Cabrillo National Monument is located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California. It commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. This event marked the first time that a European expedition had set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States. The site was designated as California Historical Landmark #56 in 1932. As with all historical units of the National Park Service, Cabrillo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
The annual Cabrillo Festival Open House is held on a Sunday each October. It commemorates Cabrillo with a reenactment of his landing at Ballast Point, in San Diego Bay. Other events are held above at the National Monument and include Kumeyaay, Portuguese, and Mexican singing and dancing, booths with period and regional food, a historical reenactment of a 16th-century encampment, and children's activities. The park offers a view of San Diego's harbor and skyline, as well as Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island. On clear days, a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Tijuana, and Mexico's Coronado Islands are also visible. A visitor center screens a film about Cabrillo's voyage and has exhibits about the expedition.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is the highest point in the park and has been a San Diego icon since 1855. The lighthouse was closed in 1891, and a new one opened at a lower elevation, because fog and low clouds often obscured the light at its location 129 meters (422 feet) above sea level. The old lighthouse is now a museum, and visitors may enter it and view some of the living areas there. The area encompassed by the national monument includes various former military installations, such as coastal artillery batteries, built to protect the harbor of San Diego from enemy warships. Many of these installations can be seen while walking around the area. A former army building hosts an exhibit that tells the story of military history at Point Loma.
On October 14, 1913, by presidential proclamation, Woodrow Wilson reserved 0.5 acres (2,000 m2) of Fort Rosecrans for "The Order of Panama ... to construct a heroic statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo."By 1926 no statue had been placed and the Order of Panama was defunct, so Calvin Coolidge authorized the Native Sons of the Golden West to erect a suitable monument, but they were also unable to carry out the commission. A major renovation of the half-acre monument was undertaken in 1935; the deteriorating lighthouse was refurbished, a new road to the monument was built, and the Portuguese ambassador to the United States presented a bronze plaque, honoring Cabrillo as a "distinguished Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain" who made "the first Alta California landfall".
In 1939 the Portuguese government commissioned a heroic statue of Cabrillo and donated it to the United States. The sandstone statue, executed by sculptor Alvaro de Bree, is 14 feet (4.3 m) tall and weighs 14,000 pounds (6,400 kg). The statue was intended for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco but arrived too late and was stored in an Oakland, California garage. Then-State Senator Ed Fletcher managed to obtain the statue in 1940 over the objections of Bay Area officials and shipped it to San Diego. It was stored for several years on the grounds of the Naval Training Center San Diego, out of public view, and was finally installed at Cabrillo Monument in 1949. The sandstone statue suffered severe weathering because of its exposed position and was replaced in 1988 by a replica made of limestone.
Cabrillo Monument was off-limits to the public during World War II because the entire south end of the Point Loma Peninsula was reserved for military purposes. Following the war the area of the national monument was enlarged significantly by Presidents Eisenhower and Ford. It currently includes more than 140 acres (57 ha).
Point Loma lighthouses
Old Point Loma Lighthouse: In 1851, a year after California entered the Union, the U.S. Coastal Survey selected the heights of Point Loma for the location of a navigational aid. The crest seemed like the right location: it stood 422 feet above sea level, overlooking the bay and the ocean, and a lighthouse there could serve as both a harbor light and a coastal beacon. Construction began on the lighthouse in early 1854 and was completed in November 1855. By late summer 1854, the work was done. More than a year passed before the lighting apparatus - a five-foot-tall 3rd order Fresnel lens, the best available technology - arrived from France and was installed. At dusk on November 15, 1855, the keeper climbed the winding stairs and lit the oil lamp for the first time. In clear weather its light was visible at sea for 25 miles.
For the next 36 years, except on foggy nights, it welcomed sailors to San Diego harbor. However, the lighthouse's location on top of a 400-foot cliff meant that fog and low clouds often obscured the light from the view of ships. On March 23, 1891, the flame was permanently extinguished and the light was replaced by the New Point Loma lighthouse at a lower elevation. In 1984, the light was re-lit by the National Park Service for the first time in 93 years, in celebration of the site’s 130th birthday.
New Point Loma Lighthouse: After boarding up the old lighthouse in 1891, the keeper moved his family and belongings into a new light station at the bottom of the hill, which is still an active light. It can be seen from the Whale Overlook, 100 yards south of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, or from the tide pool area.
The Visitor Center offers a place to purchase souvenirs and learn about the park’s history. The center also allows visitors the chance to communicate with Park Rangers and volunteers. Visitors can learn the Day’s weather readings, the time of low tide, get a National Park Passport stamped, visit the “Age of Exploration” exhibit, and learn the times for ranger talks/guided tours and auditorium showings. The auditorium offers several showings a day, and features three different films including: “In Search of Cabrillo,” “On the Edge of Land and Sea,” and “First Breath: Gray Whales.” Cabrillo National Monument also hosts a "Junior Ranger" program in which children can earn a Junior Ranger badge by exploring the park and filling out an activity sheet. In 2013, Junior Ranger Day was held on April 27th.
There are many events throughout the year. Every year there are a few “Fee Free Weekends” where the park entrance fee is waived for all guests. Other annual events include “Whale Watch Weekend,” “Founder’s Day,” and “Open Tower Day.” “Whale Watch Weekend” occurs in January and features exhibitors and special ranger-led walks and talks as guests look for whales during the annual Pacific Gray Whales migration. “Founder’s Day,” August 25, celebrates the establishment of the National Park Service at Cabrillo National Monument; “Open Tower Day,” November 15, marks the anniversary of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. The tower at the top of the lighthouse, normally closed to visitors, is open to the public on those two days. The park also has one of the fully restored World War II bunkers open to the public on the fourth Saturday of each month.
A four-day commemoration of the park's centennial year had been planned for October 11-14, 2013, but it was cancelled due to the partial shutdown of United States government functions. The park has rescheduled the centennial event to coincide with the annual "Fort Rosecrans Goes to War," a tribute to San Diego and World War II, on December 7-8, 2013. Some of the other planned centennial events will take place in 2014.