Charles Best on the La Playa Trail
The La Playa Trail 1769-2005, The La Playa Trail 1769-2005— On July 16, 1769 Father Junipero Serra and Don Gaspar Portolá arrived in San Diego from Mexico and joining with the crews of the Spanish coasting vessles San Antonio and San Carlos established the first European colony in Alta California. Camp was set up near a spring at the base of what is now Presidio Hill and linked to the anchorage by a Indian trail running to the beach at La Playa. The trail was traveled daily by the soldiers who established the first lighthouse in Calif., a lantern placed on a pole on the tip of Ballast Point.
From prehistoric times until our present day, El Camino de La Playa, the La Playa Trail, has witnessed a lion’s share of the history of the northwest Pacific coast. Indians, fur trappers, Boston-China traders, Portuguese whalers and fishermen, Indian vaqueros, American cowboys, railway men, the U. S. Cavalry, Mexican rancheros, English explorers, Chinese fishermen and a myriad of adventurers have traveled and left a record of the trail.
In 1932, soon after the founding of the San Diego Historical Society and building of the Serra Museum on Presidio Hill, historians John and Winifred Davidson began a drive to define and mark the trail. They identified it as running from the Mission San Diego to the landing spot of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the Spanish Fort Guijarros on Ballast Point at the entrance to the harbor. Six concrete markers decorated with a bas-relief of an Indian vaquero and a Mexican carreta, or ox-cart, were placed at significant points along the trail. The first monument, shaded by an olive tree, was placed in the Portuguese settlement of Roseville. It was followed in succession by identical markers at Lytton and Rosecrans across from the Naval Training Station, a monument to Jedediah Smith at the base of Presidio Hill, amonument to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo adjacent to the Naval Fuel depot at Fort Rosecrans, the Mission San Diego, and the last at the intersection of Midway & Rosecrans. Each was dedicated with appropriate pomp and ceremony.
Studies have identified 67 registered national, state, and city historic landmarks along the route of the La Playa Trail, and over 400 sites of historic interest. The sites include: Dutch Flats, the site of Ryan Field, where Charles Lindbergh began his 1927 flight to Paris, the site of San Diego’s first hospital in Mission Valley, of the America’s Cup victory by the San Diego Yacht Club, the site of the Portuguese fishing colony at Roseville, and Fort Rosecrans dating from the 1870s. Fort Stockton, the first U. S. Naval Station on the Pacific coast, the Naval Electronics Laboratory and Naval Underseas Systems Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the bathyscaph Trieste, Old Town State Park, and Cabrillo National Monument, which are respectively, the most visited monuments of their kind in the United States.