National Parks Week, held annually for 10 days in April, is a time where all entrance fees are waived for all National Parks, National Monuments, and National Historic Sites. This event, sponsored as a partnership with the National Park Foundation and approved by Presidential Proclamation1 allow all National Park Services visitor the opportunity to visit and explore some of America’s greatest treasures, from natural beauty to historically significant sites. National Parks Week provides cost-effective opportunities to explore National Parks and Monuments. My family and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity for free admission during National Parks Week and set out to explore Cabrillo National Monument.

Cabrillo National Monument overlooks San Diego, on the Point Loma peninsula. Established to commemorate the Spanish Explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s landing in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542, the National Monument offers breathtaking views of San Diego Bay, the City of San Diego and the greater San Diego region, as well as Tijuana and Mexico.2 Cabrillo’s expedition, the first European expedition along the west coast of America, helped to open up California to further European exploration. Cabrillo’s exploration of San Diego was short and limited, his crew of two ships only anchored in San Diego Bay for five days to wait out a storm.3 Despite this, California’s history was forever shaped by his presence, justify the establishment of a National Monument in his honor. In addition to commemorating Cabrillo’s significant visit to San Diego, the National Monument location also has a long history of important residents including Native Americans (Kumeyaay) and European and later American settlers. These inhabitants are also recognized for their contributions to the changing human landscape of the National Monument with exhibits in the Visitor Center and throughout the Park.   

To help celebrate National Parks Week, my family and I paid a visit to Cabrillo National Monument. It had been more than five years since my last visit and I was eager to explore the park with my husband and infant son. The weather was perfect, sunny with minimal wind, for exploration of the peninsula overlooking San Diego Bay. We wondered around the monument for more than two hours, exploring the visitor center, Cabrillo Monument (pictured below), ocean and bay views, and Lighthouse.


As a child, the lighthouse (pictured below) was always my favorite place at Cabrillo National Monument. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, situated 422 feet above the mouth of San Diego Bay, was first used in 1855.4 The light from the lighthouse, however, was almost impossible to see during the regular fog that hugs San Diego Bay in the night and early morning. Due to this, the lighthouse was moved to the base of the Point Loma peninsula in 1891.5 Despite the short life of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, the structure still remains intact and preserved in its Victorian Era glory at Cabrillo National Monument. The Lighthouse itself provides a wonderful glimpse into the lives of the lighthouse keeper and his family during the 1880s. Visitors to the Lighthouse are able to explore furnished rooms including sitting room, kitchen, and bedrooms. An outbuilding near the Lighthouse houses the large lamp lens used at the Lighthouse as well as an informational exhibit on the history of the lighthouse past and present.


Apart from the important historical significance of Cabrillo National Monument, the site also serves to help preserve important coastal and marine habitats. Visitors are encouraged to visit the tide pools at the base of the Point Loma peninsula (tides permitting) and explore the native coastal habitat by hiking the park trails (pictured below). Additionally, the ocean and bay views from the monument are spectacular and provide excellent whale watching opportunities. In my own experience, I love how Cabrillo National Monument ties history and environment together in one urban location. As an Environmental Historian, I find the opportunities for learning and education on both natural and human history, as well as human historical impact on the natural environment valuable to such a urban National Monument which boast more than 200,000 annual visitors (2011 data).6 When visiting, it is hard to believe that a major metropolitan city with over one million residents is only a few miles away. It is easy to be swept up in the natural environment of the park and experience what Cabrillo and his crew would have seen when they landed in San Diego Bay more than four centuries before.


For many people, the opportunity to visit a nearby National Park or Monument may be limited and National Parks Week encourages visitation by providing waived entry fees. I try to make it a goal to visit at least one park or monument during National Parks Week to show my support of such an significant initiative.  


End Notes

  1. “Presidential Proclamation — National Park Week, 2016.” The White House. April 15, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  2. Engstrand, Iris Wilson. San Diego: California’s Cornerstone. Tulsa, OK: Continental Heritage Press, 1980.
  3. Trent Burnett, Heidi. San Diego’s Wilderness: The changing landscape of Cleveland National Forest. Master’s Thesis, University of San Diego, 2011.
  4. United States. National Park Service. “The Lighthouses of Point Loma.” National Parks Service. Accessed June 20, 2016.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Rocky Intertidal Visitor Count at Cabrillo National Monument.” National Park Service. April 2013. Accessed August 2, 2016.