Take a hike and celebrate the centennial of Cabrillo National Monument.

The park has a short trail but a very long history. Mile-long Bayside Trail leads from Old Point Loma Lighthouse to views of San Diego Bay with about 500 years of history along the way.

Cabrillo's statue overlooks San Diego Bay, which has undergone a change or two since the explorer discovered it in 1542!
Cabrillo’s statue overlooks San Diego Bay, which has undergone a change or two since the explorer discovered it in 1542!

Cabrillo National Monument, located on the tip of Point Loma, marks the point where Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on California soil. He landed near Ballast Point in 1542 and claimed San Diego Bay for Spain.

Cabrillo liked this “closed and very good port” and said so in his report to the King of Spain. Turns out the explorer landed on what is now the most southwesterly spot in the contiguous United States.

As for Cabrillo himself, little is known. Historians do not know for certain where he was born or what he looked like. Cabrillo National Monument itself is historic. Created in 1913, it’s one of the oldest national parklands and predates the founding of the National Park Service in 1916.

The culmination of Cabrillo National Monument’s year-long centennial celebration takes place on the weekend of October 12-13. The monument will be featuring a Cabrillo Cake Contest, pre-1915 vehicle show and ranger-led presentations and hikes. A centennial commemoration ceremony is scheduled for Monday October 14. Visit Cabrillo Centennial for more information. www.cabrillocentennial.org/

443px-CabrilloCloseupOne highlight of a visit to the Cabrillo National Monument is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. This lighthouse, built by the federal government, first shined its beacon over bay and ocean in 1855. Unfortunately the lighthouse was built at 422 feet above sea level; fog and low clouds often obscured the light. The station was abandoned in 1891 and a new one was built on lower ground at the tip of Point Loma.

The older lighthouse has been wonderfully restored to the way it looked when Captain Israel and his family lived there in the 1880s. Park staff leads walks and give talks to explain the lighthouse’s colorful history.

The 1891 lighthouse is still in service today, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Check out the “New” Point Loma Lighthouse from Whale Overlook, located 100 yards south of Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

Rangers lead walks (at low tides) to the rich tide pools located on the western side of Point Loma. Check on the tides and walk schedule at the park visitor center, where you can learn more about lighthouses and marvel how Cabrillo made his way here with 16th century navigational instruments.

Hike Bayside Trail and get a great view of San Diego Bay.
Hike Bayside Trail and get a great view of San Diego Bay.

Bayside Trail begins at the old lighthouse and winds past yucca and prickly pear, sage and buckwheat. The Monument protects one of the last patches of native flora in southernmost California, a hint at how San Diego Bay may have looked when Cabrillo’s two small ships anchored here.

Directions: Exit Interstate 5 on Rosecrans Street (Highway 209 south) and follow the signs to Cabrillo National Monument.

The hike: The first part of Bayside Trail winding down from the old lighthouse is a paved road. At a barricade, bear left on a gravel road, once a military patrol road. During World War II, the Navy hid bunkers and searchlights along these coastal bluffs.

Bayside Trail provides fine views of the San Diego Harbor shipping lanes. Sometimes when ships pass, park rangers broadcast descriptions of the vessels.

Also along the trail is one of Southern California’s most popular panoramic views: miles of seashore, 6,000 foot mountains to the east and Mexico to the south.

The trail dead-ends at the park boundary. Return the way you came.