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. 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.”
You can even take some of the exhibits out for a spin, ranging from a 45-minute ride around the harbor on the 1914 Pilot boat, the oldest working boat of its kind on the West Coast (tickets are $10 with admission to the museum) to a tour of San Diego’s military history in a Vietnam-era Swift Boat that will take you under the Coronado Bay Bridge and pass by some of the many naval bases of the area (tickets range from $10 to $28, with museum admission). Both tours To go further back in history, go on a four-hour ride on the San Salvador, a replica of the ship that explorer Juan Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542. There’s also the Californian, a replica Gold Rush-era “revenue cutter” that has the distinction of having been named the Official Tall Ship of the State of California. Climb aboard for a public adventure sail lasting anywhere from a half-day to longer than a week; you can haul a line or man the helm, or just watch as the crew darts about the rigging to set and furl the sails.
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.”