April 8, 2013 by Deborah W. Trotter
With water on three sides, the views alone make a visit to Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California, worth the trip. On the most southwesterly land in the continental United States, the Monument covers much of the tip of Point Loma, whose beaches are lapped by the waves of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Named for explorer Juan Cabrillo, believed to be the first non-native to set foot on shore (in 1542) in what became San Diego, the Monument embraces birds and wildlife and more than 300 species of plants. Its oceanside location also protects tide pools and their denizens and provides an ideal place to spot gray whales offshore during their annual, 12,000-mile roundtrip migration between the Arctic and Baja California. (Best viewing is in January and February.)
But…let’s be real here. There are also TWO LIGHTHOUSES on Point Loma! (For those of you who haven’t read my earlier posts, I will repeat my confession: I love lighthouses!)Built on top of the headland, Old Point Loma Lighthouse sits 422 feet above sea level. After its third order Fresnel lens arrived from France and was installed, keeper James P. Keating first lit the light on November 15, 1855. It could be seen by sailors in San Diego Bay and by mariners as far as 39 miles out at sea.
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that its location at the crest of Point Loma’s headland was not ideal. Too often, thick fog and low clouds obscured its light and made it ineffective as a navigational aid. Thirty-six years after it was first lit, Old Point Loma was boarded up in 1891, and keeper Robert Israel moved his family to a new light station lower down, near the tip of the point.
While the “new” Point Loma Lighthouse is not open to the public, fortunately for us lighthouse lovers, the National Park Service restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse with period furnishings and artifacts. Visitors may enter the structure and retreat to the 19th century for a time, imagining the life of a West Coast lighthouse keeper more than 100 years ago.