NPS Adventures: Cabrillo National Monument

The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!

Welcome to Cabrillo National Monument!

Stats

Cabrillo National Monument is, surprisingly, San Diego’s only NPS site. But it serves several purposes. It stands as a monument to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to set foot on the west coast of what is now the United States. It preserves Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the assistant keeper’s quarters to show a slice of what life was like for 19th century lighthouse keepers. It tells the story of America’s coastal defense during World Wars I and II. And it preserves one of the best rocky intertidal areas on the southern California coast.

That’s a lot to expect from any one site, but Cabrillo somehow delivers and is an incredibly satisfying visit.

I would caution you that a visit to Cabrillo can be very weather dependent. On the day we visited, it was a gorgeous day in San Diego. Up on the top of Point Loma, though, where Cabrillo is situated, was socked in by fog. The site normally offers an amazing panoramic view of downtown San Diego, Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean, but all we saw was white. The fog cleared a bit while we were there, but it was tantalizingly quick and then we were back in the middle of the clouds.

(Click on all pictures to embiggen.)

Exhibits

There are a few different exhibits and museum spaces around the site. The visitor’s center has some information about California and the local environment. On clear days, it also has a spectacular view of downtown San Diego and the San Diego Bay. Next door to the visitor’s center is an exhibit called “Age of Exploration,” which covers Cabrillo’s journeys and presents an overview of early Spanish exploration of the area. There’s also a small two-room building (that was originally a WWI radio station) that houses a military exhibit about the roles Point Loma and the neighboring naval base played during World War II.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

The lighthouse was completed in 1854 and operated for almost 40 years, welcoming ships into the harbor. During that time, 11 keepers (and 22 assistant keepers) were responsible for the light. However, it was eventually closed because its location was too often obscured by fog (such as the day we were there). The entire site was socked in with fog, and it’s easy to see how the lighthouse would’ve basically been useless on days such as that.

Still, the lighthouse and the assistant keeper’s quarters are open and fully furnished and decorated as they might have been during its heyday. Both are a very cool glimpse into 19th century life.

Junior Ranger

As always, the Junior Ranger program is one of the highlights of any NPS visit for the little Roarbots. It wouldn’t be a visit without a passport stamp and a Junior Ranger badge/pin! Cabrillo offers a Junior Ranger experience that requires kids to explore the entire grounds, including all of the exhibits and lighthouse, for answers.

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