Point Loma is a seaside community within the city of San Diego, California. Geographically it is a hilly peninsula that is bordered on the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, the east by the San Diego Bay and Old Town and the north by the San Diego River. Together with the Silver Strand / Coronado peninsula, the Point Loma peninsula defines San Diego Bay and separates it from the Pacific Ocean. The term “Point Loma” is used to describe both the neighborhood and the peninsula.
Point Loma has an estimated population of 47,981 (including Ocean Beach), according to the 2010 Census. The Peninsula Planning Area, which includes most of Point Loma, comprises approximately 4,400 acres.
Point Loma is historically important as the landing place of the first European expedition to come ashore in present-day California. The peninsula has been described as “where California began”. Today, Point Loma houses two major military bases, a national cemetery, a national monument, and a university, in addition to residential and commercial areas.
Loma is the Spanish word for hill. The original name of the peninsula was La Punta de la Loma de San Diego, translated as Hill Point of San Diego. This was later anglicized to Point Loma.
There were no permanent indigenous settlements on Point Loma because of a lack of fresh water. Kumeyaay people did visit Ocean Beach periodically to harvest mussels, clams, abalone and lobsters.
Point Loma was discovered by Europeans on September 28, 1542 when Portuguese navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (João Rodrigues Cabrilho in Portuguese) departed from Mexico and led an expedition for the Spanish crown to explore the west coast of what is now the United States. Cabrillo described San Diego Bay as “a very good enclosed port.” Historians believe he docked his flagship on Point Loma’s east shore, probably at Ballast Point. This was the first landing by a European in present-day California, so that Point Loma has been described as “where California began”.
More than 200 years were to pass before a permanent European settlement was established in San Diego in 1769. Mission San Diegoitself was in the San Diego River valley, but its port was a bayside beach in Point Loma called La Playa (Spanish for beach). The historic La Playa Trail, the oldest European trail on the West Coast,led from the Mission and Presidio to La Playa, where ships anchored and unloaded their cargoes via small boats. Part of the route became present-day Rosecrans Street.In his book Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. describes how sailors in the 1830s camped on the beach at La Playa, accumulated cattle hides for export, and hunted for wood and jackrabbits in the hills of Point Loma.The beach at La Playa continued to serve as San Diego’s “port” until the establishment of New Town (current downtown) in the 1870s.
Ballast Point got its name from the practice of ships discarding their ballast there on arriving in San Diego Bay and taking on ballast as they left for the open ocean. Fort Guijarros was constructed at Ballast Point in 1797.Ballast Point and La Playa are now on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma.
The longtime association of San Diego with the U. S. military began in Point Loma. The southern portion of the Point Loma peninsula was set aside for military purposes as early as 1852. Over the next several decades the Army set up a series of coastal artillery batteries and named the area Fort Rosecrans.Significant U.S. Navy presence in San Diego began in 1901 with the establishment of the Navy Coaling Station in Point Loma.The Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego was commissioned in 1921 and theSan Diego Naval Training Center in 1923, both in Point Loma; the Naval Training Center was closed in 1997. During World War II the entire southern portion of the peninsula was closed to civilians and used for military purposes, including a battery ofcoast artillery. Following the war the area retained multiple Navy commands, including a submarine base and a Naval Electronics Laboratory; they were eventually consolidated into Naval Base Point Loma. Other portions of Fort Rosecrans became Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and Cabrillo National Monument.
The Greek theatre theTheosophists built in 1901.
Following the death in 1891 of Helena Blavatsky its founder, Katherine Tingley moved the headquarters of the Theosophical Societyto “Lomaland”, a hilltop campus in Point Loma overlooking the ocean.The facility with its unusual architecture and even more unusual lifestyles became an important source of music and culture for residents of San Diego between 1900 and 1920.Producing most of its own food,the Society also experimented widely with planting trees and crops such as eucalyptus and avocado, giving that formerly barren part of Point Loma its current heavily wooded character. The Lomaland site is now the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University.
During the 1920s there was a dirt airstrip known as Dutch Flats in what is now the Midway neighborhood of Point Loma. That is where Charles Lindbergh first tested and flew his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, which had been built in San Diego by theRyan Aeronautical Company. A U.S. Post Office now located on the site contains several historic plaques commemorating Dutch Flats and Lindbergh.
The best known landmark in Point Loma is the Old Point Loma lighthouse, an icon occasionally used to represent the entire city of San Diego. (It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the “Old Spanish Lighthouse”; in fact it was built after California was admitted to the United States.) Perched atop the southern point that creates the entrance of the bay with Coronado, the small, two story lighthouse was completed in 1854 and first lit on November 15, 1855. At 422 feet (129 m) above sea level at the entrance of the bay, the seemingly good location for a lighthouse soon proved to be a poor choice, as fog and cloud within themarine layer often obscured the beam for ocean-going vessels. On March 23, 1891, the lighthouse ceased to be used for its original purpose, as a new lighthouse was built nearer sea level on the same southern point.The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is now partially open to the public and has been refurbished to its historic 1880’s interior. It is located within the Cabrillo National Monument, named after Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the first European explorer to see San Diego Bay. The lighthouse is listed on theNational Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the lighthouse, there are four other sites in Point Loma listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Cabrillo National Monument, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Historic District, Naval Training Center San Diego, and Rosecroft.
