California Historical Landmark No. 56: Cabrillo Landing
This past weekend was the annual San Diego Cabrillo Festival, which celebrates the first landing of a European in Alta California, by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. Held at Ballast Point, where Cabrillo originally landed, the festival brings together different cultures of San Diego: Portuguese, Spanish, Mexican, and Native American. Since Ballast Point is currently the southern portion of Naval Base Point Loma, it is also one of the few times that the public is allowed to visit the site, which is home to four California Historical Landmark plaques, all relating to the history of Ballast Point and the surrounding area.
Here’s a video I made from the Cabrillo Festival, with the re-enactment of Cabrillo’s historic landing, as well as a performance by the Portuguese Philharmonic Band of San Diego, and some local place name information from Running Grunion.
California Historical Landmark No. 56
João Rodrigues Cabrilho was a Portuguese explorer who journeyed along the west coast of North America for Spain. Commanding three ships, he set out from Navidad, New Spain (Jalisco, Mexico) in June 1542 and headed northward. On September 28, 1542, he entered San Diego Bay, and landed at the area now known as Ballast Point, and named the bay for San Mateo. He continued northward, discovering Santa Catalina Island, San Pedro, Santa Monica, and went as far north to name Point Reyes (but missed San Francisco Bay). On the return trip, he was injured during a native attack on Catalina, and died in January 1543, and his expedition continued their return to Navidad. Records of the voyage were mostly lost until the seventeenth century.
In 1913, President Wilson designated a half-acres of Fort Rosecrans to be Cabrillo National Monument for the construction of a statue to honor Cabrillo, though the statue was not installed until 1939. The site of Cabrillo’s first landfall was designated as a California Historical Landmark on December 6, 1932 as Cabrillo Landing Site.
Over time, the National Monument was expanded to cover much of the southern tip of Point Loma, but Ballast Point, which had been home to successive military installations, remained in military hands, and is currently part of Naval Base Point Loma.
Seeking the mythical Strait of Anián (the Northwest Passage) for Spain, on September 28, 1542, Iberian navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo brought his three ships to Ballast Point, the first European landing on the coast of Alta California.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 56
First registered December 6, 1932. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Navy and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, September 26, 1992.
The plaque is located in a small grassy area with parking along the south edge of Ballast Point, at the south end of Fort Rosecrans Blvd, forming a semi-circle with three other California Historical Landmark markers. The Cabrillo Landing marker is the eastmost of the four markers. Located within Navy Base Point Loma, public access to the landmark may be limited. The Ballast Point area is open to the public during the annual Cabrillo Festival, which is held at the recreation area marked Smuggler’s Cove on the map.
View my album of the Cabrillo Landing marker and other Ballast Point landmarks, as well as my album of the 2013 Cabrillo Festival.
- California Historical Landmark No. 56 – Cabrillo Landing Site
Official Listing at California State Parks – Office of Historic Places
- San Diego Cabrillo Festival website. 2013 marked their fiftieth year of the festival.
- Cabrillo National Monument
National Park Service
- History of Navy Base Point Loma