“Where California Began” – Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA

The spot where it all began…or so they say
This stone monument of Cabrillo keeps watch over San Diego Bay

It’s hard to believe that such a small, lonely stretch of shore can contain so much history, but I guess that’s true of so many places. On the map Point Loma Peninsula is a craggy sandstone finger that stretches down and protects San Diego bay. In person it’s a pretty and wonderfully remote spot with stunning cliffs and open ocean views, made all the more beautiful by bright yellow blooms and deep blue skies in spring. But in history it serves as a strategic turning point, the first landing of Spanish explorers in California and a key military and navigation outpost. It’s the Cabrillo National Monument and if you’re in San Diego it is WELL worth the visit.

Of course, as with every story it’s best to start at the beginning and right here that means the indigenous peoples. The ‘Iipay and Tipay (Kumeyaay) tribes inhabited the San Diego coast for thousands of years before anyone else came here. They never quite settled in Point Loma (due to lack of water on the peninsular), but roamed the beaches and harvested seafood. Their lives (and that of the whole of the Americas no less) changed the day the Spanish explorers discovered the “New World”. For San Diego that day was Sept 28th, 1542 and the fleet was led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who is have thought to have landed on a small finger of land called Ballast Point on the bay side of Point Loma. It was the first landing by a European in present-day California and for many it’s considered the date and the place “where California began”.

View of Ballast Point, where Cabrillo is thought to have landed in 1542
The historic Old Point Loma lighthouse which has been beautifully restored inside and out to 1880’s appearance

Interestingly enough not much happened for ~200 years after that historic landing. The Spanish eventually made their way in-land and established missions in the area, with first settlement ~1769. Lonely Point Loma remained uninhabited but one of its’ bay side beaches (La Playa) served as a handy and protected port during this time. The peninsular was as remote and untouched as ever, but had already established its strategic importance to the Bay.

At this point we forward almost another 100 years to 1854 and the erection of the first lighthouse and inhabited spot on Point Loma. By this time California is a well-established piece of land and already part of the United States. The erection of the Point Loma lighthouse marks a turning point on the peninsular and 36 years of lonely lighthouse keepers who lived a remote and isolated existence on the hilltop in monotonous daily routine with their lenses. During this time only access to the point was 15 miles of treacherous ridge road that took all-day to drive. Eventually roads were improved and a new lighthouse (which is still in service today) was built at a lower elevation, but those early days must have been something else! In the late 1890’s the Point also developed as a military base including the building of several gun batteries which served to protect the Bay through WWII.

View of the Naval Base on Coronado. If you look closely you’ll see the Nuclear Submarine being guided into the bay.

Today you can see all of that past with a visit to the monument. These days much of the surrounding land remains dedicated to the military, and in fact the view from the point to San Diego Bay reveals the enormous sprawl of the naval base as well as the home for Submarine Squadron 11 (we got to view a massive Nuclear submarine being guided into port while we were there -> what a sight!) . The point itself contains the beautiful, restored lighthouse, a museum with the history of Cabrillo’s historic landing and remnants of its’ military service.

The shore at Point Loma has retained all its’ natural beauty

What’s exceptionally cool is that despite all its’ strategic importance the remote nature of the peninsular has kept much of its natural beauty in-tact. Surrounding the visitors center and the lighthouse are beautiful sandy cliffs, interesting tide-pools and unblemished views of the ocean (it’s a hot whale-watching spot this time of year). People come here to hike the shore, surf the break, enjoy the peace….and of course stand and view the spot where California began.

The gorgeous restored 1880’s interior of Point Loma Lighthouse
Another view of the lighthouse. Spring flowers make this a particularly pretty time to visit.
View up the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse
A whale-bone marks the point’s importance as a whale-watching spot
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

    • libertatemamo says

      We’re current at Mission Bay RV Park. It’s just a so-so park, but in a *fabulous* location. Can’t really get any better located.

  1. Trisha says

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post. Your pictures and commentary are wonderful–almost make you feel like you are there. Looks beautiful.

  2. says

    Some VERY nice pics! Sorry I missed your departure from the Slabs. I guess we’ll have to do that interview somewhere else or back here next year. I’ll be leaving for New Mexico in 3 weeks.

    • libertatemamo says

      Sorry I missed you too! I ended up doing a quick day-trip to the Slabs instead of taking the rig so just ended up being a quickie. ENJOY New Mexico…I love that state!

  3. says

    WOW what gorgeous pictures and such a beautiful lighthouse. I just love lighthouses and have vowed one day to spend a week-end in one of the ones that have been decommissioned and sold and are now bed and breakfasts. Thanks for the history lesson. I lived in California years ago but in the San Fernando Valley and haven’t been back since.


    • libertatemamo says

      I love lighthouses too. We REALLY enjoyed all the lighthouses in Oregon last year and are hoping to do more along the coast this year.

  4. says

    A lovely spot; I especially like the photo of the skeletal remains of the whale. I briefly visited the monument in the early 80s … look forward to visiting it again when we eventually make it out west in the motorhome.

  5. Lisa says

    Cabrillo has some of the best tide pools in San Diego during a minus tide. There are also decent tide pools at the end of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. during a minus tide, and they have the bonus of being free! See ya! Lisa

  6. Funk says

    I’m a history freak when it comes to the tribes of this land. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the email. Please keep them coming.
    Much Love, Honor and Respect
    bye bye now

    • libertatemamo says

      I LOVE all the tribal history too. Had a total blast in New Mexico and Southern CO with tribal history. It’s all fascinating stuff.

  7. says

    Thanks for your overview of Cabrillo National Monument. Larry and I enjoyed being docents there, meeting and greeting visitors from all over the world, while bringing history alive. I wore the period lighthouse keeper’s uniform (the mannequin showing the lighthouse keeper’s uniform in the Assistant Keeper’s Quarters is based on my presentation).

    Glad you love lighthouses and am looking forward to your lighthouse updates from Cape Disappointment this summer!


    • libertatemamo says

      Awesome!! We’ve never had the chance to be docents in a CA lighthouse, although I’m hoping to fit it in one day. So far we’ve only hosted at lighthouses in OR and WA. Love that you have a link here…in period costume too (even better!).



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