Some museums boast of being living history, but the Maritime Museum can attest that it is floating history. Located along downtown San Diego's Embarcadero, the museum is a collection of seafaring vessels, from large sailing ships to old-school yachts and Navy submarines that you can explore—and sometimes even ride on short voyages.
The museum focused primarily on one historic ship, the Star of India, when it first opened in 1948, but today comprises 11 permanent exhibits and a variety of rotating exhibits. The Star of India still makes a good place to start your visit: The iron-hulled 1863 sailing ship is a State and National Historic Landmark and the oldest active ship in the world. To go even further back in history, embark upon a four-hour sailing adventure aboard the San Salvador, a replica of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s ship that arrived at the port now known as San Diego on September 28, 1542. During this cruise, an onboard historian will add fascinating historical context, and guests can even assist the sail crew. Military buffs will also love the USS Dolphin, the U.S. Navy submarine that holds the record for the deepest dive. Lookie-loos, meanwhile, can’t resist the Medea, a steam yacht from the Gilded Age.
“Visitors often remark about how the Maritime Museum of San Diego is unlike any other museum they’ve visited,” says Dr. Raymond Ashley, president and CEO of the museum. “Each vessel is like a time machine into a different world—going from ship to ship is like going on a series of voyages through time.”
Entrance to all exhibits are included with general admission, and for an additional $10, visitors can enjoy a 45-minute narrated bay cruise on the 1914 San Diego Harbor Pilot boat or a 75-minute Naval History Bay Tours aboard the Vietnam-era US Naval PCF 816 Swift Boat for an additional $15 on weekends only.
Kids especially love this fresh-air museum, even if they never leave the dock. “It’s a fleet of working ships that they can explore, rather than a hushed building full of artifacts,” says Kelli Lewis, Director of Development. “Just stepping on board—smelling the wood tar and salt, feeling a faint roll of the deck, and gazing aloft at the sails—brings depth and realism to children’s imaginings.”
Know before you go: The museum hours of operation are daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets may be sold until 4 p.m. for same-day visits.