More About the All Too Often-Overlooked Sebastian Vizcaino

Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sure got around. Not only did he give the city of Santa Barbara its name but he also discovered the Carmel River in 1603.

As was Vizcaino’s frequent custom, he chose a religious name for the stream — Rio del Carmelo. Carmelo is Spanish for Mount Carmel near Jerusalem, which, in turn, comes from the Hebrew karmel, meaning “orchard.”

Vizcaino lived from 1548 to 1627. He left his homeland of Spain settling in Mexico City in 1589.

In 1601, Conde de Monterey, the Spanish viceroy, put Vizcaino in charge of an expedition to map the coast of what’s now California – then Alta California – in order to find a safe harbor for galleons to stop en route from Manilla to Acapulco.

Vizcaino left Acapulco on May 5, 1602 with three ships:  the San Tomas, the Tres Reyes and the San Diego, his flagship.

Six months later he entered what’s now San Diego Bay and named it after his flagship.

One month later — December 1602 — Vizcaino entered what he considered the finest bay on the coast of California. He named it after his patron, Conde de Monterey.

Vizcaino continued north reaching Drake’s Bay in January 1603. During a storm he took shelter behind a point of land that he christened Punta de los Reyes, present-day Point Reyes.

Returning to Mexico, he recommended Monterey be colonized but superiors from Manilla recommended relations be established with Japan and the Monterey plan was scuttled.

Vizcaino was named Spain’s first ambassador to Japan and arrived there in June 1611. He succeeded in convincing the Shogun to send an ambassador to Spain.

He retired to Mexico City in 1619 and died in 1627 at the age of 80.


Filed under: California History


  1. He is certainly not overlooked in Baja: the “Viscaino Desert”, the “Viscaino Biosphere Reserve” and the “Viscaino Plains”.

    Comment by RHL — 12.02.2010 @ 9:45 am

  2. He did happen to entirely miss the Golden Gate and the great natural harbor of San Francisco Bay—sailed right past it while it was hidden in the fog!

    Comment by Robert T — 12.02.2010 @ 3:16 pm

  3. So– you’ve been on vacation in SBarbara recently? Helping child with California history homework??

    Comment by SugarMuffin — 12.02.2010 @ 4:03 pm

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