Coastal Hikes Around San Diego

Bayside Trail
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Cabrillo National Monument, off Interstate 5 in San Diego
2 miles/1 hour - rolling terrain

While everybody else at Cabrillo National Monument is visiting the old Point Loma lighthouse, or having their picture taken by the statue of Seqor Cabrillo, or checking out the wonderful view of San Diego from the visitor center buildings, you can sneak off for a hike on the Bayside Trail and find a surprising amount of solitude.

To The Lighthouse

As luck would have it, your solitude comes with plenty of gorgeous coastal vistas, as well as an interesting lesson in native coastal vegetation. But first, start your trip with a couple of side trips: Take the paved trail from the main parking lot to the Point Loma lighthouse, where you can climb up the narrow stairway and peer inside the rooms at the period furniture. Children like to try to imagine what life was like for the lighthouse keeper and his family living in these tiny rooms in the late 1800s; modern adults find it almost impossible to imagine.

Point Loma lighthouse first lit its beacon in 1855, and it served as the southernmost Pacific Coast lighthouse in the United States until 1891. Its light could be seen 20 miles out to sea. Originally the beacon was fueled by whale oil, later it was fueled by lard oil, and in its last years it was fueled by kerosene. The lighthouse sat idle for 40 years, until it was restored in the 1930s as a part of the designated national monument.

After visiting the lighthouse, check out the great ocean views from the overlooks on its far side. We favored these coastal vistas over the vistas of the city of San Diego and its harbor, which you see from the visitor center. Because you are at 400 feet above sea level, with a wide, panoramic view, you are in an excellent spot for gray whale watching.

The Main Course

Having completed your side trips, get on with the main attraction. Pick up the paved road back on the east side of the lighthouse, signed as Bayside Trail. Take the left fork, which is gravel, and wind gently downhill around Point Loma. On every step of the trail, the whole of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean are yours to survey. You'll see huge Navy ships sailing out to sea, flocks of seagulls following the fishing boats back into harbor, sailboats, jet-skiers, and large offshore kelp beds.

Try to tear your eyes away from the coastal goings-on once in a while so you can read the interpretive signs. If you do, you'll learn about coastal sage scrub, including California sagebrush, black sage, chamise, cliff spurge, San Diego barrel cactus, and manzanita. All of these plants thrive in this seaside environment, despite the fact that Point Loma gets only about 10 inches of rain per year.

Because the 640 acres of Point Loma are protected as a national monument, the natural environment is much the same here as when Cabrillo came ashore in 1542. Park rangers remove nonnative plants such as ice plant and acacia.

Hiking in Winter

If you're hiking in winter, you may see local birds such as California quail, American kestrels, and morning doves. In spring, the migrating birds show up, including seven kinds of hummingbirds, warblers, bushtits, and wrentits. The birds like the bluffs along this trail for one of the same reasons that people do-they're protected from the wind. The headlands on the east side of Point Loma protect San Diego Bay from the fierce winds you probably experienced on the west side, by the lighthouse. In contrast, it's very still and peaceful on the bay side.

The trail ends directly below the statue of Cabrillo. The marble monument is about 300 feet above you on the bluffs; you can hear the voices of visitors having their pictures taken. A rather abrupt sign reads "Trail ends-Return by the same route." Darn. We had no interest in leaving.

Make it more challenging: Combine this hike with the following trip to Cabrillo Tidepools.

Trip notes: A small use fee is charged per vehicle, and lasts for seven days. A free map/brochure of Cabrillo National Monument is available at the entrance kiosk or visitor center. For more information, contact Cabrillo National Monument, 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, P.O. Box 6670, San Diego, CA 92106; (619) 557-5450.

Best season: Good year-round.

Directions: From Interstate 5 South (or Interstate 8 East or West) in San Diego, take the Rosecrans Street exit (Highway 209) and drive south. Staying on Highway 209, you will turn right on Caqon Street, then left on Catalina Boulevard. The road ends at Cabrillo National Monument. The Bayside Trail begins by the old lighthouse.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 25 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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