Sebastian Vizcaino was born into a family of successful merchants in Extremadura, Spain, in 1548. In 1580 - 1583 he led a cavalry unit in the Spanish reoccupation of Portugal. In 1586 he went to New Spain and from there moved on to Manila, Philippines, where he engaged successfully in the China trade for three years. In 1589 he returned to Mexico City, married and settled down to raise a family. In June 1596 he mounted an expedition from Acapulco to the Sea of Cortes in an effort to exploit the pearl fisheries. During this expedition he named the small port of La Paz in Baha California. He was unsuccessful in his search for pearls and returned to Acapulco in November of the same year.
In 1601 the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City, Conde de Monterey, appointed Vizcaino General in charge of an expedition to locate a safe harbor in Alta California for Spanish Galleons to use on their return to Acapulco from Manila. He was also instructed to map the coastline. He departed Acapulco with three ships on May 5, 1602. His flag ship was the San Diego and the other two ships were the San Tomas and the Tres Reyes. On November 10, 1602, he entered and named San Diego Bay. Sailing up the coast Vizcaino named most of the prominent features (thus obliterating the names given these same features by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542).
On December 13, 1602 Vizcaino entered what he considered to be the finest bay on the coast of California. He named it Monterey Bay after his patron the Conde de Monterey. Vizcaino went ashore on December 17 and celebrated mass. (While in Monterey Bay he sent the San Tomas back to Acapulco with those of his party who were sick or injured. Twenty five of the thirty four men on the ship died on route.) On January 3, 1603 Vizcaino sailed north reaching Drake's Bay in the San Diego on January 8. During a storm he took shelter behind a point of land that he named Punta de los Reyes - today's Point Reyes. (On shore he met with Indians who remembered both Drake and Cermenon's visits.) The Tres Reyes had gotten separated from the flag ship in the storm but both ships continued north. The San Diego appears to have gotten as far as a cape that Vizcaino named Cabo Blanco de San Sebastian (probably today's Cape Blanco). The Tres Reyes appears to have gone as far as the Coquille River. The two ships returned to Acapulco, Vizcaino reaching the port on February 21, 1603.
Having accomplished his mission to the satisfaction of his superiors in Mexico City and Madrid, Vizcaino was well received upon his return to New Spain. In 1607 he was named General of the Manilla Galleons and given considerable monetary rewards. In 1608 he recommended to Madrid that Monterey be colonized and began preparations for accomplishing that objective. In 1610 Rodrigo de Vivera, former Governor of the Philippines, returned to New Spain and recommended the establishment of relations with Japan. Vizcaino was ordered to drop the Monterey plan and was named to be Spain's first Ambassador to Japan. (He was also instructed to find the fabled Ilas Ricas.) On March 22, 1611 he departed Acapulco and arrived in Uraga, Japan sometime in June 1611. After extensive delays and meetings with the Shogun, Tokugawa Iyeyasu, he spent four months mapping Japanese waters. He continued the effort to find the Islas Ricas during much of 1612. By 1613 he was unsuccessful in finding the mythical islands but he did convince the Shogun to send his ambassadors to Spain. (Japan's first embassy in Europe. All five ambassadors were executed on their return to Japan because they had adopted Christianity.)
In 1614 Vizcaino retired in Sayula, Spain but was recalled to active duty after the Dutch fleet sailed into Acapulco and took what they wanted without opposition. Vizcaino returned to Acapulco and successfully ambushed a Dutch resupply effort. He was made Alcalde of Acapulco. He served there until 1619 when he retired to Mexico City. He died in Mexico City in 1627 at the age of eighty.