Have you ever visited the Cabrillo National Monument on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego? It commemorates the navigator and explorer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to set foot on what we now call California. He landed in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542 and had been exploring the West Coast of North America on behalf of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish are also responsible for why the Port of San Diego has dedicated a park along the water called “Spanish Landing Park.” The site commemorates the meeting of two Spanish explorers in 1769.
In 1539, Cabrillo was commissioned by the New Viceroy of New Spain to lead an expedition up the Pacific Coast in search for trade routes and possibly a way to China. In 1540, his fleet sailed out of El Salvador to Mexico where part of the fleet was sent off to the Philippine Islands while the rest continued north under Cabrillo’s command. At about the end of August 1542, Cabrillo and his fleet passed Baja Point in Mexico and traveled into what was at the time “uncharted waters”. They were now navigating where no Spanish ships had ever been before. On September 28th, he landed in San Diego Bay originally naming San Diego “San Miguel.”