“SD on the Cheap” – Cabrillo National Monument

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Where can you hike along the ocean, explore the interior of a 19th century lighthouse, watch for gray whales, check out some relics from our nation’s military history and see arguably the best view of San Diego — all for only $5?

The answer is at Cabrillo National Monument — just a short drive west of the city, at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula.

Established in 1913, the monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who led the first European expedition to explore what is now the west coast of the U.S. On Sept. 28, 1542, Cabrillo arrived at a “closed and very good port” — known today as San Diego Bay. According to historians, he anchored his flagship, the San Salvador, on Point Loma’s eastern shore.

A main feature of the 160-acre park is a large statue of Cabrillo that looks out over the bay the explorer sailed into more than 450 years ago. Inside the Visitor Center, films and an exhibit hall further commemorate Cabrillo’s voyage of discovery.

But if learning about 16th century exploration isn’t your thing, don’t worry — this place has something for everyone.

If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, take a hike along the Bayside Trail, a scenic trail (two miles roundtrip) that descends about 300 feet through native coastal sage scrub. Or if it’s low tide, drive down to the tidepools and search for crabs, mussels, sea stars, anemones and other glimpses into the ecosystem along San Diego’s coast. If you visit during the winter months, you may even catch sight of some gray whales on their annual migration southward.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

If you’re a lover of history, revisit the era of sailing ships and oil lamps as you walk through the refurbished interior of the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse. The lighthouse, which stood watch over the entrance to San Diego Bay for 36 years, was replaced in 1891 by a lighthouse that was closer to the water, where the city’s infamous fog and low clouds could not obscure the light.

Or stroll along the park paths and view the remains of coastal defenses built to protect the bay. You’ll find base-end stations, fire control stations, searchlight bunkers and a radio facility that now houses an exhibit on the history of these military facilities.
If you have children, help them on their quest to become junior rangers. Children receive a free newspaper that leads them around the different areas of the park, where they learn about ships and aircraft, whales, and natural and military history. When finished exploring, they’ll receive an official junior ranger badge.

Or if you are just in the mood to relax, catch some sun and enjoy some incredible views, sit along one of the many overlooks and take in the unparalleled scenery before you. The park boasts the area’s best views of the San Diego skyline and harbor, the Coronado Bridge, the Naval Air Station North Island, the Pacific Ocean and (on a clear day) the surrounding mountains.

Here’s the best part — all of this costs only $5 per car ($3 per pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist). And you can come back as many times as you like for an entire week — your entrance ticket to the park is valid for seven days.

So pack a picnic lunch (the park does not have food service), spend a few hours and soak it all up. You won’t be disappointed.

Cabrillo National Monument is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, go to

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