Maritime Museum of San Diego

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1492 N Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Daily
Entry Gates Close at 4:00 p.m.
Step back in time and relive the experience of leisure and elegance during the age of steam aboard ocean liners like the Empress of Britain and SS Normandie.
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Maritime Museum of San Diego
Incredible History
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Discover an Incredible History at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Stern of the Star of IndiaCrows Nest and Sails on the Star of India

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.

As a longtime resident of San Diego, I can say that it’s hard to go far in the area without feeling the influence of the sea. The San Diego Bay in particular is home to the Star of India and USS Midway, making it pretty clear that maritime history abounds in San Diego!

Local Tips
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.

Join Todd in the Embarcadero of San Diego neighborhood for an all-inclusive tour of Wyndham San Diego Bayside. This welcoming family hotel is just across street from the Cruise Port and the Maritime Museum of San Diego with gorgeous balcony views of the bay.

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San Diego Bay's Waterfront Maritime History

Maritime Museum in Harborview, San Diego
Maritime Museum in Harborview, San Diego

Head to the Harborview neighborhood to see just how important maritime history is to the foundations of San Diego and 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.

Row Boat with the Star of India in the Background
Row Boat with the Star of India in the Background

Maritime History

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.

On the Deck of the Star of India
On the Deck of the Star of India

Establishing the Museum

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.

See the Star of India at the Maritime Museum of San Diego is so ‘San Diego’ that we included it as part of Unique Things to Do in San Diego.

The Bow of the Star of India at the Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Bow of the Star of India at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Ongoing Maintenance

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.

The Star of India from the Bay
The Star of India from the Bay

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.

Small Boat next to the USS Midway
Small Boat next to the USS Midway

Discount Tickets to the Maritime Museum & More

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, such as the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, SeaWorld San Diego in Mission Bay or a whale watching tour from the San Diego Bay, you can purchase a Go City San Diego pass to reduce the cost of your trip.

You can even get an additional discount with our code GVSD5OFF!

Save big using Go Pass!
Maritime Museum of San Diego
Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is famous for restoring, operating and maintaining historic boats from all around the world. Use your Go Pass and enjoy public tours of their collection of ships. These ships are National Historic Landmarks.
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The cheapest way to purchase a Go City San Diego pass is to combine Go Visit San Diego’s exclusive 5% discount with the Go San Diego passes already great deals!

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

Roll Playing with Kids on the Star of India
Roll Playing with Kids on the Star of India

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.

Submarine the Californian and the Star of India
Submarine the Californian and the Star of India

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.

Russian Submarine and the Californian Maritime Museum of San Diego
Russian Submarine and the Californian Maritime Museum of San Diego

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.

Rising Tide: The Human Consequences of Rising Sea Levels

Rising Tide visualizes the human costs of the climate crisis and the dramatic consequences of climate change across the world through photographs, video, drone images, and sound. It seeks to shed light on the irreversible force of climate change.

The Maritime Museum is the first maritime museum on the Pacific Coast to display this powerful work.

Unlike most maritime museums that discuss when civilization (ships) go to sea, this exhibit is the inverse of that narrative, discussing what happens when the sea intrudes upon civilization.

Steam and Splendor: Treasures from the Ocean Liner and Cruise Ship Ephemera Collection

Drawing on some of the museum’s hidden treasures never shown to the public, Steam and Splendor is a collection of ocean liner and cruise ship artifacts numbering in the thousands from both the Maritime Museum’s collection and loans by local private collectors.

The collection features vintage brochures, passenger lists, menus, cabin plans, and images of dining rooms and recreational areas.

Visitors can travel back in time to the age of steam and the great ocean liners of the twentieth century. Among them are the Titanic, SS Normandie, the SS United States, and the Empress of Britain.

Steam and Splendor allows visitors to relive the experience of a time when ocean travel was leisurely, elegant, and exclusive, where shipping corporations would entice passengers with elaborate brochures to go on leisurely excursions in extravagant surroundings to exotic and distant destinations.

Model Gallery: Celebrating the Art of Model Making

Model Gallery features representations of models, engaging illustrations, and maritime fine art, as well as model making legends such as Bob Crawford and Joe Bompensiero.

Some more notable models now on permanent display in the museum include donations from the estate of Dr. William Brown, whose corpus of work was featured in the 2016 edition of Mains’l Haul - A Model-Maker & His Art.

Other significant donations include representations of Clipper ships such as the Sovereign of the Seas by the Beyster Family Foundation and an elegant Polacca-rigged Xebec and a fine model of Columbus’s Santa Maria from Dr. Charles Stern, a former member of the San Diego Ship Modeller’s Guild.

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.

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.

Retired Exhibits

Just in case you happen to be searching for a past exhibit, I like to include these so you know that unfortunately, the exhibit has been retired.

Previous exhibits have included: Sea Monsters: Delving into the Deep Myth, which showcases the sea monsters of mythology, from kraken to mermaids; Wish You Were Here, a collection of vintage postcards and photographs from San Diego history; and Wind and Water Photography Exhibit, a collection of photographs capturing everything from historic ships to yacht races to recreational wooden boats by local photographers Bobby Grieser and Mark Albertazzi.

Maritime Exploration and Educations for Kids

Kids Learning on the Star of India at the Maritime Musuem
Kids Learning on the Star of India at the Maritime Musuem

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 Star of India next to the Port of San Diego
The Star of India next to the Port of San Diego

Adventure Tour

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 Lot next to the USS Midway Musuem
Parking Lot next to the USS Midway Musuem

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. Additionally there are many paid parking lots within walking distance of the Maritime Museum.

Outside Lobby Entrance at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside
Outside Lobby Entrance at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside

Stay Nearby

Planning a longer visit? Book a room at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside, just 0.3 miles away from the Maritime Museum.

Wyndham San Diego Bayside pairs a refreshingly vintage vibe with all the modern-day essentials you crave. Enjoy balcony views from every room, a stunning waterfront location, and a complimentary airport shuttle.

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.

Nighttime on the Star of India
Nighttime on the Star of India

Event Hosting

Check the official Booking Information Form 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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