Hike At A Glance

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Cabrillo Beach Trail
Date Hiked: January 2, 2012
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer Winter
  • Distance: 4.88 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 165 feet
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Trail Type: Sand, rocks, bluffs, sidewalk
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Free street parking, $1/hour (cash) in parking lot
  • Locality: Southern California beaches
  • Nearest City: San Pedro, California
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly: Yes
Check Trail Conditions: City of LA Department of Recreation and Parks (310) 548-2909
Misc. Notes: Kid-friendly for older kids that can scamper up beach bluffs.

The great thing about beach hikes — aside from the spectacular views and minimal elevation gain — is their suitability for any season of the year. We did this hike during an odd January heatwave, yet it’s all the more appropriate as we venture into the hot summer and fall hiking season in Southern California. And since completing this hike, we’ve explored nearby connecting options.

This particular hike made its way on to our hiking radar via Trails.com. You can find an identical write-up at Hike Los Angeles County.

I mentioned spectacular beach views. But the Cabrillo Beach Trail is packed with cool hiking experiences. It takes you through some great tide pools, gets in some excellent beach bluff climbing, walks you through the infamous Sunken City and historic Point Fermin, allows you a peak into ritzy pricey Palos Verdes real estate, then introduces you to the impressive and historic White Point Preserve.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Street parking is free, on Stephen M. White drive adjacent to the aquarium.

About Cabrillo Beach Park

Cabrillo Beach Park, located in San Pedro but under the jurisdiction of the City of Los Angeles Recreation & Parks, is a beautiful mile-long stretch of sandy beach located at the easternmost edge of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It has a boat launch, as well as a tranquil kid-friendly beach area, a marine aquarium, and a fishing pier.

Immediately adjacent to the city park (southeast), next to the trailhead, the “beach” gets handed off to state Department of Fish and Game jurisdiction as it becomes Point Fermin State Marine Park, which includes spectacular tide pools that afford one the opportunity to explore sea life up close.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Beautiful Cabrillo Beach Park (uncrowded in the winter).

About the Point Fermin Sunken city

The “Sunken City” is an old residential community  – build by George M. Peck, the “Father of San Pedro” — located next to Point Fermin Park, and is part of the Point Ferman landslide zone which sits atop a fault that extends below sea level. The area was deemed geologically unstable in the 1930s, after massive slippage in 1929 — with the land slipping towards the ocean at the rate of 3 inches per day in August 1929, portions of nearby Paseo del Mar fell 50 feet, and a a 3,000 foot deep crevice opened up several feet wide. Officials thought the area had become stable in 1932, but massive movement started up again in 1940 and people finally had to move the houses that could be salvaged.

The area is currently off-limits and surrounded by a wrought iron fence for safety reasons and because of decades of vandalism and partying (note all of the graffiti). However, when approaching from the beach and bluffs (like we did) you can’t see the “off limits” signs and fence until you actually climb up from the beach –and by then, it’s too late because you are already inside of the Sunken City.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The Sunken City, eerie yet beautiful.

About White Point Preserve

White Point Preserve and its 102 acres is part of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. It too is owned by the city of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks. The preserve is packed with hiking trails (albeit a bunch of very short trails), wildlife, and local history. The park was converted from an old World War II military site and is decorated with old military structures still visible and reachable on various trails.

The preserve made big headlines in November 2011 when a portion of the park and a major chunk of adjacent Pasel del Mar collapsed and slid 50 feet. The road and that small section of the preserve are still gated off and closed — and thus far, there is no plan in place to rebuild access to that area.

San Pedro Landslide, California, November 2011

Damage to Paseo del Mar from the San Pedro Landslide on November 20, 2011. You can see the chain link fence along White Point Preserve (upper left), as well as Point Fermin (upper right). Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Hike

While most write-ups of this route lead hikers along the bluff trail between Cabrillo Beach and Point Fermin, we opted to take the beach “path” the entire way to Point Fermin — rock-hopping and climbing the bluffs. Choose whichever route you want — you get great views from both perspectives.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

A wide shady trail heads down to the beach from the park entrance. Yeah, I know.... why venture any further, right?

Getting to the Trailhead

The trailhead is located in Cabrillo Beach Park, which is located on Stephen M. White Drive, with South Pacific Street being the nearest major cross street. The Harbor Freeway (110) is your closest freeway. Parking inside of the beach parking lot costs $1 per hour, but we opted to go with the free street parking on SMW Drive.

As soon as you head into the park, you’ll see a dirt trail on your immediate right. Follow that down to the beach, where you will come across a sign marking the entrance to the Point Fermin Marine Life Refuge.

