Año Nuevo Point was named on January 3, 1603, by Father Antonio de la Ascension, chaplain for the Spanish maritime explorer Don Sebastian Viscaino. A few days earlier, the ship's company had gone ashore at Monterey for wood and water, but they did not land anywhere near Año Nuevo. If they had landed, they would have discovered that the area was occupied by the Quroste, a group of Ohlone Indians, who lived here at least on a seasonal basis in order to hunt, fish, and gather abalone and other shellfish from the sea. The Quroste also collected chert from the beach for use in making spear points, knives, scrapers, arrow points and other tools. This high-quality beach chert was also valuable in trade and has been found at Indian archeological sites in the coast ranges and central valley. Conversely, obsidian spear points from the eastern Sierra have been found in the middens at Año Nuevo.
Ohlone contact with Europeans finally occurred in 1769, when the "Spanish Governor of the Californias," Gaspar de Portola, led an overland expedition northward as far as San Francisco Bay. After Mission Santa Cruz was founded in 1791, hundreds of Ohlones, including the Quroste, were baptized and brought into the mission where they contracted various European diseases, lost contact with their native culture and died in great numbers.
Año Nuevo was used as pastureland by the missionaries. It became a private rancho in 1842, when Governor Alvarado officially granted the area to his uncle, Don Jose Simeon de Nepomuceno Castro, a prominent resident of Monterey. In 1851, Castro's heirs sold the 17,753-acre rancho to the rough and tumble American frontiersman, Isaac Graham.
In 1861, a subsequent owner sold land adjacent to Año Nuevo to the Steele brothers, who developed a very successful dairy operation that continued for some 80 years. The old barns and other historic buildings at Año Nuevo are relics of the Steele Brothers Dairy.
After World War II, changes in the dairy industry and new irrigation technology brought intensive row-crop farming to the Año Nuevo area. Windbreaks of Monterey cypress were planted (some of which still survive), irrigation ponds were built, and straight rows of brussels sprouts were planted in the area just east of Año Nuevo Point. The area was purchased by the State of California in 1971, and today recolonizing plants are slowly erasing the scars left by agricultural activity and the sand mine operation that was carried on during the 1950s for the construction of State Highway One.
As ship traffic increased along the California coast during the early 1800s, the often foggy, rock-strewn shoreline along this part of the coast became well known to mariners as exceptionally dangerous to shipping. Two fine new clipper ships were lost on the rocks between Año Nuevo and Pigeon Point during the 1850s, and other maritime tragedies occurred in later years. To warn mariners, the federal government installed a fog whistle on the island in 1872 and added a five-story light tower in 1890. An automatic buoy replaced the station in 1948.