"Lighting the Way" Cabrillo National Monument by goodfish

Cabrillo National Monument Travel Guide: 72 reviews and 253 photos

News flash: Columbus didn’t discover the continental United States. And the pilgrims of the Mayflower were Johnny-come-latelies compared to the earliest arrivals.

Technically, America’s first people appeared over 20,000 years ago, trudging across the Bering land bridge from Asia, and Viking ships may have made landfall on the upper east coast around the year 1000. But it was Spanish and Portuguese navigators who charted the waters of a New World and left us the earliest recorded accounts of the landscapes, plants, animals and indigenous inhabitants they encountered. Almost none of them fulfilled their original missions - confirmation of vast mythical riches or rumored trade routes - but their logs provided subsequent voyagers with valuable landmarks, insights and some of the place names which still exist today.

On September 28, 1542, three ships under the command of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, sailing under the flag of Spain, dropped anchor off Point Loma near the park which now bears his name. Finding the bay “a port enclosed and very good, to which they gave the name San Miguel”, the fleet lingered for six days before heading north to modern day Catalina, Santa Barbara and Monterey before winter storms drove them southward again, just shy of San Francisco. They were not the first Europeans to the area as “indians” encountered along the shore displayed a familiarity with white men of similar dress and weapons they’d seen some miles inland; possibly one of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s units. Details about the voyage were also compiled from various thirdhand accounts as Cabrillo died of injuries from a broken leg on San Miguel in the Channel Islands before the expedition was completed, and his personal journal was lost. Nonetheless, those records are still considered to be the first documentation of California coastal exploration.

Some 60 years later, on November 10, 1602, another navigator, Sebastián Vizcaíno, formally mapping Cabrillo’s route for Spain, re-named the bay of San Miguel "San Diego de Alcalá” for his own flagship, San Diego, as well as for the November 12th feast day of the saint. It would be another 167 years before the first permanent settlement - a crude fort and mission - was established on Presidio Hill above today’s Old Town.

La Punta de la Loma de San Diego, “The Point of the hill of San Diego” that shelters the western side of the bay and where Cabrillo reportedly planted the first European boot, provided a natural defense against hostile invaders for an early Spanish harbor garrison and later U.S. military installments. The park on the southern tip of the headland was established in 1913 on 1/2 acre of land, enlarged under orders of several presidents, and serves as both historical center and outdoor recreation area with astonishing overlooks of San Diego Bay, Coronado Island and Pacific seascapes. For just an hour or the better part of the day, it’s well worth the trip!

  • Last visit to Cabrillo National Monument: Apr 2013
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (12)

Comments (6)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Jun 3, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    Kate, at the risk of repeating myself, let me say that I really like your writing style -- it's always a pleasure to read your tips and pages. (Fine photos, too!)

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Jun 4, 2013 at 5:17 AM

      Thank you so much, Don. It makes the time and work of writing these things all worthwhile when someone enjoys reading them!

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    May 21, 2013 at 2:27 AM

    Fabulous page! Well-researched, engagingly written, excellent photos and packed with info - just how I like 'em :-)

    We didn't visit Cabrillo when in the San Diego area many years ago. I wonder why not, as we would have enjoyed this - pressure of time, I'm guessing. Thanks for the virtual visit!

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      May 21, 2013 at 2:51 AM

      Thanks so much for "visiting," Sarah. Glad the pages were worth the read.

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    May 17, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Fascinating intro but I want to wait to read your tips until you've finished, so please let me know when you're done writing!

  • Basaic's Profile Photo
    May 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Good, informative tips!

  • shrimp56's Profile Photo
    May 1, 2013 at 5:46 AM

    Fascinating. Beautifully done as is your wont:)

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      May 1, 2013 at 12:35 PM

      Thanks, Shrimpie! Now I gotta bang out those reviews.
      Snowing here today. And still in waiting mode...

  • giampiero6's Profile Photo
    Apr 30, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Cool! By the way, if you haven't read A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz - about this very subject, do read it! It's fascinating and fun read. He's one of my favorite authors and very entertaining. Glad you're bringing it up

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Apr 30, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      Thanks for that - I'll see if I can find it! LOL, i'm still working my way through "The Fatal Shore" about Australia; keep getting sidetracked. Cabrillo is a great spot that should be on every San Diego must-do list, eh?


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