Trailhead to the Tide Pools

The distance from the trailhead to the tide pools is about 1/4 of a mile. Once you come across the Refuge entrance sign, you’ll see a fenced wood plank walkway that skirts the shoreline.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

A raised walkway leads you from the sandy beach, up over the jetty, then dumps you off on a rocky beach at the foot of the bluffs.

The walkway dumps you off on a rocky beach area that provides access to some amazing tide pools. Definitely allow yourself ample time to explore the exquisite marine life in these pools!

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The rocky beach at the foot of the bluffs, just before the tide pools.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Hiking across the tidepools.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

A sea hare!

Tide Pools to Point Fermin

The next leg of our beach-side hike treks approximately 1,000 feet, from the tide pools to the beach bluffs immediately underneath of the Sunken City and Point Fermin Park. If you are agile and not afraid of heights or getting your hands dirty, there are several access ways up the bluffs — we just happened to go with the 1st noticeable access “trail”, which turned out to be the most difficult. If you walk around the point of the Sunken City, you will find something that resembles more of a real — but long-time neglected — path up to the ruins and the park.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The stretch of trail from the tide pools to Point Fermin is just a tad rocky.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Approaching the Sunken City at Point Fermin.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Scampering up one of the bluff "trails" to the Sunken City.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Made it to the top! Quite the view (and drop) below.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Watch for a connecting "path" to the Sunken City.

Scampering up the bluffs is not something I would recommend for very young children, or even adults who aren’t used to climbing — we’d have no problem leading our teens up this route, but neither of us would bring our parents up this way.

Point Fermin to White Point Preserve

Point Fermin Park is easily accessible from the official bluff trail. The approach we took, however, hiking at beach level from Cabrillo Beach, actually requires you to cross a restricted area — the Sunken City — to reach the park. At the time of our hike, we didn’t realize that the Sunken City was off-limits — so, keep that in mind if you follow our route to Point Fermin Park.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Approaching the concrete ruins of the Sunken City, and the bits of asphalt still remaining from the road that serviced this old community.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

This is what happens when you build a residential community on an active fault and landslide zone.

Once up on top of the bluffs here, make your way to the highly graffitied concrete and asphalt slabs that once stood as homes, structures, and road in this old abandoned community that slid into the sea. Although officially restricted access, this is a popular party and skateboarding spot. Explore it as your own risk — we highly recommend it! The views are spectacular.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Glancing back towards Cabrillo Beach and the jetty.

To exit the restricted Sunken City, follow a dirt path that leads up to a grassy plateau where you can finally see a “No Trespassing” sign. Again, great views here.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Catching the trail from the Sunken City to Point Fermin Park.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Curses! A "No Trespassing" sign, which is not visible at all from the beach or bluffs.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

A look back at the infamous Sunken City.

Head to the left end of the wrought iron fence, where you’ll find a crawl space that has been dug out to provide access under the fence (everyone seems to know about and use it!).

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Point Fermin Park. Hey wait...it's gated...from the other side.

To your left, along the cliffs, you will also see an old no-longer-maintained trail heading down to the beach.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

This is they way we noticed a couple of other people climbing up to the Sunken City from the beach. What looks like a real trail. Our trail was way more hard core.

Make your way under the fence via the crawl space, then hop over the shorter concrete fence to enter the main park.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Breaking "in" to Point Fermin Park from the Sunken City. Evidently, we weren't the first people to find a way "around" the wrought iron fence.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Hopping over the old historic concrete wall.

Head left on the sidewalk that skirts the point to check out the lighthouse and spectacular ocean views.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Point Fermin Park. Worth a full day the visit all in itself.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The historic Point Fermin Lighthouse, built in 1874. Tours are available.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Stunning views from the park of the northwest side of the peninsula.

The park sidewalk will dump you off on Paseo del Mar, which makes up the majority of the next leg of hiking trail. Follow the Paseo del Mar sidewalk until you again reach a trail leading you down to beach access. It is about 1/2 mile from the lighthouse to this next beach access trail.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Stepping out on to West Paseo del Mar, from Point Fermin Park. Across the street is Angel's Gate Park, with a view of the Korean Bell of Friendship.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Heading down the next beach access trail along Paseo del Mar.

You only get to stay down at beach level for another 4/10ths of a mile. Here you catch another trail back up to Paseo del Mar and hike the sidewalk again for 1/2 a mile until you hit the entrance to White Point Preserve and the section of Paseo del Mar that collapsed last November.

