Point Loma, San Diego: Is that a whale or submarine?

We just returned from a few days away. Five days and three National Parks might sound like too much territory to cover, but we made the most of the time we had available. If you’re interested in seeing GIANT trees, as I hope you will be, I’m organizing the photos now and look forward to sharing our most recent field trip.

First, however, it’s time to revisit Point Loma, San Diego. The top employer in San Diego is the United States Navy. With the largest naval fleet in the world, San Diego is home to US Navy facilities, Marine Corps bases and Coast Guard stations.

Point Loma is home to a very large naval base, with an active operations history going back to 18th century Spanish rule and including successive activity since before the Civil War through two World Wars.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Cabrillo National Monument and the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, averaging more than 1.2 million visitors annually, are actually embedded inside the Naval Base Point Loma (NBPL) which consolidates six installations, forming a highly technical hub of naval activity.

For those interested in military history or naval installations, Point Loma/San Diego is easily researched and quite interesting. But I found one story of particular interest.

We hiked a few simple trails in the area and noticed this sign.


Remnants of World War II era military defense fit prominently in the side of the bluffs and hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean.




A small museum provided additional information to explain how important this and other coastal naval fortifications were in the weeks and months following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fears were heightened to near panic with warnings that coastal California was vulnerable to the next attack.

There were reports of Japanese submarines off the coast of San Diego, and adding to this suspicion was underwater sonar detection picking up the sound of enemy submarines.

If not submarines, perhaps migrating Gray Whales?

Every winter Gray Whales migrate between Alaska and Siberia to their breeding grounds in Baja California and mainland Mexico. Coastal San Diego is considered a “whale highway.”

DSC_3813It’s easy to be amused at the misreporting and to chuckle at the potential embarrassment of mistaking a whale for an enemy submarine, but we know that the fear following Pearl Harbor was heightened with the very real potential of coastal vulnerability. This condition sadly lead to a Presidential evacuation order and round-up of 120,000 Japanese Americans to one of 10 internment camps in California, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas, with many more temporary holding centers.

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We originally set out to visit the Cabrillo National Monument mostly interested in the Spanish history. But do you, like me, give in to curiosity and wander a little further and ask what’s around the corner?

DSC_3803It was a pleasant surprise when we located the World War II bunkers and artillery sites. I really enjoyed learning a little more about the military defense posts in this area, and we wouldn’t have found them without wandering a bit.

If you want to come with me on one of my field trips, be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn, and you will.”

Vernon Linwood Howard


32 thoughts on “Point Loma, San Diego: Is that a whale or submarine?

    1. I’m eager to share about the trees, Colleen. I’m having a lot of trouble finding time to blog these days. I think it was easier before I retired. LOL! We don’t have the opportunity for long trips, but even on our short jaunts we pack in full days. In that regard, yes, we make the most of it. 🙂

      1. I have often contemplated the end of this blog. It is so time consuming and I do believe I would do more if I wasn’t blogging. But I do so love to write. So I do understand the time constraint. And I love hearing that retirement is full and active! My husband and friends and I have made a sport of filling our weekends with short jaunts. I think they often do it to humor me when I beg them to explore with me! 🙂

  1. Ah, yes, dear friend, I frequently give in to curiosity myself, wandering further and further afield. You have, in fact, aroused my curiosity through your adventure and have me wondering why I don’t know this and why, oh why, didn’t I ask my father more questions. He was in the navy and stationed in San Diego during the war. My mom took the train from Chicago to see him there. I think I’ll be on a photo expedition this weekend . . .
    . . . In the meantime, WOW! It was a frightening time for all, but, I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for Californians, and the entire west coast. How crafty of you and Jay to find the bunkers and other naval sites.
    A whale or a submarine? Shots have been fired for lesser sitings. 🙂
    You are the consummate adventurer, Debra. Whether on foot or through your computer and library, you are always peeking and poking around one more corner, giving us remarkable glimpses into histories we might not otherwise see. Thank you.

    1. How special it is to me to think of your father stationed in San Diego, Penny. Seeing the different “lookout” points, bunkers and artillery mounts was such a visible reminder of how important the navy was to providing security and assurance to my own family living on the coast. My parents were in their teens and during the war and I grew up hearing stories of how their life was altered during that time, and how fearful they were at certain times. It’s a lovely, warm feeling to think of you father being part of their security. I do know what you mean about asking why you didn’t ask more questions! I really do. We have a few family stories that are incomplete and we wonder why we didn’t have the same level of interest “then” that we do now! If you ever have the opportunity to get back out here we will definitely retrace this trip together, Penny. I’d love for you to see more of San Diego and the navy presence!

