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Trip of the Week

San Diego Festival Celebrates Cabrillo's Landing

September 21, 1986|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms of Laguna Beach are authors of "Away for the Weekend," a travel guide to Southern California.

There wasn't much ceremony when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped ashore at San Diego on Sept. 28, 1542. Only a few Indians were watching as the Portuguese-born explorer became the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast.

Cabrillo returns during the annual re-enactment of his landing. Colorfully dressed as a Spanish conquistador and accompanied by three soldiers, he'll be rowed to Shelter Island from a sailing ship in San Diego Bay.

It's a highlight of the two-day festival that celebrates Cabrillo's arrival in California 444 years ago. Other events take place on Point Loma, the most southwesterly peninsula of the U.S. mainland and site of the Cabrillo National Monument.

Historic Lighthouse

Crowned by the state's oldest lighthouse, the 144-acre park presents sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego. It's well worth a visit anytime, but especially next weekend, Sept. 27-28, when California's early cultures--native American, Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican--are on display during the Cabrillo Festival.

Saturday afternoon on Shelter Island, cultural groups will dance in costume, flags will be presented in an impressive ceremony, a military band will perform and the famed explorer will come ashore to claim the land for the King of Spain. The two-hour affair begins at 1 p.m.

Get to the landing site from Los Angeles by driving south on Interstate 5 to San Diego. Take the Rosecrans Street/California 209 exit south about three miles and turn left on Shelter Island Drive. Arrive early to follow signs and the crowd across the causeway to where the bay-side ceremonies take place.

On Sunday, continue south on California 209 (via Rosecrans Street, Canon Street and Catalina Boulevard) to land's end where all-day festivities begin at 9 a.m. at Cabrillo National Monument.

A View of the Bay

Among the events will be a wreath ceremony at Cabrillo's statue that overlooks the bay, speeches by foreign dignitaries accompanied by flag presentations and national anthems, and more music and dancing by cultural groups. Indian, Portuguese, Spanish and Mexican food will be sold at booths.

Also say hello to Cabrillo who will be roaming the grounds, but don't be surprised when he replies in Portuguese.

Tour the exhibit room at the visitor center that chronicles Pacific Coast exploration and features a model of Cabrillo's small ship. The San Salvador was one of two caravels he sailed into uncharted waters more than four centuries ago.

After entering the harbor at San Diego, which he named San Miguel, Cabrillo led his oceangoing expedition up the coast past Bodega Bay. After he suffered a broken leg and it became infected, the ships turned back toward Mexico. Cabrillo died en route and is believed to be buried on one of the Channel Islands.

His Life in Film

During the day a film depicting Cabrillo's life is shown at the visitor center. It alternates on the hour with other films about whales, tide pools and the national parks. (No films will be run next Sunday as the theater will be in use as a festival dressing room.)

While you're in the visitor center, look at the man-made tide pool with specimens found at the ocean's edge on the western side of Point Loma. Near the entrance to the monument, Cabrillo Road goes down the hillside to real tide pools you can explore; ask a park ranger about times of the lowest tides. Wear rubber-soled shoes and beware of slippery rocks.

Besides an excellent selection of marine life, historical and other books for sale, the visitor center features a beacon lens and exhibits about the lighthouses at Point Loma. A path leads to the West Coast's first navigational light station, now restored as a historic landmark.

Standing 422 feet above the ocean, Old Point Loma Lighthouse began operating in 1855 after a five-foot Fresnel lens arrived from France to magnify the light from an oil lamp. Its beam could be seen for 25 miles but often was obscured by fog.

In 1891 a new Point Loma Lighthouse was built closer to ocean level and continues to serve as a sentinel for sailors arriving at San Diego. That Coast Guard beacon is closed to visitors but you're welcome at the older hilltop lighthouse. It's furnished with century-old artifacts of the lightkeeper families.

For some exercise and a look at native vegetation that was known in early Indian times, follow the mile-long Bayside Trail that leads down the eastern side of the peninsula. You'll also see remains of a coastal artillery system set up to defend San Diego harbor during World Wars I and II.

Busy Sea Lanes

The bay still bustles with ships and aircraft of our Pacific fleet, and illustrated signs outside the visitor center help you identify Navy vessels and planes. Take binoculars for close views of the constant sea and air traffic.

A short loop trail beyond the old lighthouse leads to an ocean overlook that's an especially popular viewpoint in winter. That's when hundreds of California gray whales pass on their annual migration from the Bering Sea to Baja.

Cabrillo National Monument is open until 5:15 p.m. but closing hour is extended to 6 p.m. next Sunday for the festival. Access to the park is through a military reservation, and its gates close at dusk.

There are no restaurants or accommodations at the end of Point Loma. The most scenic places nearby to dine or spend the night are on Shelter and Harbor islands in San Diego Bay.

Try Humphrey's Half Moon Inn (opposite the site of Cabrillo's landing during the festival), Shelter Island Marina Inn, Sheraton Harbor Island or its neighboring hotel that's been renovated and recently renamed the Sheraton Grand on Harbor Island. Both Sheratons are offering a special room rate of $79 through December; phone (619) 291-2900 for required reservations.

Round trip from Los Angeles for a celebration with Cabrillo in San Diego is 245 miles.

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