White Point Preserve

Although there is much more territory to hike and explore in White Point Preserve, on this particular hike (we plan to return and check out more trails), we only ventured another 1/4 mile from the preserve entrance to the interpretive center located in the park.  Out past a big baseball field located across Paseo del Mar, there are supposed to be ruins from a pre-World War II Japanese farming community, but we opted to save that — as well as most of the preserve itself — for another day and another hike.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Site next to White Point Preserve where Paseo del Mar is closed off due to the November 20, 2011 landslide.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

This is the best view we could get of the landslide area, by sticking our camera through the chain link fence and zooming in.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The southwest entrance to White Point Preserve, now bordered by the chain link fence restricting access to the landslide area.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Part of an old Nike missile site on what is now the preserve.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The trail drops you off on the western side of the Paseo del Mar slide area.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Looking towards the ruins of an old Japanese farming community. We would have had to cross a sports field to get out there, so we decided to save that for another visit to the Preserve.

White Point Preserve to Trailhead

From this end point of our hike, the route back to Point Fermin Park is 1.4 miles.  We opted to stay up on Paseo del Mar the entire way — but we were still treated to gorgeous views of the bluffs, beach, and ocean. And great people watching!

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

From the bluff route return trip back, you see stunning views of Point Fermin.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Back at Point Fermin Park. We stuck to hiking Pasel del Mar most of the way back.

Once you are back at Point Fermin Park it is a 1.8 mile hike back to trailhead at Cabrillo Beach. The first stretch of this leg is accessed where Paseo del Mar dead ends next to the Sunken City, by catching a dirt trail bordered by that big wrought iron fence as it skirts the bluffs. This scenic trail unfortunately dumps you off on sidewalk in a residential neighborhood on Bluff Place, which makes up the final leg of your hike.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Catching the bluff-side trail at the end of Point Fermin Park, where Paseo del Mar dead-ends. That is the fence surrounding the Sunken City.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

The bluff-side trail back to Cabrillo Beach is bordered by that big wrought iron fence.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Forced the venture out to residential Bluff Place when the bluff-side trail ends.

At the juncture of Bluff Place and West 40th Street, you’ll come across a little turnout on your right where 40th Street comes to an end. From here you get a spectacular view of Cabrillo Beach! Follow Bluff Drive until it turns into Stephen M. White Drive to return to the trailhead and your vehicle.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

A beautiful look at Cabrillo Beach Park, from a scenic lookout spot at the end of W. 40th Street where it crosses Bluff Place.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

This stretch of the Bluff Place "trail" is sidewalk, bordered by homes on both sides.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Bluff Place dead-ends at Stephen M. White Drive, where you come back to parking and the trailhead.

Although much of this hike involves sidewalk and residential neighborhoods, the spectacular shoreline scenery and the historic sites make it a “must-do” hike for any Orange County or Los Angeles area hiker. Pack a blanket and a good book, and stretch out a spell in Point Fermin Park. Bring a picnic or buy lunch at the historic cafe in the park. Soak in the beauty and good people watching in the area.

We definitely plan to revisit the park sometime, sadly without our dog, so that we can tour the historic lighthouse. And we have already returned to the peninsula for additional hiking — with plans to explore White Point Preserve soon.


View Point Fermin to White Park in a larger map.

Cabrillo to Point Fermin & White Point Preserve Hike

Hike elevation profile. Click on the image to view a larger size.

Historical Sources

Faster pace of point fermin revives fears of landslide. (1940, Apr 27). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. 14-14. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/165076748?accountid=9840

Hillinger, C. (1953, Sep 23). Not long ago. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. A5. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/166531520?accountid=9840

Houses moved when earth cracks. (1929, Aug 14). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. A9-A9. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/162232110?accountid=9840

Point fermin’s slide charted. (1931, May 11). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. A2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/162544219?accountid=9840

Stein, G. (1986, Mar 16). Geologist guides students through peninsula history. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. WS12. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/154593439?accountid=9840

Waters, T. (1986, Aug 21). Intruders romp in ‘sunken city’ to complaints of vandalism, noise. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. WS_A10. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/154842081?accountid=9840

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  • http://hub.sierratradingpost.com/ Andy

    This sounds awesome. Thanks for sharing the info.
    -Andy

  • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

    This is a great post with great photography! I have been wanting to check out the sunken city here for a whitle!

  • http://about.me/colleengreene Colleen Greene

    Did you make it over to there yet, Josh?

  • JTPete’s Wife

    My mom grew up on West Paseo Del Mar in the 1930′s and 40′s. She called Point Fermin her “thinking spot.” Thanks for sharing the hike

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