Maritime Museum of San Diego

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1492 N Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (Summer Hours)
9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Fall Hours)
There’s no better place to learn about seafaring history than at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Board real ships and discover California’s Naval history!
Maritime Museum of San Diego
Incredible History
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Discover an Incredible History at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

San Diego’s location on the coast of Southern California means it has an extensive maritime history. If you’re interested in learning more about the types of ships sailed off the coast throughout the years, how early seafarers explored and charted the world’s oceans, and San Diego’s connection to the Navy, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is the perfect stop on your next vacation.

Head to the Harborview neighborhood to see just how important maritime history is to the foundations of California. The San Diego Maritime Museum, located right next to the USS Midway Museum and overlooking the San Diego Bay, has something to offer visitors of all ages.

The museum’s focus on history is a product of its mission. By accumulating and preserving information about the San Diego seafaring experience and Pacific maritime history, the Maritime Museum can share this knowledge with the San Diego community, strengthening the bond between the city and the sea. This is further accomplished by making the different ships on display readily available to the public and engaging for adults and young children alike.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego was first established back in 1948 with just a handful of ships. This has since expanded to include prominent centerpieces like the Star of India, a large library and research archive collection, and a peer-reviewed journal of Pacific maritime history published by the museum.

Throughout the many years of the museum’s operation, the ships on display have undergone a great deal of repairs and restorations including varnishing wooden boards, railings, and decorative pieces; repairing or replacing sails when they are torn or begin the wear thin; rigging the sails; and repainting hulls that have faded with time and sun exposure. These restoration efforts are vital for keeping the museum in operation and showcasing the best of what it has to offer to the public.

If you’re planning on pairing your visit to the Maritime Museum with a trip to the USS Midway or any of the dozens of other San Diego attractions, you can use the Build Your Own Go San Diego Pass to reduce the cost of your trip. You can even get an additional discount so you can worry less about funding your trip and more about what exciting things you’re going to do in San Diego.

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Seafaring Sights During Your Visit

The biggest draw and the most eye-catching part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego is the wide array of ships. With a dozen different vessels on display at the museum, the collection includes sailing ships, steam-powered engine boats, and submarines. Though some of these boats were originally constructed or designed as many as 500 years ago, most are preserved well enough that you can walk right onto the decks.

Many of these ships have been marked as National Historic Landmarks. The Star of India is the oldest active sailing ship in the world, and the steam-powered ship Berkeley was instrumental in carrying people to safety after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. During your visit, you can check out these boats that played incredibly important roles in local and international history, and many more.

The Maritime Museum also offers a free bay cruise with the purchase of any general admission ticket. This is an amazing way to check out San Diego Bay before or after your visit to the museum. The bay cruise is a narrated tour that lasts about 45 minutes.

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What is a Go San Diego Pass?

The Go San Diego Pass allows visitors to experience more attractions while simultaneously saving money.

With the pass, you can visit San Diego’s top attractions like the San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND, all while saving up to 55% off on admissions. Plus, the pass gives you the ability to skip the line when visiting select attractions.

A Guide to the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Exhibits

You’ll want to check out the different boats on display at the museum, some of which can only be viewed from afar and others that can be boarded and explored. Some ships even take passengers around the bay.

In addition to these ships, there are also many exhibits at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. These exhibits focus on particular periods of maritime history, aspects of seafaring life, information about different methods for exploring and charting the seas, and related topics such as commercial fishing and even an exploration of sea monster myths.

Sailing Ships

There are four different sailing ships that are part of the museum. These are the HMS Surprise, the Californian, the San Salvador, and the Star of India.

The HMS Surprise is a recreation of a Royal Navy frigate added to the museum in 2004, and the Californian has the distinction of being the official tall ship of California. San Salvador and Star of India are historic vessels, with the San Salvador considered the “founding ship of San Diego” for being the first European ship to reach the West Coast, and the Star of India maintaining its title as the oldest still-active sailing ship.

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Massive Collection
The Maritime Museum of San Diego, established in 1948, preserves one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the United States.

Submarines

The Soviet B-39 and the 555 USS Dolphin are the two submarines on display at the museum. The B-39 is one of the largest diesel-electric submarines and it played a role during the Cold War, while the USS Dolphin set the record for the deepest dive by any submarine.

You can board both submarines and check out their interiors with your general admission ticket.

Steam Powered Ships

The 1898 steam ferry Berkeley and the 1904 steam yacht Medea are both available to explore at the museum.

Berkeley is notable for being a California State and National Historic Landmark that helped hundreds escape the devastation of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Medea has a storied history that includes service as part of both the French and British Navies and personal use.

Two other powered ships, the PCF 816 Swift Boat and the San Diego Harbor Pilot boat, are used to give tours of the bay.