  2. I’ve been to San Diego a few times but didn’t see this. (I would live there if I could afford it!) WW2 was an interesting time in history. Too few people are left who actually lived it. As for opportunity, yes indeed! Sometimes an unexpected side trip is better than what was planned.

    1. I know what you mean about San Diego, Kate. It’s a fabulous city. I’d love to live there as well! My parents were in their teens during the war and I heard them tell many stories of how they practiced air raid drills and had blackout curtains at night. Perhaps that took place all across the country, but Pearl Harbor isn’t that far from the coast of California. It was so interesting to realize that the Cabrillo historical sites were actually on the Point Loma Naval Base. There was much more to see than I’d planned for. I was so glad we had the time to just keep going. 🙂

    1. San Diego is definitely worth the effort, Andrew. There are many different neighborhoods and I don’t think I could ever see it all. There are so many really interesting places to visit, but each of us only has so much time. That being said, I do hope you can visit at some point. I have no doubt but that you’d find much there to interest you, and besides the points of interest, it’s a beautiful place to vacation. The weather is perfect year-round!

      1. Building a golf course I designed, where we still are doing the finishing cosmetics. . I posted a few photos on my blog, have a look. Hopefully now I’ll have time to be back in circulation

  3. I’m loving the pictures! I feel like I’m walking alongside you in the sunny, sea-salt air of San Diego! Can’t wait to see the next blog post…I LOVE big trees!! 🙂

    1. San Diego really is a special city, isn’t it Stacey? I’m always thinking about how to get back down there. 🙂 We just returned from the Sequoias and as soon as I can get my photos organized I’ll be sharing. I’m so glad you stopped by, my friend.

  4. Thank you so much, my friend. I am so glad I could take you along. We’ll have to go to San Diego together sometime. There are several specific places I know we would enjoy. Just wear comfortable shoes. 🙂

  5. Fascinating! Something new to add to my travel destinations. Your post, though, made me wonder and reflect on our world — the beauty of it and the absolute horrors that man inflicts on one one another and the planet. I thought we were supposed to learn from history — and yet, so often, we never seem to. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I appreciate your comment and discomfort, Kevin. I presume that sometimes my comments about war-related exhibits and sites could be construed from a different perspective than my intentions. I often don’t know precisely how to express my so-called “fascination.” I am not fascinated with conflict of any kind, and certainly not war, but I am a student (of sorts) tremendously interested in what motivates conflict. Peddling fear propaganda isn’t new, and it is really incredible that it sells so well today…always has, and I suspect it always will. And on a much, much brighter note, I really believe you’d enjoy a San Diego vacation. There is just so much to enjoy about this city!

  6. Always appreciate your historical interludes. Interestingly, this post was all because of a small sign on a hillside because if you didn’t see it, we may have never known. Well done, Debra.

    1. Thank you, Frank. I do enjoy my own walking tours, and I’m so glad I could share this with you. Point Loma is a very beautiful spot in what is already a lovely city! 🙂

  7. Gorgeous pictures and interesting notes about the history of Point Loma. I lived in SD in the early 1970s and remember the beauty of the Pacific, the surfers, the whales, the sunsets, the sailboats, and all that goes with life by the ocean.

  8. I found your title intriguing.

    When I was a teenager, my Dad came home from work one day and told us that he’d seen a submarine go past – inland, up the river Mersey. He wasn’t joking. He said everyone stopped working to watch; they waved to the sailors uptop, who waved back. I have always loved the idea of hard working class men getting excited and waving like that 🙂

    And I have always wondered what the submarine was doing there; and where it was going.

    1. Our minds work similarly, I think, in that I hear these stories and just wonder what it was like to be in that time and place. I’m glad you enjoyed the submarine versus whale question. 🙂

  9. I was very happy that you went here, Debra. I have been more interested in military, cemeteries and history as I age. They have so much to learn from. . . I definitely hope to make it to California some day and will also hopefully see some of the upcoming posts with trees and natural wonders. 🙂

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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