Cabrillo National Monument is located on the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego. It is a wonderful and educational place to spend half a day or even just a few hours with your kids. Visitors will be rewarded with amazing views over America’s finest city as well as learn many things at this historical point of interest. The cost is $10 per car to enter.
If you plan to spend half a day, consider packing a picnic as there are benches throughout the monument. Exploring the exhibit room, watching a film, hiking, touring the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and exploring the tide pools are just some of the activities to fill your time. Many elementary-aged kids visit Cabrillo when they’re learning about European exploration. There is so much to enjoy here, a person of any age is bound to learn something new.
Kids can try on costumes in the Visitor's Center1. Junior Ranger Program
When you first arrive, go to the Visitor’s Center and pick up a copy of the Junior Ranger Program. A Park Ranger will ask what grade your child is in to determine how many of the sections they will need to answer in order to earn their badge. For a 1st grader, they have to complete one section. For a second grader, they have to complete two sections, and so on. Many points of interest and museums will offer these types of scavenger hunts for kids. I always like to encourage my kids to participate as it directs them to pay attention to things they might not otherwise notice. On our visit to Cabrillo we learned about the navigational tools Cabrillo used in 1542, what life was like living in a lighthouse in the 1800's, and even how a dog helped keep order in the military barracks. As we stood near the monument and looked out over San Diego Bay, I liked that the kids were prompted to consider how it would have been different in 1542. A very simple question indeed, but without the prompting, no one may have thought about it.
When your child has completed the requirements, return to the Visitor's Center. They will be asked to take an oath and then will receive a badge and a certificate.
Taking the oath2. Film Auditorium
Right next to the Visitor’s Center and the Exhibit Room is an Auditorium where films are shown throughout the day. The following films are currently showing: In Search of Cabrillo, On the Edge of Land and Sea, and First Breath: Gray Whales. While your family may not be interested in watching all of these films, I would recommend choosing at least one. They are full of educational information that will further enhance your visit.
3. Take a Hike & Learn about Native Plants
There is a beautiful two mile hike available inside the Monument grounds called the Bayside Trail. The trail provides a close view of San Diego Bay. There are a number of native plants like coastal sage scrub, prickly pear cactus, and lemonade berry. The Junior Ranger Program handout has information on identifying these plants.
4. Point Loma Lighthouse
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse first began operating in 1855 and continued to guide ships into San Diego Bay for 36 years. From sunrise to sunset dedicated keepers had to keep the light burning. While the lighthouse had many keepers, Robert Israel served the longest at 18 years. He lived in the lighthouse with his family. Today it is a small museum and a window into life in the 1800s. If your kids are participating in the Junior Ranger Program, they will search the rooms for clues about what life was like over 100 years ago. Don't miss the opportunity to climb the spiral staircase toward the top and imagine what it was like to keep it lit daily.
5. Tide Pools
The Tide Pool area at Cabrillo National Monument is considered to be one of the best preserved rocky inter-tidal areas in Southern California. Visitors have a chance to explore pools of water at low tide. Located just a short drive down the hill from the entrance to the monument you’ll find a small parking lot, bathrooms, a Visitor’s Center and a Ranger happy to help answer questions. You can inquire about low tide or check ahead of time by looking at online resources. The low tide must be at least 0.7 in order for the pools to be exposed. The film One the Edge of Land and Sea is an excellent educational recourse to view before visiting the tide pools.
Children’s Literature on the Age of Exploration
It's difficult to find books (especially children's books) on the life of Cabrillo since details about his life are few. The following are my favorite books for children on the Age of Exploration. They provide excellent insight into what life was like for explorers and what they encountered in the places they arrived.
Exploration and Conquest: The Americas After Columbus: 1500-1620
by Betsy Maestro (Author), Giulio Maestro (Illustrator)
The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World
by Marc Aronson (Author), John W. Glenn (Author)
Planning Your Visit
Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
9am – 5pm
$10 per car