On the west side of the peninsula there are sandstone cliffs along the ocean, called the Sunset Cliffs. Geologically these cliffs are known as the Point Loma Formation. They contain fossils, including dinosaur fossils, from the Late Cretaceous period, about 75 million years ago. The formation represents one of the few sites containing dinosaur fossils in the state of California. Overlying the Point Loma Formation is another Late Cretaceous deposit called the Cabrillo Formation, which crops out in various areas of Point Loma.
The top of the peninsula is fairly flat, reaches an elevation of 422 ft (129 m),and is capped by much younger sandstone and conglomerate deposits from the Pleistocene era, 1 million years or less in age. These flat-lying beds lie directly on top of the gently dipping Point Loma and Cabrillo formations. The gap in the sedimentary record, called an Angular unconformity, represents about 70 million years of non-deposition and/or erosion.
The cliffs on the ocean side of the peninsula are sheer and are undergoing constant erosion due to wave action. On the east side the land slopes into San Diego Bay more gradually, so that homes and developments go right to the water’s edge. At the northern end of the peninsula the cliffs and hills become lower, disappearing entirely in Ocean Beach and the Midway area, where the San Diego River flows.
Much of the Midway area is former marshland which has been filled in for development.In fact, the San Diego River used to flow through the Midway area into San Diego Bay, isolating Point Loma from San Diego. Because of fears that San Diego Bay might silt up, the river was diverted to its present course north of Point Loma by a levee built in 1877.Parts of Liberty Station and Point Loma Village are also fill land, reclaimed from sand spits and wetlands surrounding the Bay. The only remnant of the formerly extensive wetlands in Point Loma, aside from the riverbed itself, is a city-owned nature preserve called Famosa Slough State Marine Conservation Area, which branches off from the river near its mouth.
There are several distinct neighborhoods in the Point Loma peninsula.Most neighborhoods in Point Loma consist primarily of single family homes.The commercial and retail heart of the peninsula is called Point Loma Village. Its retail establishments serve local residents as well as yachting and sport fishing interests.The streets in Point Loma Village are lined with hundreds of jacarandatrees as a result of community beautification efforts. The newest commercial and retail area is found at Liberty Station, site of the former Naval Training Center San Diego, which also has residential and educational sections. The Midway district at the northern end of the peninsula, adjacent to the San Diego River and the I-5 and I-8 freeways, is primarily commercial and industrial with a few small residential developments.
Connected to Point Loma Village by a causeway is Shelter Island, which is actually not an island but a former sandbank in San Diego Bay. Shelter Island was developed in the 1950s after it was built up into dry land using material dredged from the bay.It is under the control of the Port of San Diego and contains hotels, restaurants, marinas, and public parkland.
The bayside residential area called La Playa lies somewhat north of the original La Playa, the beach where commercial and military ships anchored during the early days of the city. La Playa includes some of the most expensive homes in San Diego. Some bayfront homes have private piers for small boats.The hills above La Playa are known as the Wooded Area on the bay side of Catalina Boulevard (so called because of the many mature trees in the area), and the College Area on the ocean side (because of the proximity of Point Loma Nazarene College). The Sunset Cliffs neighborhood is on the west side, above ocean bluffs, and is known for its views of the Pacific Ocean.
Roseville, named for San Diego pioneer Louis Rose,encompasses the oldest settled part of the peninsula. Many Portuguese fishermen and fishing boat owners settled here more than 100 years ago. Some people refer to the area as “Tunaville” because of its association with the tuna-fishing fleet. The hilly area above Roseville is known as Fleetridge, named for its developer David Fleet, a son of Reuben H. Fleet.
The bayside hills between Rosecrans Street and Chatsworth Boulevard north of Nimitz Boulevard are known as Loma Portal. A distinctive feature of this neighborhood is the location of street lights in the middle of several street intersections instead of on the sidewalk. Loma Portal lies directly in the takeoff pattern for planes from Lindbergh Field, making it the home of the “Point Loma Pause” where all conversation ceases temporarily due to airplane noise.The east-west streets in Roseville and Loma Portal are known as the “alphabetical author streets”. The streets are named for authors in alphabetical order from Addison to Zola, with a second partial cycle from Alcott to Lytton.
The northwest corner of the peninsula, where the San Diego River flows into the ocean, is a separate community known as Ocean Beach.The southern one-third of the Point Loma Peninsula is entirely federal land, including Naval Base Point Loma, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and Cabrillo National Monument.
The area contains multiple species of wildlife, both in the federal lands at the southern end of the peninsula (managed in part as an ecological reserve) and in the developed suburban areas.Mammals include raccoons, skunks, possums, bats, rabbits, California ground squirrels, gray foxes, and occasional coyotes.More than 300 species of birds have been observed in Point Loma, which lies on the Pacific Flyway migration route.