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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
To your left, along the cliffs, you will also see an old no-longer-maintained trail heading down to the beach.
Make your way under the fence via the crawl space, then hop over the shorter concrete fence to enter the main park.
Head left on the sidewalk that skirts the point to check out the lighthouse and spectacular ocean views.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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