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Cabrillo National Monument  Photos - Point Loma, San Diego, California

Cabrillo National Monument
cabrillo monument

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High atop a hill with forever views spanning the San Diego Bay all the way to Tijuana, Mexico, a larger-than-life statue commemorates Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo who led the first European expedition to the west coast of the United States.


In 1542 this Conquistador sailed the ocean blue from Navidad, Mexico, taking three months to travel the Pacific to Point Loma's eastern shore near the base of the hill where the Cabrillo Monument now keeps a watchful eye over the bay. Cabrillo National Monument was established in 1913 and is now a National Monument under the National State Parks system. The statue was created by sculptor Alvaro de Bree for the Portuguese Government in 1939, who donated it to the United States. Made of sandstone, the monument is 14 feet tall and weighs 7 tons. A museum screens a film about Cabrillo's voyage and has exhibits about the expedition.


The Cabrillo expedition most likely included sailors, soldiers, Indian and probably black slaves, merchants, a priest, livestock and provisions for two years. Three ships were built by Cabrillo and were under his command. A model of Cabrillo's flagship, the San Salvador, is on display inside the Visitor Center of Cabrillo National Monument. It took 103 days to sail to San Diego and when he arrived, he claimed the land for the Spanish government. Continuing north through the Monterey Bay, it is believed he reached as far north as Point Reyes before storms forced the ships to turn back. Not seeing San Francisco Bay on his journey, it 200 more years for that region to be discovered!

Cabrillo, a fierce warrior who fought many battles for the King of Spain, had taken on natives in South American and Mexico and had won against the odds wherever he traveled. But what finally killed him was a skirmish with natives on the Channel Islands where he rested on his return from the Point Reyes trip back to his home in Guatemala.  Cabrillo shattered a limb and died of complications on January 3, 1543. Cabrillo's disheartened crew sailed north and again faced rough weather so they returned to Mexico.


At the highest point of the park that contains Cabrillo National Monument is Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a San Diego icon since 1854. It overlooks some of the finest beaches in Southern California in the southernmost, warmest beaches on the West Coast of the United States. Area attractions nearby are Horton Plaza shopping mall, the Victorian-era Coronado Hotel, harbor tours, San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, Old Town and the centerpiece of cultural entertainment in the heart of the city, Balboa Park.


An annual festival at Cabrillo National Monument held each fall (usually last weekend of Septmber/first weekend of October) includes dancing, recreations of 16th-century soldiers’ quarters, weapons demonstrations, vendor booths and a re-enactment of the discovery.


At the lowest point beneath this stone monument is the Cabrillo Intertidal Area featuring a self-guided two-mile walk through a coastal sage scrub forest that begins near the Lighthouse. The trail features birds, lizards, small rodents and in the spring you can see wildflowers in bloom. Accessible by car on the west side of the park is an intertidal zone. During extreme low tides visitors enjoy exploring the shoreline. The best low tides typically occur during the winter months, in the afternoon and during the new and full moon. 


Location: From Interstate Highways I-5 South or I-8 West, take the Rosecrans exit (also known as State Highway 209). Stay on Rosecrans into Point Loma to Canon Street; turn right onto Canon. Take a left onto Catalina and follow it to the end.

From Interstate Highway I-5 North, take the Airport Exit (also known as Hawthorne Street). Follow Hawthorne towards San Diego Bay. Take a right onto Harbor Drive. Stay on Harbor Drive past the Airport to Rosecrans; take a left onto Rosecrans. Stay on Rosecrans to Canon Street; turn right onto Canon. Take a left onto Catalina and follow it to the end.

Cost: A small fee is charged for a pass, with a reduced rate for entering the park on foot. See for rates.