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Visit Cabrillo National Monument on the Point Loma Peninsula For Free on National Public Lands Day

Celebrate National Public Lands Day this weekend with a visit to San Diego’s very own spectacular unit of the National Park Service: Cabrillo National Monument!

This jaw-dropping swath of Pacific seashore lies at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, at the gateway to San Diego Bay. It encompasses not only wonderful scenery but also some momentous history—and on Saturday, it’s yours to explore and enjoy free of charge!

National Public Lands Day

The National Environmental Education Foundation presents National Public Lands Day each day in coordination with such federal agencies as the National Park Service, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s the biggest one-day volunteer initiative for America’s public lands, mustering the good work of countless people and organizations to help restore or maintain these special places: from rehabbing trails and cleaning up litter to planting native vegetation and combatting invasive species.

To mark National Public Lands Day—which always falls the fourth Saturday of September, and celebrates its 26th anniversary this year—a slew of public lands waive their normal entry fees, and Cabrillo National Monument’s among them!

Cabrillo National Monument: Historic Ground

Covering roughly 144 acres, Cabrillo National Monument was formally established in 1949 to mark the point where Europeans first made landfall on what is today the U.S. West Coast. The former Spanish conquistador Juan Rodriques Cabrillo and the crew of his San Salvador set foot on the Point Loma Peninsula in 1542 on an expedition out of Navidad, Mexico; Cabrillo famously deemed San Diego Bay “a very good enclosed port.”

(Cabrillo died on this same expedition in early 1543 in the Channel Islands, but his crew continued north along the California coast and are thought to have made it as far as the mouth of the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon before stormy weather drove them back to Mexico. You read about the super-cool replica of the San Salvador built a few years ago in this 2016 Sofia blogpost.)

The Cabrillo Monument itself is far from the only history woven into this sandstone height overlooking the Pacific. For one thing, this is the traditional homeland of the Kumeyaay people, some of whom Cabrillo met on his reconnaissance of San Diego Bay. In the mid-19th century, meanwhile, the U.S. military occupied the strategic peninsula, establishing coastal defense facilities to safeguard the harbor; today, you can still see bunkers, control stations, and other remnants of these fortifications.

A venerable beacon also lies within the monument: the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, erected in the 1850s and retired since 1891.

Visiting Cabrillo

The Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center stands near the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, host to a variety of interesting exhibits, interpretive films, and ranger programs.

Close at hand is the lovely Bayside Trail, which weaves through a precious refuge of native coastal sage scrub while serving up far-reaching seascape views. A short path also leads to the Whale Overlook south of the lighthouse: a fine place, indeed, to spot gray whales on their annual migration, but magnificent to drink in any day of the year—and even outside of the migration window offering a chance to glimpse marine life, including dolphins, California sea lions, and seabirds.

On the west side—the ocean side—of the monument, you’ll find some of the most accessible and best-preserved tidepools on the Southern California coast. Abiding by the tide chart, maneuver your way through the incredibly fertile intertidal zone, keeping your eyes peeled for such miraculous denizens as limpets, anemones, periwinkle snails, sea urchins, mussels, octopi, and California sea hares.

Given its broad prospects out toward the wide-open Pacific, Cabrillo National Monument also happens to be one of San Diego’s stone-cold standout sunset vantages. Maybe you’ll even luck out with front-row seats to the legendary green flash: an emerald smolder produced by atmospheric refraction that’s sometimes seen as the sun takes its ocean plunge. (One of San Diego’s best-known breweries takes its name from the optical phenomenon.)

Experience Cabrillo National Monument With Free Admission on National Public Lands Day—and Take Advantage of It Year-round

Cabrillo National Monument provides a fantastic local destination here in San Diego for National Public Lands Day this Saturday, with an unbeatable price tag. But the monument’s also, of course, well worth visiting any time of year on a Sofia Hotel getaway: Our Downtown San Diego boutique hotel puts you within easy reach of this scenic pinnacle of the Point Loma Peninsula, an incredible place to sample some native Southern California ecosystems and reflect on centuries of history!