Sea Monsters: Delving into the Deep Myth

Myths from early sailors about the creatures that lurked in unexplored waters included everything from the fearsome Kraken to beautiful mermaids. This exhibit showcases these different mythological sea monsters, complete with first-hand accounts of sightings from sailors in the early 19th century.

Wish You Were Here

This exhibit is a collection of vintage postcards and photographs featuring different moments from San Diego’s history. Visitors can also design their own postcards and send them out to friends and family members as fun souvenirs.

To the Brink of War

At this exhibit, you’ll venture back to 1962 to learn the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Inside a real submarine, you’ll get an up-close and personal look at the role American and Soviet submarines played in both bringing us to the brink of nuclear warfare and preventing the Cold War from escalating to nuclear devastation.

Man-of-War

Take part in some Maritime Museum of San Diego sailing adventures at the Man-of-War exhibit, which simulates the life of crewmates and captains on board a fighting sailing ship. Enjoy this interactive adventure complete with the thrill of simulated battle that frequently draws the attention of adults and children alike.

Wind and Water Photography Exhibit

Any fan of sailing and competitive boat racing will feel right at home at the Wind and Water Photography Exhibit. There are dozens of photos on display that capture everything from the voyage of historic ships, to yacht races during the America’s Cup competitions, to recreational wooden boats that have braved the waters of the bay.

The collection features photos taken by two notable local photographers, Bobby Grieser and Mark Albertazzi. Both men have been practicing their craft for decades, and there are some truly impressive shots included in the collection.

Charting the Sea

Our seas weren’t always as well-mapped out as they are today. At the Charting the Sea exhibit, you’ll learn about the different tools voyagers used to expand our knowledge of the world beyond the coastline long before images from satellites, planes, and drones were possible.

The exhibit covers both the Age of Science and the Age of Exploration, which span hundreds of years of seafaring history. Instruments key to discovery and mapping such as compasses, astrolabes, and sextants are on display, as well as the early maps and charts used by sailors as they voyaged to and from the West Coast of the New World.

Age of Sail

The Age of Sail was a historic period of maritime history from the late 1500s to the mid-1800s. During this time, sailboats were the predominant method of transportation across the oceans, and gunpowder warfare started to replace more traditional methods of naval battles.

At the Age of Sail exhibit, you can climb aboard the Star of India, a real ship from 1863, and see how the technology of the age bested its predecessors while laying the groundwork for the technology in use today.

Age of Steam

The Age of Steam arose with the invention and widespread use of steam engines, which eventually grew to replace most sailing vessels. This age began in the mid-1700s, overlapping with the end of the age of sail, and carried on until the early 1900s.

Like the Age of Sail, the new technology of this historic period is a step up from previous inventions while influencing the future of maritime technology. At the exhibit, you’ll learn how the shift from reliance on wind and weather allowed steamboats to be more precise and spearhead the development of the modern maritime industry.

Harvesting the Ocean

As a coastal town, San Diego has always been involved in commercial fishing, though the prominence it had on the local economy changed greatly throughout the years. The Harvesting the Ocean exhibit tells the story of how a booming commercial fishing industry helped San Diego become the tuna capital of the world, and how the demand for commercial fishing has lessened in more modern times.

San Diego’s Navy

San Diego has always had a strong connection to the United States military, specifically the Navy. At this exhibit, you can learn about historic events like the development of San Diego’s naval bases, the arrival of the “Great White Fleet” a century ago, and other key roles Southern California has played in military efforts and conflicts.

Maritime Exploration and Educations for Kids

The Maritime Museum of San Diego is as enjoyable for young maritime enthusiasts as it is for older visitors.

Some of the educational programs at the Maritime Museum of San Diego include tours for school groups, workshops led by friendly instructors, and historic longboat rowing expeditions for young adults. Kids can even enjoy a multi-day adventure where they get to sleep on a ship as it travels around the bay.

The Adventure Tour, which is offered as either a daytime or overnight program, is a popular attraction for many young kids in scout groups, youth groups, or small classes. It includes a guided tour of the Star of India, a cannon demonstration, rowing lessons, and a 45-minute tour of San Diego Bay.

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Important Tips for Your Trip

The last thing you want to do during your trip is stress out about parking and other small stuff. Know these important tips before you go to the museum so you can enjoy yourself once you get there!

Parking

Metered parking is available on the streets around the Maritime Museum. There is also a paid parking lot at the USS Midway Museum, which is within walking distance.

Gift Shop

The Maritime Museum has its own gift shop which can be found on the 1898 Steam Ferryboat Berkeley, and does not require any purchase of admission to access.

Event Hosting

Check the official website for information about using one of the museum’s ships as the venue for your private party, wedding, team building event, or holiday party.

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