The Maritime Museum of San Diego: A Wave of History

If you’re an aquatic enthusiast, then visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego is a must for you. With an extensive number of sea vessels along with expansive exhibits showcasing the various elements of aquatic history, you can’t help but be amazed at this museum. You will observe first-hand how mankind’s deep connection to the ocean has directly affected civilizations and determines the future.

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There are four sailing ships showcased at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The Star of India is oldest active sailing ship in the world, and is a prominent feature at the Maritime Museum. Originating from the Isle of Man, she’s sailed around the world more than 20 times. The Californian is the one and only official tall ship of California. She is a replica of the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence that once patrolled the California coast during the gold rush.

The HMS Surprise is a meticulous replication of a 24-gun British Frigate; the ship was used in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The last of the four ships, The San Salvador, is currently being built at Spanish Landing on San Diego Bay; visitors can watch the building process there. A painstaking replica of the San Salvador is being created and added to the fleet of the Maritime Museum’s ships because of her significance to California history. The first to port in San Diego in 1542, she is considered the Mayflower of the West Coast.

Two steamboats, the 1898 steam ferryboat, Berkeley and the 1904 steam yacht Medea are also important to the Maritime Museum that visitors can explore. In fact, the Berkeley holds the Museum, its offices, store, events venue, and its research library. Two submarines, the B-39 Submarine, a Soviet-era diesel-electric sub that played an important part in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the USS Dolphin, the world’s deepest diving submarine are significant contributions to the museum. Still active, the USS Dolphin is used primarily for testing and deep water research today. The 1914 San Diego Harbor Pilot boat and America, a replica of the first racing yacht to win the famous America’s Cup round out the Maritime Museum’s fleet of vessels.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego, housed in the 1898 steam ferryboat, Berkeley, houses five permanent exhibits: the Age of Sail, the Age of Steam, Charting the Sea, Harvesting the Ocean, and San Diego’s Navy. The Age of Sail features the Star of India in the context of sailing technology. Actual steam engines, artifacts, and photos of the steamship era are on display in the Age of Steam exhibit. Charting the Sea explores the history and technology of navigation. The Harvesting the Ocean exhibit traces the rise and decline of San Diego commercial fishing. The San Diego’s Navy exhibit chronicles San Diego’s growth into the largest naval base in the Pacific. There are also interesting visiting exhibits like “Tattoos & Scrimshaw: The Sailor Art,” that explores the connection between tattoos and maritime service. Check the museum website to see what new exhibits are on display.

Of the ten vessels that are part of the Maritime Museum, visitors can book excursions on three of them. During summer weekends the schooner Californian takes visitors on half-day sailing adventures. The Californian sets off on eight-day sails to the Channel Islands and Catalina a couple times a year for kayaking adventures around the islands. Check their sailing schedule for the next sail; tickets may be purchased at the Museum. The 1914 Pilot offers forty-five minute tours of San Diego Bay as a $5 add-on to your Maritime Museum ticket; five tours go out most days starting at 10:15 AM. The sailing yacht America takes visitors out on whale watching tours from mid-December to mid-April; check the Maritime Museum website for prices and details.

The mission of the Maritime Museum is simple, they strive to be the memory-keepers of San Diego’s seafaring heritage through the collection, preservation, and presentation of maritime history. Visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego will give you an experience you cannot replicate anywhere else; revel in the sailing adventures, board and tour the vessels, and examine the bigger picture in the museum.