The Bayside Trail, sweeping downward from the old lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, 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 gleaming downtown skyline. You’ll double your pleasure if you walk this trail on a crystal-clear day, fairly typical of the winter season in San Diego.
A parking fee is levied at the monument’s entrance — but you get in for less if you are arriving by foot or by bike. Once inside, you get to visit the museum and old lighthouse, check out some military bunkers, catch sight of migrating whales at the whale-watching overlook, and walk the Bayside Trail — collectively an essential experience for all San Diegans as well as a recommended activity for visitors.
From the main 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.
Hiking Point Loma’s Bayside Trail is a classic San Diego experience.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 10 miles
Hiking length: 2 miles round-trip