Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument is a great place to watch migrating grey whales between December and March. It’s also where you can visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and learn about early San Diego History at the Cabrillo National Monument at the southern end of the peninsula.
On your way to, or from, the point you can enjoy Sunset Cliffs Natural Park or surf at Ocean Beach and visit the 1971 foot (longest on the west coast?) Ocean Beach Fishing Pier at the north end of Point Loma. Dog Beach at the north end of Ocean Beach is one of the few places in San Diego where you can play in the surf with your un-leashed pet.
Point Loma was discovered by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailing for Spain in 1542 as he led the first European expedition, a three vessel armada, to explore what is now the west coast of the United States. Describing what we now call San Diego Bay as “a very good enclosed port,” Cabrillo named it “San Miguel.” The Point Loma peninsula wraps around the north end of Coronado enclosing the port.
A Conquistador who settled in Guatemala before leading the expedition up the west coast, Cabrillo died on the journey and may have been buried on Catalina Island.
After his death the expedition continued north, possibly traveling as far as Oregon but missing San Francisco Bay, before returning to Mexico. The ships arrived back in Navidad, Mexico on April 14, 1543. Gone almost nine months, they left no settlements, found no passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific and discovered no new route to China. But the coast north of New Spain (Mexico) was no longer the great mystery it had been and future explorers profited from Cabrillo’s trail-blazing.
Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s voyage of discovery. Established in 1913, a Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall present Cabrillo’s life and times. In addition to a film—In Search of Cabrillo—ranger led programs about Cabrillo are available. A tall statue of Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo looks out over the bay that he and his crew first saw on September 28, 1542. Ballast Point — the small outcropping of land this side of Shelter Island in the photo from the monument to the left — is believed to be Cabrillo’s landing point when he first sailed into the bay. The name Ballast Point comes from the habit of American trade ships from New England that would trade here during the Spanish and Mexican days of San Diego picking up cobblestone from the point to ballast their hulls for their return voyage.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse guided ships to San Diego Bay between 1855 and 1891. 422 feet above the sea seemed like a good location for a lighthouse but fog and low clouds often obscured the light. Be sure to visit the previous link and read all the way down to the article about living at the lighthouse as the Old Point Loma Lighthouse Keeper.
After 36 years the old light house was replaced with a New Point Loma Lighthouse at the base of the hill. Several buildings for the Keeper and Assistant Keepers were built and in 1913 a fog horn was added. The new lighthouse, built more for function than aesthetics, is a white, 70-foot, square pyramidal tower topped with a black lantern room. It’s the only remaining skeletal tower on the west coast.
Shelter Island — surrounded by the San Diego harbor and connected to the northern part of Point Loma by a causeway — is home to the San Diego Yacht Club which is famous for winning the America Cup. Shelter Island is also the site of the Friendship bell that was given to San Diego in 1960 by its sister city Yokohama, Japan. Shelter Island sunsets, like many other places in and around San Diego, can be both beautiful and dramatic. Shelter Island is also the center of San Diego’s year-round sportfishing and yachting industries. A wide range of fishing trips from half-day to multiday excursions are available.
The Shelter Island Yacht Basin is such a popular recreational marina that elevated levels of dissolved copper—used to prevent buildup of marine organisms on a vessel’s hull—may threaten wildlife and marine habitat. The photo of Ballast Point in the Cabrillo National Monument section is also a good view of Shelter Island and the Yacht Basin.