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.
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.
Kids Rowing in the Sunset at the Star of India
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
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.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego, established in 1948, preserves one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the United States.
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.
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.
Sails on the Star of India at the Maritime Museum
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.