Should you ever find yourself in San Diego, you have just got to find a couple of hours to visit the Cabrillo National Monument and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
The only words that can describe the views from this vantage point are "absolutely spectacular", and believe me, pictures could never portray the stunning beauty you will literally be surrounded by.
The park is at the southern end of California 209. If you're coming from the north on I-5, take the Rosecrans exit (which is just south of the Tourist Information Center at the Mission Bay exit) and follow either the California 209 (South) signs or the Cabrillo Nat'l Monument signs. If you're coming from Downtown San Diego, take Harbor Drive (which passes right by the airport) to Rosecrans, turn left, and then follow the signs.
Before you get to the park you'll pass the guardhouse that marks the entrance to Fort Rosecrans. As you continue you'll pass the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is on each side of the road.
It's definitely worth doing a little driving through these beautifully-manicured grounds. You'll not only get great views of the Pacific Ocean from the one side, but of the San Diego harbor from the other. Plus, you'll have time to experience the solemn sobriety of respect for those interred here.
It costs $2.00 per person to walk (or bike) into the park, but $5.00 gets a vehicle and its occupants in, so this is a better deal. Also, hang on to your receipt because it's good for 7 days, which allows you to re-visit for free as often as you like within that timeframe.
There is ample parking at the Visitor Center, which has a large selection of books and other items of interest. There are different audio-visual programs shown in the theater, every hour on the hour, that run about 20-25 minutes and are worth watching. We saw "Whales", and a short documentary about Cabrillo's voyage of discovery up the coast.
The views from the Visitor Center are wonderful. From there you can see the entire harbor, including the North Island Naval Air Station (the birthplace of naval aviation), San Diego, Coronado, and out to the open sea.
There is also a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, discoverer of San Diego harbor back in 1542. Although much is unknown about Cabrillo (including his place of birth, or even where he's buried), it IS known that he was the first European to set foot on what is now the west coast of the United States.
Next step - up to the lighthouse. It's a moderately strenuous climb but it's not that far, so just take your time and enjoy the scenery along the way. For visitors with disabilities, a pass is available at the Visitor Center that allows you to drive to the lighthouse. Otherwise, it's "shank's mare" only.
You'll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the entire region. Lighthouse lovers like myself can go inside and view the different rooms occupied by lighthouse-keeper Robert Israel and his family back in the 1880's. The tower itself is closed to the public, so unfortunately you can't get the bird's-eye view from up there.
There is also a whale overlook just a short walk from the lighthouse. From December to March you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of migrating Pacific Gray whales (we weren't so lucky).
And if, after doing all this, you still want a little more adventure, visit the tidepools. The road to the tidepools is on the Pacific Ocean side of the road just outside the entrance to the park. As such, it's free to go there.
Drive down to the parking lot at the bottom (pedestrians are strongly discouraged, and it's a loooong, steeeep hill) and walk the short path to the ocean. Before you get to the parking lot you'll pass the active Coast Guard Point Loma Lighthouse Station.
At low tide you'll find tidepools that often contain trapped denizens of the sea, including sea anemones, starfish, sea hares (to me they looked like large snails, not at all like bunny rabbits) and octopuses (or is that octopi?).
Federal law prohibits collecting marine animals, shells, or even rocks, so look all you want, but don't take anything! And watch your step - there are some potentially hazardous cliffs, and the rocks are slippery (I, and my sore bottom, can unfortunately attest to this).
All of this can actually be done in just a couple of hours, depending on how long you want to stay in one particular place. It's definitely worth the time.
During just a 5-day visit to San Diego, my wife and I found ourselves at this park 3 times. But don't mind us -- we're just crazy about history, lighthouses, and natural beauty. Here's a place where you can find all three.