San Diego

San Diego: The Plymouth Rock of the West

San Diego Bay was a defining feature of this region's past

San Diego's stunning skyline is seen from Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma.
San Diego's stunning skyline is seen from Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma. — Photo courtesy San Diego Tourism

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s voyage from Europe

San Deigo’s history dates back to September 28, 1542: Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo anchored his San Salvador ship at Point Loma. “It was the Plymouth Rock of the West when he landed at Point Loma,” said Robert Arends of Tourism San Diego. “This was the first ship with the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States.”

To celebrate its founding father, the Cabrillo National Monument was constructed at Point Loma. “The Cabrillo National Monument is one of the most visited national monuments in the country,” Arends said. The area around the 14-foot monument is a national park, with a small museum and beautiful views of the San Diego Bay.

“It’s an amazing view out there,” said Arends. “There’s an old Point Loma lighthouse, and there’s also a whale-watching overlook.” Whales can be seen from Point Loma less than a mile off the coast December through April. “It’s really clear visibility wise. You can see all the way down to Mexico,” he said. The Cabrillo Monument also features multilingual recorded information about Cabrillo and his ship. “They have a whole room dedicated to Cabrillo’s voyage,” Arends said.

San Diego’s San Salvador replica

Cabrillo’s ship has been of interest to San Diego in recent years as well. Point Loma is reasonably close to downtown and the continuation of the San Diego Bay experience. Downtown, visitors will find the San Salvador replica at the Maritime Museum. This ship took the museum five years to construct before it was ready for its maiden voyage in September of 2016. The public was able to buy tickets to sail on the ship for a portion of its journey.

“It just took its maiden voyage up the California coast because it’s sort of like San Diego’s ambassador,” said Arends, comparing the San Salvador to the Mayflower in the East. “One of its missions is to provide education about the founding of California and how San Diego was one of the first cities founded in the state.” Now, the replica ship rests at the Maritime Museum alongside a collection of other ships at the docks. “There’s a couple of submarines: the Star of the India, which is the oldest operating ship in the entire world; and the ship from The Master and Commander—the movie.”

The Maritime Museum is a popular site for locals and visitors. All of the ships are open for the public to board. Inside are exhibits, multilingual messages and historic timelines. Some ships embark on scheduled voyages around the San Diego Bay, each focusing on a different portion of the city’s history through educational presentations. Guided tours of the docked exhibits are also available.

The San Salvador had its debut at the Festival of Sail in September 2016.
The San Salvador had its debut at the Festival of Sail in September 2016. — Photo courtesy San Diego Tourism

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

For travellers who want to learn more about San Diego’s history after visiting both the Cabrillo Monument and the Maritime Museum, there is still Old Town State Historic Park. Old Town moves forward through history, a couple hundred years past Cabrillo and his San Salvador.

The preserved and reconstructed site was the original downtown San Diego. “Old Town is a recreation of San Diego in the 1800s when it was under Mexican rule, so it has a great south-of-the-border vibe to it,” said Arends. “There’s great Mexican restaurants, museums, Old Town Square. It shows what San Diego looked like to these old town settlers.”

San Diego Bay 45th Annual Parade of Light

December 11 and 18 of 2016, the public is invited down to the bayside for the 45th Annual Parade of Light, beginning at 5 p.m. “Thousands of people come,” said Arends. “They go to Harbour Island and Shelter Island. Harbour Island and Shelter Island jut out into the bay, and the parade goes right beside the islands.” The Embarcadero at the Maritime Museum is one of the best vantage points available, as the ships sail through the bay.

The Parade of Light features personal watercraft in the San Diego Bay. This year’s theme centres around the famous San Deigo Zoo as it celebrates 200 years. The parade is free. “We always tell people to come down early to get a good space,” said Arends.

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