There’s no doubt that San Diego is a beautiful city. I might be biased since I grew up there, but I’m pretty sure a ton of people agree with me. There is so much to see and do; sandy beaches line just about all of the coast, new breweries and restaurants are popping up what seems like every day, and beautiful historic buildings are preserved to keep our mixed cultural appreciated by the generations to come.
San Diego is an easy drive from many places in Southern California, making it a great day trip or a stopover point on a longer road trip. Another way to incorporate a trip to San Diego is to check out flights leaving out of the international airport there. It’s smaller than LAX but still a major hub of air travel, so you might find a great deal and you’ll get to sneak in a little side trip.
When I found myself without plans on a Saturday so I decided to take a friend of mine to check out the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. A few of my friends have posted their trips on instagram recently, so I thought it was high time that I get myself down there to check it out. I’m happy that I did, but a little embarrassed that I didn’t know what was just on the other side of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery when I visited last year.
The Point Loma Lighthouse is part of the Cabrillo National Monument which lies on the peninsula across the San Diego Bay from San Diego proper (where the Gaslamp District and Convention Center are). Coming from anywhere north, you can take either the 5 or the 15 freeway, whichever is closest to you. You’ll first drive through the neighborhood of Point Loma, then past the National Cemetery. Be on the lookout for people crossing the street between the two sides of the cemetery. Each car costs $10 to enter the Cabrillo National Monument but it’s $5 for each person who walks or bikes in. If you visit on a beautiful Saturday in the summer like we did, there will probably be a ton of cars backed up waiting to pay. But even with all those cars it didn’t feel crowded.
Radio Room and Bunkers
During World War II, the west coast started gearing up for a potential attack by building bunkers down the coast to hold troops and big guns they could launch at enemy ships. I’ve seen these in Washington and at home in San Pedro, and the same is true at Point Loma. Luckily for us, the attack never came but the remnants of that fear still exist. If you park in the ‘oceanview’ parking lot you’re right below the Radio Room which has a small exhibit about the preparations for the imminent attack made at Point Loma, and above that you’ll find the entrance to one of the bunkers. The bunker is open on select Saturday afternoons for a few hours, so be sure to check it out if you are there during that time. If you miss it, you’ll still be rewarded with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean from the top of that hill.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Looking to your left you’ll see the Old Lighthouse standing alone. It’s no longer in use, which is why it’s called the Old Light – the new lighthouse is at the base of the hill you’re standing on and still being used today to navigate ships away from the jagged rocks and into San Diego Bay. The inside of the lighthouse is decorated as it would looked when it was in use in the 1800s. The life of the Lighthouse Keeper and his family was an isolated one, they worked around the clock to keep the light running and because they usually where they worked they didn’t have contact with many other people unless they came to visit. The house is separated down the middle by a spiral staircase. The bottom level of the house has a small sitting room on one side and a simple kitchen on the other. Two tiny bedrooms are on the second level and above that a narrow staircase leads up the tower where the light is. During your visit look out for some visitors from the past who might be hanging out around the lighthouse. We met a Civil War veteran playing the squeeze box and smoking a pipe who was kind enough to play a few songs for us.
Next to the lighthouse is a second building that houses a small museum. Inside you will find the magnificent 3rd order Fresnel lens that was used in the New Point Loma Light at the bottom of the hill until 2002 when it was removed by the Coast Guard to save it. The museum also features information about life as a lighthouse keeper with exhibits showcasing their clothing, hobbies, and habits of everyday life.
Tide Pools and Sea Cave
At the base of the cliff, below the Old Light is something completely different. The cliff has been worn away by years of rough seas leaving a smooth shelf that reveals tide pools during low tide. However, I’ll be honest – the reason I wanted to come down to Cabrillo was to hike to the sea cave just beyond the pools. After seeing it posted a few times on Pinterest I wanted to check it out myself. Past the tide pools parking lot is another lot labeled as ‘sea cave parking’ but once you get down there, you’ll find signs blocking off the path noting that the area is closed due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It wasn’t until after I got home that I discovered the blurb on the National Park Service website that says the sea cave has been off limits since the 1980s. Now, why they would still have signage indicating access to a sea cave posted 30 years later is anyone’s guess but obviously those people who have visited since then have been doing so illegally. It was a bummer for sure, but the rocky shelf that is accessible for tide pool is a beautiful place to
There are multiple signs that urge visitors to proceed with caution, and for good reason. The rocks are slippery and jagged, the water is rough and crashes into the rocks only to be pulled back out and thrown against the cliff again and again. One foul move and someone could easily be badly hurt if not worse. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit the tide pools and see a bunch of fun sea creatures, just do so carefully. Also to note: the tide pool area closes at 4:30, while the rest of the Monument closes at 5:00. Park Rangers don’t give much leeway after the closing time before they head down to make sure everyone leaves so make sure you give yourself plenty of time if you want to explore.
I’m very happy to be living in Los Angeles now, but there are times that I miss San Diego. It’s a beautiful city/county with so much diversity both in people and places. You’ve got miles and miles of beaches, mountains and mountain towns like Julian (where to get the best apple pies and see snow in winter) hands down the best Mexican food in the country, plus history, art, and music venues galore. It might not be my home any more, but it will always be my home town. You stay classy.