Cabrillo National Monument is located at the tip of Point Loma where the Pacific Ocean meets San Diego Bay. It is best known as the point where the Spanish first landed in California in 1542. However, when visiting the monument, the Point Loma Tide Pools are a must-see.
Beach Type: Rough, rocky area with tide pools
Access: Entry is from Cabrillo National Monument
Parking: $15 per vehicle entry fee, two parking areas by tidepools
Good For: tide pools, scenery
Not Good For: Surfing, swimming, family day at the beach, sunbathing
It costs $15 per vehicle to enter the Cabrillo National Monument. However, entry is included with an annual National Park Pass. This pass costs $80. People over the age of 62 can get a lifetime pass for $80. U.S. Military and families with a 4th grade student get a free pass.
The Point Loma Tide Pools are at the bottom of the park, below the monument and lighthouse. You need to drive a car down because there are no trails and walking is prohibited. At the bottom you come to a small parking lot. There is no sign, but if this lot is full you can drive less than half a mile down the road to more parking areas.
The first parking lot has a small visitor center in a trailer. There is often a ranger on hand to answer questions. Sometimes they will have specific activities and tours. Of course, as mentioned when it is busy you probably want to drive down the road a way to the other parking areas.
There is a trail that connects the two parking areas and it is well worth taking it to see all the tide pools. The round trip is only about a mile, so it isn’t really a hike. However, there are some stairs and rocky areas, so it is not fully accessible. The trail is often referred to as Coastal Trail (note we have seen some websites mistakenly describe this as a hike down the hill to the coast).
Like most tide pools, Point Loma Tide Pools are best done at lower tides, either 2 hours before or 2 hours after. We use this website to check on tide times. Note that the Point Loma Tide Pools close at 4:30. One issue is that in the summer months, many times you do not get low tide during the heart of the day when the pools are open.
Luckily, Cabrillo National Monument is a great place to visit any time of year. In fact, winter months are our favorite because the air is often clearer and the views are better. In addition, the winter months are generally when you get negative low tides during the day.
Visiting the Point Loma Tide Pools involves climbing over a lot of rock. With the water and algae, the rocks can be as slippery as ice. Unless you have shoes with a really solid grip you will probably want to go barefoot. Of course, children need to be closely supervised.
Like any tide pool area, you are encouraged to look but not touch. If you do touch the general rule is only touch as soft as you would your own eyeball. Collecting any item, including rocks and shells is prohibited. You are not permitted to bring any collecting items, including buckets and cups.
Note there is still some mention online of the Secret Sea Caves at Cabrillo National Monument. This area is now closed off. That includes entering by any means, including by boat or kayak.
Of course, the major tide pool action is primarily at low tide. However, the Point Loma Tide Pools area is still worth a stop during higher tides. While you may not be able to go out into the tide pools you can still walk along the Coastal Trail. There is also plenty of areas where you can climb out on rocks to get great views.