The first time that I ever visited San Diego I pretty much made a beeline straight to the incredible USS Midway aircraft carrier floating museum. The second time around I doubled down on the nautical theme by spending some time nosing about the magnificent floating craft of the very special Maritime Museum of San Diego. The city of San Diego has of course a long and storied maritime history (not to mention it being the current home of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet), making it then a more than suitable location for a museum that preserves (and sails) one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the United States!
Situated along the Embarcadero promenade in San Diego Bay, the museum is made up of a collection of floating ships, boats and submarines, most of which allow you to step aboard and investigate their various nooks and crannies to your heart’s content. Many of the boats are packed with additional museum artifacts and displays, and all said and done, you can quite easily lose a day by making your way through this absolute sea of nautical information and maritime history.
The jewel in the museum’s collection is without a doubt the historic Star of India, an iron-hulled sailing ship that was built in 1863 and which enjoyed an incredibly varied career (which included a name change and a change in rigging) that eventually saw her being retired in 1926, before being restored in 1962 as a seaworthy museum ship. Indeed, she is the oldest ship still sailing regularly as well as the oldest iron-hulled merchant ship still afloat, and is registered as both a California Historical Landmark and a United States Historic Landmark.
The majority of the museum exhibits are housed in the impressive Berkeley, a 1898 steam ferryboat that hails from the San Francisco Bay area. Then there is the Californian, a 1984 replica of 1847 cutter C.W. Lawrence and official tall ship of the state of California, plus the Medea, a 1904 steam yacht that served in both World Wars. There is also the HMS Surprise, a 1970 replica of a Royal Navy frigate, which just so happens to be a bit of a movie star, having appeared in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
In 2011 the museum set about building in public view a full-sized, fully functional, historically accurate replica of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s flagship galleon, San Salvador (who discovered San Diego in 1542), which was completed and added to the museum’s fleet in 2015. There are also the two submarines, the B-39, a 1967 Soviet Union Foxtrot class submarine and the USS Dolphin, a 1968 diesel-electric submarine which holds a number of service records, including that of the deepest submarine dive (at more than 3,000 ft). Finally, the museum is also home to the Pilot, a 1914 harbour pilot boat and the PCF-816 Swift, a 1968 Patrol Craft Fast boat.
In addition to the boats and exhibits on display, the museum also tends to host public events like music concerts on its various ships, and the Berkeley itself is often available for hire as a function venue. More exciting than that though is of course the varied on the water adventures that the museum offers, including historic bay cruises aboard the Pilot, naval history tours aboard the PCF-816 Swift, tall ship adventure sailing aboard the Californian, and the San Salvador sailing adventure that takes you out on the water for 4 hours!
Naturally then, I proceeded to spend literal hours at this incredibly interesting museum experience, dragging poor old Johann with me from boat to boat, and yes, walking away with far too many photos on my phone:
A highly recommended museum experience then that is certainly a must if you have any inkling of interest in nautical maritime history whatsoever!