Located at the tip of Point Loma Peninsula, San Diego, the Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s arrival in San Diego in 1542. In this article, we look at Cabrillo’s life and accomplishments, the arrival of his fleet in San Diego Bay, and the history and attractions of the Point Loma Peninsula.
About Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Cabrillo’s actual nationality remains a topic of debate to this day. He was from the Iberian Peninsula, which lies at the European continent’s southwest corner and straddles both Spain and Portugal as well as a small part of France. As a young man, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed to Panama. He moved on to Mexico, which was then under Spanish rule, joining forces with Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés.
Later, Cabrillo turned his hand to goldmining in Guatemala, establishing a reputation as one of the richest conquistadores. Cabrillo started a family with an indigenous woman, with whom he had at least three daughters. Later, in Spain, he married Beatriz Sanchez de Ortega, and the couple had two sons together.
Cabrillo profited from the Spanish labor system known as encomienda, which involved the capture and enslavement of many Native Americans. Records show that, in Honduras, Cabrillo was responsible for breaking up many Amerindian families. He sent the men to harvest materials from the forests or to work in the goldmines and gave the women to his sailors and soldiers as slaves.
In 1539, Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain, ordered Cabrillo to lead an expedition up the Pacific coast. It was hoped he would discover new trading opportunities and possibly a route to China via the mythical Strait of Anián. Cabrillo’s fleet set sail from Acajutla, El Salvador, in 1540 and reached Navidad, Mexico on Christmas Day.
On June 27, 1542, Cabrillo set sail from Navidad, commanding a three-ship fleet led by the 200-ton flagship, the San Salvador. After anchoring briefly within sight of Cedros Island, Cabrillo landed in the region we now recognize as San Diego Bay, calling it San Miguel.
About Cabrillo National Monument
On October 14, 1913, Woodrow Wilson set aside 0.5 acres of land in Fort Rosecrans for the construction of a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. However, it took some time for the commemoration to be completed. Following redevelopment in 1935, the Portuguese ambassador unveiled a plaque at the site honoring Cabrillo as the “distinguished Portuguese navigator” who, in the service of Spain, discovered Alta California.
A statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was subsequently commissioned by the Portuguese government. Made from sandstone by the celebrated sculptor Alvaro de Bree, it stood 14 feet tall and weighed 14,000 pounds. The statue was subsequently procured by State Senator Ed Fletcher in 1940 and shipped to San Diego, where it was finally installed in 1949.
Unfortunately, since the original statue was made from sandstone, it weathered and deteriorated quickly due to its exposed position. San Diego officials replaced it in 1988 with a limestone replica.
About Point Loma Peninsula
Situated within the city of San Diego, California, Point Loma is a relatively hilly area bordered by San Diego Bay to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The region is considered historically significant, since it is here that the first European expedition reached the shores of California.
Indeed, Point Loma Peninsula is often described as the place “where California began.” In addition to being the site of Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma contains a national cemetery, a university, and two major military bases as well as commercial and residential areas.
In Spanish, the word loma means hill. La Punta de la Loma de San Diego, the original name before it was anglicized, means Hill Point of San Diego. Since Point Loma historically lacked access to fresh water, indigenous tribes did not establish permanent settlements in the area, although the ancient Kumeyaay people regularly visited Ocean Beach in search of abalone, mussels, clams, and lobsters.
Historians suggest that Juan Cabrillo docked his flagship off Point Loma’s eastern shore near Ballast Point. He described it as a “very good port.” Despite this, it took another 200 years for Europeans to settle permanently in the region, when the Mission San Diego was established in the river valley.
Today, Point Loma is popular with tourists, offering a range of different marine activities, including deep-sea fishing and sailing. Point Loma is home to three yacht clubs, including the former home of the America’s Cup, the famous San Diego Yacht Club.
Rich in wildlife, Point Loma Peninsula features an ecological reserve. There, ground squirrels, raccoons, possums, rabbits, bats, skunks, gray foxes, and coyotes are occasionally spotted. The Sunset Cliffs are famous for dinosaur fossils dating back more than 75 million years to the Late Cretaceous period.