History of San Pedro's Cabrillo Beach
Named after the first European to sail up and down the coast of California, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Cabrillo Beach offers a recreational opportunity for swimmers, boaters, fishermen, and more.
Cabrillo Beach is part of the small coastal community of San Pedro, California. It sits at one end of the Palos Verdes Pennisula giving patrons both a protected harbor for boating and family swimming, and a surf beach for typical beach recreation.
People from all over Los Angeles enjoy the variety of possible activities at Cabrillo Beach every day.
Being built to protect what would eventually become the Los Angeles Harbor, the construction of the San Pedro breakwater began in 1899. Large rocks brought in from various locations, including Catalina Island, weighing up to 8 tons were used in its construction.
Angeles Gate Lighthouse was built in 1913 at the end of the newly constructed 1.6 mile long Breakwater and is the only lighthouse on the west coast with a green light. The lighthouse has survived many storms over the years, like the one shown in the picture to the right, and was restored in 2012.
After completion of the breakwater, sand was added creating Cabrillo Beach. Before which, the ocean water went all the way to the cliffs, as shown in the picture on the left. Cabrillo Beach opened to the public in 1928 and became a very popular place for beach bathers, boaters, and recreation.
The Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse and Boathouse opened in 1932. The boathouse served as a place to rent beach gear and boats, as well as a Headquarters for the Los Angeles City Lifeguard service.
The boathouse and pier were demolished in the 1970s due to the constant erosion of sand around the base of the pilings.
In 1943, a large military gun was built on the bluff near the entrance to Cabrillo Beach in defense of the Los Angeles Harbor during WWII. The remnants of which can be seen at what is now Angeles Gate Park.
Los Angeles City Lifeguards kept watch over the water activity at all the City's beaches and lakes, including Cabrillo Beach.
Lifeguard chief Myron Cox, shown on the left, who was a lifeguard for 42 years, supervised a handful of lifeguards, including Captain John M. Olguin, who is shown on the right.
Olguin also worked part time as the director of the Cabrillo Beach Museum, which subsequently became both the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and the Maritime Museum. Olguin was instrumental in the development and execution of the programs offered by the aquarium.
In the past, one of the tools L.A. City lifeguards would use to rescue a distressed swimmer was a dory, which is best described as a "surf rowboat." Today, lifeguards still use dorys, but only in competitions. In the picture to the right, the Cabrillo Beach lifeguards of 1952 pose with their dory near the boathouse pier.
The outer jetty was built in the 1960s to help reduce sand erosion on the outer beach. The sand was having to be replenished from winter surf on a fairly regular basis, at an expense to the City of Los Angeles.
Prior to the opening of the Boat-launch ramp on March 27th, 1980, boaters would launch and recover the boats from the sand, which caused many vehicles to get stuck. The boat launch ramp allowed for easy access to and from the water for many eager boaters, and is still in use today.
In addition to benches, newly planted trees, and the imported sand, pergolas were installed on the outer beach in the 1930s to give beach goers a place to hide from the summer sun, as shown in the picture to the left. One even contained a gas stove for cooking.
The new 1,200 foot Cabrillo Beach Pier was constructed in 1969 and originally included a bait shop and snack bar, as shown in the pictures to the left and right.
It was built to keep fishermen from venturing out on the treacherous breakwater. Prior to, fishermen would often get washed off into the surf.
Fishermen still illegally brave the breakwater today, continuing to cause dangerous rescues for the City Lifeguards. Here is both a Los Angeles Times news article from a mass breakwater rescue in 1996, and pictures of the Los Angeles City Lifeguards making a breakwater rescue in 2012. The pier originally contained a snack bar and bait shop until a renovation during the late 1990s, being replaced by a large covered seating area.
Due to the predictably strong winds that occur every day, Cabrillo Beach is nicknamed "Hurricane Gulch" by those who know it well. Because of this, Cabrillo Beach is a very popular destination for wind surfers, both beginning and advanced.
Cabrillo Beach still serves the public today through many different recreational activities, including but not limited to wind surfing, swimming, barbecuing, kite surfing, boating, jet-skiing, sailing, surfing, body boarding, hiking, fishing, and learning about aquatic life.
The Los Angeles City Open Water Lifeguards are responsible for safeguarding inner Cabrillo Beach and all of Los Angeles Outer Harbor.
Cabrillo Beach is located at 3720 Stephen M. White Drive San Pedro, CA 90731. The phone number to the Los Angeles City Lifeguard Headquarters at Cabrillo Beach is 310-548-2909.
Check out the current Cabrillo Beach Surf Report.