First lit in 1855, the Point Loma Lighthouse escorted maritime traffic into the San Diego Bay until it was decommissioned in 1891. In 1913, to commemorate the 1542 landing of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, President Woodrow Wilson set aside a half-acre of the Fort Rosecrans Military Reservation as a national monument. The monument remained under the jurisdiction of the US Army until 1933 when the National Park Service assumed control. Chief landscape architect Thomas Vint oversaw improvements including the construction of a paved road lined by a low wall of stacked igneous rock. The Civilian Conservation Corps made repairs to the lighthouse and Vint landscaped its grounds with naturalistic plantings. The two-mile Bayside Trail was widened, a comfort station was built, and water and sewer systems were installed. A 14-foot tall sandstone statue of Cabrillo designed by Alvaro DeBree for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition was moved to Point Loma in 1949.
The park area was enlarged to 144 acres in the 1950s and 1960s to encompass former military installations and to protect rare native coastal sage scrub habitat and rocky-intertidal shoreline. In 1966, a visitor center was built northeast of the restored lighthouse. The DeBree statue, damaged by the ocean air, was replaced with a replica in 1988 and sited on an overlook commanding panoramic vistas. In 2004 a historic cistern was reconstructed and a year later the Lighthouse Assistant Keepers Quarters was rehabilitated. The Cabrillo National Monument was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.