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The Bayside Trail, sweeping downward from the old lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument, offers an incomparable view of the city of San Diego and its watery environs. Amid the sweet,pungent sage scrub and chaparral vegetation, you get an eyeful of San Diego Bay, the Silver Strand, and the flashy downtown skyline. You'll double your pleasure if you walk this trail on a crystal-clear day, typical of the period starting right now and continuing through March.

Free admission is a thing of the past at Cabrillo. A parking fee is levied at the monument's entrance, and a smaller fee is required of those entering by foot or bike.

From the parking lot, climb first to the old lighthouse, then start descending on the signed Bayside Trail, which follows a quarter-mile of pavement to begin with. The remaining three-quarter mile of trail, coated with gravel, descends gradually east and finally north, losing some 300 feet of elevation. Large metal interpretive plaques have been installed along this part of the trail, detailing the cultural and natural history of the area.

Point Loma's bay slope is honeycombed with the ruins of a World War II defense system of mortars, observation bunkers, generators, and searchlights. You will see some of these remains along the trail. At the point where the trail ends (or rather runs into off-limits Navy property), you'll still be about 90 feet above the water surface. This is a good place to observe the sailboats and ships maneuvering in and out of the bay's narrow entrance. There are also aerial acrobatics to watch, courtesy of gulls, terns, and pelicans -- plus aircraft taking off and landing at the North Island Naval Air Station across the bay.

Return to the lighthouse the same way you came, uphill all the way. Tempting as they may be, don't take shortcuts -- the vegetation is easily trampled and the soil eroded by one footprint too many. Besides, off-trail exploration is strictly forbidden within the national monument.

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