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Spotlight: Cabrillo National Monument

Spotlight: Cabrillo National Monument

Catch sight of a whale, discover life in tidepools and celebrate five centuries of history-- just minutes from downtown San Diego!

Cabrillo Festival Some of the exciting performances and bright colors of the Cabrillo Festival! (NPS)

What You’ll Find

With San Diego’s many visitor destinations, it might be easy to overlook Cabrillo National Monument. Tucked beyond residential neighborhoods at the south end of Point Loma, Cabrillo is the most southwesterly spot in the contiguous United States. You might spot its historic lighthouse from the harbor before you ever visit this hidden gem. Cabrillo is a great place to spend a day searching offshore for gray whales, hiking the Bayside Trail, bicycling Cabrillo Memorial Drive or uncovering tidepool animals. Cabrillo National Monument is also a premiere birding location where over 200 species have been spotted.

Getting There

Visit the directions to Cabrillo National Monument page for driving routes and public transportation options, maps and even traffic and travel tips.

Stay Here

While the park does not offer camping or lodging, the park website lists nearby camping and the San Diego Tourism Authority offers lots of lodging options.

Make Sure You

Commemorate Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s landing at Point Loma on September 28, 1542 at the annual Cabrillo Festival! The city of San Diego and Cabrillo National Monument host the festival each year to recognize this explorer — the first European to arrive on the west coast of what is now the United States of America.

The festival features the re-enactment of Cabrillo’s landing along with exciting folkloric performances, brightly colored clothing, dramatic music and dancing that bring to life the traditions of the Native American, Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish cultures that mingled during the Age of Exploration (and in California today).

The annual festival falls during Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15) making this a perfect time to visit Cabrillo. Check the park’s schedule of events or visit the Cabrillo Festival website for more information. You can learn more about federal sites that reflect Hispanic Heritage in our Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month article.

Try This

Join a ranger-guided tour to learn about the historic lighthouse, 16th century navigation and armaments, the gray whale or the area’s other lesser-known living things. The tour schedule varies, so check the schedule posted outside the auditorium when you arrive. Or try a virtual tour of the park.

Visit the park on Founder's Day (August 25) or on Lighthouse Open Tower Day each November, two days per year when the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is open to the public. Visit during the annual Whale Watch Weekend and Intertidal Life Festival each February to celebrate the annual whale migration and other marine life.

Don’t Forget

If you’re already planning a trip to Cabrillo, consider combining your visit with a stop at one of these nearby places:

The Maritime Museum of San Diego, in partnership with Cabrillo National Monument, is building a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s flagship, the San Salvador. Be sure and view the progress on the live webcam!

Learn more about the area’s plants and animals at the San Diego Natural History Museum (“theNAT”) in Balboa Park, relax at Ocean Beach (the closest traditional beachfront town) or check the park’s long list of other nearby attractions.

Eat This

The Cabrillo Festival features food booths with delicious traditional Mexican, Native American, Portuguese and Spanish food. You’ll also find many of these traditional dishes at nearby dining establishments.

Fees at Work

Not only do your entrance fees at Cabrillo help fund facilities like the visitor center and restrooms, but also the purchase of 16th century Spanish replica soldier uniforms, armor and equipment as well as a reproduction 16th century Spanish swivel cannon like the one carried on Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s expedition. These items support the park’s popular living history and education programs.

Get Started

Check the park’s plan your visit page and visit the park's schedule of events before you go. Be sure to check two of our other articles if you enjoy Hispanic Heritage or Lighthouses.