basin Fence Lizard
Calif. Side-blotched Lizard
San Diego Alligator Lizard
Calif. Ground Squirrel
The park has a fantastic Reptile Field Guide if you want to learn more about the reptiles that inhabit the park.
Cabrillo Above the Fireworks
If you are going to be in the San Diego area for the Fourth of July check out the Cabrillo Above the Fireworks Event. Guests can see fireworks displays all over San Diego County from high above at Cabrillo.
This event is put on by the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation.
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Fort Rosencrans National Cemetary is located just outside of Cabrillo NM. This military cemetery has been in use since 1882. The cemetery includes more than 100,000 graves spread over 77 acres.
Things to know when planning a trip to Cabrillo National Monument
Park Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA 92106
Directions to the park: From downtown San Diego – Take Harbor Drive past the airport, Turn left onto Rosecrans Street. Turn right onto Canon Street then turn left onto Catalina Blvd. (also known as Cabrillo Memorial Drive) Follow Catalina Blvd. all the way to the end
Please be aware that the monument is surrounded by Navy property, and access to those areas is strictly limited.
Park Hours: The park is open from 9 am until 5 pm. The tidepools close at 4:30 pm.
Cabrillo NM is open every day of the year, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. They do not close for holidays.
$20 for non-commercial vehicles.
$15 for motorcycles
$10 for bicycles and walkers.
$35 for a Cabrillo Annual Pass
Wifi: There is free WiFi available in the Visitor Center area.
Cell Phone Service: There is cellular service in the upper part of the Park and along the Bayside Trail. However, there is no cellular service or WiFi in the tidepool area.
Smoking: Cabrillo National Monument is a smoke-free park. Smoking is not permitted anywhere on the park grounds, including the tidepools, trails, and parking lots. Smoking is also prohibited in all buildings.
Pets: Pets are only allowed in the tidepool area of the park. They must be on a leash less than 6 feet long. Click here for more information.
Public Transportation: San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) offers bus service via Route 84. The bus stop is located right at the Visitor Center complex. Please note that the bus does not go to the tidepool area on the west side of the park. For more information on Route 84, click here to access the Metropolitan Transit System website.
National Parks near Cabrillo National Monument