Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center — Photo courtesy of Katie Dillon
Cabrillo National Monument, located at the southern tip of the Point Loma peninsula, marks the spot where explorer Juan Rodriguez Carbrillo became the first European to set foot on the west coast in 1542. Not only does this national park tell the story of 16th century exploration, it is also a peaceful area rich in nature and ecosystems. On any given day, you'll see photographers snapping panoramic shots of the ocean and downtown San Diego, fitness enthusiasts walking or biking and tons of families enjoying the outdoors. Though the park is smaller than other national parks, where to start exploring can be a tough decision. Let the kids decide through participation in the Junior Ranger program.
Ask for a free Cabrillo Journal newspaper at the Visitor Center. The back of the paper has a section with tasks for kids ages 3 and up to complete in order to become a Junior Ranger. Kids ages 7 and up have a different Junior Ranger activity book, also available at the Visitor Center. Bring the newspaper or activity book back to the Visitors Center after touring the park to discuss findings with a Park Ranger or volunteer. A Junior Ranger badge will be awarded! The only catch is that kids must earn the badge while actually at the park, but it's a great way to visit at a leisurely pace while keeping the kids engaged. Also, the Visitor Center is where National Park Passport books get stamped.
Some of the areas you might explore while en route to a Junior Ranger badge include the Visitor Center which has a small exhibit area, viewing area with binoculars, and a theater where guests can view short films. Just steps away from the main building is a panoramic photo opportunity next to the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
The statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo — Photo courtesy of Katie Dillon
A stroller-friendly path winds from the Visitor Center to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse where kids can see what life was like in the 1880s at this once-lonely outpost. During the winter whale migration (usually January and February), whales can be seen just south of the lighthouse at Whale Overlook. As babies and toddlers are too young to appreciate a Junior Ranger badge, they may enjoy a nice walk or hike in a carrier along the two-mile Bayside Trail instead, which also starts near the lighthouse.
The tide pool area, lauded the best in California, is a big draw for both residents and visitors. During winter, when low tides are more prevalent, a volunteer or Park Ranger will be onsite to answer questions and point out sea creatures which can include star fish, anemones, crab, octopi and more. Be mindful that the algae on the rocks can be slippery and refrain from touching the sea life. From the Visitor Center, you'll need to hop in the car to drive down to the tide pool area and then back up to receive the coveted Junior Ranger badge.
Cabrillo National Monument Tidepools — Photo courtesy of DrBjorn
If you'd like a scenic family photo, check the webcams online or call the park to find out what the weather and visibility conditions are like. It is usually slightly windier and cooler here than the rest of San Diego, so dress accordingly. Avoid missing sea life at the tide pools by calling in advance to see when low tide is. The entrance fee for passenger vehicles is just $5.00 and $3.00 for people walking or biking in. Though there's a small vending machine area, your best bet for a full meal is to pack a picnic lunch or dine out at a Point Loma restaurant.