Out and About with Kids: Cabrillo National Monument
San Diego is called "America's Finest City" for a reason! I've lived here for about 17 years, and I love it more and more as time goes on. I think that San Diego is an especially amazing place to raise a family because all of the fun outdoor activities are available year round, thanks to our spectacular weather. Today I am starting this "Out and About" series to share some places we love to attend together as a family. My hope is that if you're looking for a fun, new place to take your kids, or if you're at home and the kids are driving you nuts and you need something different to do with them, that you can come here to the blog and find an activity that provides you with an opportunity to experience something with your kids that you might not have thought of otherwise.
I had one of those days last Monday. I had spent the majority of the day cleaning my house, and I knew the kids were just going to come home and in a short time it would look like a tornado hit. Also, I felt like we had been repeating the same everyday grind for a long time, and I wanted to do something to shake it up a little. It was National Park Week last week, so I decided to head over to Point Loma and visit Cabrillo National Monument.
When we went to Joshua Tree National Park last month (check that blog post out here) the kids LOVED participating in the Junior Ranger Program, and I recently found out that Cabrillo also has a Junior Ranger Program! But I'm getting ahead of myself- let me share one part of getting to Cabrillo that I love. There is only one way in and one way out of Cabrillo National Monument, and that road goes right past Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. As you drive along, you will see hundreds and hundreds of headstones that line the hills on both sides of the road. This is a beautiful opportunity to teach your children about the sacrifices that other people make so we can live freely in this country. The experience is a little overwhelming if you aren't prepared for it, so I thought I would throw this in as a precursor. The cemetery is open to the public, so if you feel so inclined to stop and get out of the car, please do so! My husband's grandparents are buried here, so we usually do stop and pay our respects.
Ok, so Cabrillo National Monument has more to explore than you might think. I would say that you could spend anywhere from 1-4 hours here with kids. There's a visitor's center, several different museums, a small theater, lighthouse, whale watching outlook, a few vista points, tide pools, and hiking trails. I'll do a post about the tide pools another time because you have to drive down the hill to get there, but today let's start at the visitor's center.
If your kids will be doing the Junior Ranger Program, you'll go to the visitor's center to pick up the papers. The visitor's center doubles as the gift shop, so I stayed in there as little as possible because I knew the longer I stayed the better the chances for my kids to a) break something or b) ask me to buy them something. After picking up the papers we needed, we high tailed it right over to the closest museum, which was all about navigation, exploration, and Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. My two oldest had a section to fill out with questions about this museum and information found in it, and it took about 15 minutes for them to do that.
After that we headed to the patio around the visitor's center that had certain informational plaques around in that talked about different things you see as you look out, like Coronado, downtown San Diego, and military ships. Of course, all of my kids wanted to play with the binoculars at the same time, so we got pretty distracted by those for a bit and I had to redirect their attention to the questions they needed to answer to get their badge. (That badge is HUGE motivation!)
At this point, an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying we had 30 minutes before they were closing, and we hadn't even been to the lighthouse yet, ahhhh! It's an uphill walk to get there, so we made it up there as quickly as we could (me bringing up the rear with Gabe in the stroller because my older kids will run instead of walk in any situation). The lighthouse is pretty small, and the stairs inside are extremely steep. I opted to stay outside with Gabe so I didn't have to carry him all the way up those stairs, but I'm including some photos I took a couple years ago from inside the lighthouse and the adjacent building that explains how the lighthouse works and what life was like for the people that lived there when it was functioning.
We didn't make it up to the whale overlook area this time, but if you are visiting from out of town I highly recommend that you head up there. My kids love climbing on the whale statue! There is a life sized whale mosaic on the walkway that is a great way to put the size of a whale into perspective, and if you're lucky you'll even get to see one in the ocean. Peak time to see the gray whales is mid-December through March. I've never actually seen one spouting or anything because I'm usually too busy making sure my kids aren't trying to roll down the side of the hill or try anything else crazy, but I've heard a lot of people who have seen whales from this overlook.
If you want more information about Cabrillo National Monument, the official website can be found here. There is a $20 entrance fee per vehicle that is good for 7 days, or an annual pass costs $35. That's a steal for any of you San Diego residents that will go more than once! We go up just for picnics sometimes, or to play at the tide pools for a bit, or to hike around on the bluffs by the water. It's a truly gorgeous place with expansive views of all of San Diego. If your kids decide to do the Junior Ranger Program, the badges they get are these super cute wooden pins that look handmade. My kids wear theirs proudly!
Lastly, a few tips- 1. Bring a jacket. It's always very windy! Even if it's a warm day, the winds up there make it considerably cooler than the rest of San Diego. 2. The cell service is spotty, at best. When I go to the tide pools my phone sends me a text message welcoming me to Mexico, and the international charges that go along with it. If you're meeting up with someone don't count on being able to contact them after you pass the guard station. 3. Be prepared for a lot of walking. Bring a stroller if you have little ones that tire easily. The way to the lighthouse and the whale watching is all uphill.
If you've been to Cabrillo, I'd love to hear what your favorite part was. If you have been wanting to try out some other places around San Diego but aren't sure if you want to take the kids along, comment below and I'll add it to my list of places to write about for the future.