Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hiking Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California

Point Loma is one of the most iconic features in San Diego and offers an easily accessible place to escape from the city at any time of year.
The Point Loma Lighthouse is one of California's more famous lighthouses
Like Los Angeles and Orange County, San Diego is a city with many easy hiking escapes that aren't more than a half-hour away. I've always liked this about Southern California. Its true that the traffic can be nerve-racking and the sprawl is endless, but outdoor escapes are numerous and easily accessible. Point Loma is one such example. Standing 400-ft above the bay, it provides an iconic view of San Diego. Its also the historical location where Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo first set foot in present-day California. To top it all off, there's a beautiful lighthouse! Cabrillo National Monument is certainly worth a day visit.

Point Loma is the most Southwesterly extension of the continental United States and has greeted ships sailing into the San Diego Bay for centuries. This would have been the first part of California that Cabrillo would have seen when he made his way North along the Pacific coast. The bay was also inhabited for millenia by the Kumeyaay people. From 400ft above the coast, you can see why the San Diego Bay has been ascetically and strategically significant for people across the centuries.




View Cabrillo National Monument in a larger map

Point Loma is very accessible and easy to get to from anywhere in Southern California. The park is open every single day except Christmas and, as any San Diegan knows, the weather is almost always dependably temperate. 

There are several things which can't be missed at Cabrillo National Monument. The first is of course, the old Point Loma Lighthouse. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in California and also a terribly placed one. Standing 400 feet over the entrance to the bay may seem like and ideal place, but when the marine layer rolls through, it hardly does any ships any service. Nevertheless, it is in a beautiful location and the National Park Service preserves this quaint and elegant lighthouse. After all, its not often that something in California lasts for over 150 years!

(Now that I live in New England, its funny to think of something built in 1855 as historical considering every other house in Maine was built in the late 1700s)
The Point Loma Lighthouse staircase is an often-photographed part of the park
The view of San Diego from Point Loma is one of the best
Cabrillo National Monument isn't exactly a large park, but there is a great little hike which has sweeping views of San Diego and Mexico. The bayside trail (marked on the map above) is the only hike in the park but its a moderate 2 mile hike which wraps around the point. It can be easily done in about an hour and a half. In the winter time (February and March), you might even see some distant grey whales making their migration up the California coast on their way to Alaska. 

Tidepooling is also popular and there are some beach-side trails along the cliffy coast. There are also some "bad-lands" like formations which offer some interesting opportunities for photographing. I don't care how old you are, tidepooling is still fun at any age.
Cliffy coastlines at Point Loma
Tidepooling... always fun
I've always thought these badlands looked like something from  the desert
I was only able to visit Cabrillo National Monument once when I was in Southern California, but it was a great place to relax and get away from the city for a while. The fact that it was so easy to get to made it even more enjoyable. I all for going on extreme backpacking trips and week-long kayaking trips, but sometimes its just nice to go on a short walk and enjoy the sights and smells of the ocean. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!