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We aren’t particularly interested in ships, however, we were curious to see what the Maritime Museum had to offer. We were spending the Thanksgiving weekend in Little Italy, San Diego and chose to visit the Maritime Museum located on the San Diego Bay. We had no idea that San Diego maintained one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the US. You can start your self-guided tour in any of the ships and can spend as much time as you want in any of them. There are a total of eleven ships and here are the six we explored.
Steam Ferry Berkeley
The Steam Ferry Berkeley is at the center of all the boats and the first one we explored. Aboard the vessel, there are several areas to explore and we started with the exhibits.
Exhibit #1 - Swift Boats At War In Vietnam
The main floor had an exhibit about the swift boats that were used during the Vietnam War. The part that stood out to us the most were the photos that were taken by the men who were in Vietnam 50 years ago. This exhibit is fairly small, but it is filled with a lot of stories and photos about these brave and courageous soldiers.
Exhibit #2 - Rum: Sailors, Pirates And Prohibition
Next, we headed downstairs and somehow missed the sign that explained what exhibit we were about to enter. When we entered the room, we were initially caught off-guard by a sitting mannequin to the right of the entrance. We thought it was an actual person at first. Once we realized the man was a mannequin, Crystal thought he was just sleeping.
I thought he appeared hung over and commented on how slumped over his body was. Once we started reading the signs we quickly realized that the mannequin was in fact hung over! He was a sailor hung over from drinking too much rum. We had so much fun in this room as it was interactive and we were surprised that we were allowed to touch the artifacts. It was fun to learn about the drunken sailors, pirates, and the San Diego smugglers. We also found out some interesting facts about the prohibition period and didn’t realize that a Speakeasy was a higher-class venue that welcomed women and the birthplace of cocktails.
Side note: We actually freaked out shortly into the exhibit when the electricity completely went out on the ship. We were the only ones down on this floor of the ship and it was pitch dark when the lights went out. Luckily, they came back on within a few seconds. I freaked out a little bit but Crystal, on the other hand, seemed completely fine and immediately asked if I had the camera rolling. I was too nervous to even think about hitting record.
Interesting Fact: The Steam Ferry Berkeley operated during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to rescue many victims from the burning shores.
555 USS Dolphin
We’ve never been inside a submarine, so this was truly a unique experience for us. The USS Dolphin is the deepest-diving submarine in the world and holds the record for many “firsts” and also holds many military accomplishments. We just couldn’t get over how incredibly cramped it was in there. Of course we’ve seen photos and movies of what it looks inside a submarine, but you can’t really grasp how tight the quarters were until you explore one. We have so much respect for the men and women who actually slept and spent countless hours in there.
Interesting Fact: The USS Dolphin developed a highly accurate target management system.
Steam Yacht Medea
The Steam Yacht Medea is a century old and still sails around on special occasions. As soon as we started roaming this boat, we could immediately tell that this boat was owned by a wealthy family. The interior was decorated with fancy details and we learned that Medea was initially utilized for hunting trips and social occasions. Medea changed ownership quite a bit before it finally made its way to the Maritime Museum in 1973.
Interesting Fact: Medea was constructed in a record breaking 51 days.
Unlike the other boats we explored thus far, San Salvador is a replica. It was the first European vessel to reach America’s West Coast. This type of boat is what we see in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. We were lucky that the boat was docked and not on a four hour sailing adventure. Every Saturday, San Salvador offers a four hour tour from 11:30am - 4pm. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience for people who love sailing and want to learn more about the history of San Salvador.
The B-39 submarine was by far our favorite tour. At first, we were a little scared to go inside this submarine as its quarters were really tight. Before you enter the B-39, you have to pass a tunnel test to make sure you don’t get stuck once you are inside the submarine.
This was also an interactive light and sound exhibit that took you through the history of the 1952 Cuban Missile Crisis which really brought the history to life. It’s crazy how small the living space in these submarines were. We couldn’t believe how small the beds were and questioned if people could actually sleep on them.
We had fun exploring the tiny entertainment room and the medical exam room. Again, all the rooms had such limited space. Going through the little tunnels were especially fun and we eventually had a competition on who could go through the fastest. It looks easy, but it’s actually harder than it looks.
Interesting Fact: B-39 is also known as the “Black Widow” and “Cobra”
Star of India
By the time we got to the Star of India, we were pretty hungry and walked around on the ship fairly fast. We wish we had more energy to to explore the worlds’ oldest active ship as it’s very impressive and we still can’t believe it’s 155 years old. The Star of India is still operational and has sailed twenty-one times around the world.
Interesting Fact: The Star of India launched five days before Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Swordfish the Pirate
Obviously not a ship, but we wanted to mention the friendly pirate we met as he added to the entire experience. He called himself Swordfish and he was funny and super helpful when we couldn’t decide where to start our tour. His costume was so put together and we adored his pet stuffed monkey. Thank you for entertaining us and being so patient when we asked to take a million boomerang photos with you!
We were delightfully surprised that the museum was open on Thanksgiving Day. We arrived at 10am when their doors opened and pretty much had the place to ourselves. There were some families here and there, but since there are a total of eleven ships, we were all pretty spread out. We ended up having such a great time that we spent nearly 3 hours here and would have stayed longer if we weren’t so hungry. If you are ever in San Diego, we highly recommend checking out the Maritime Museum. It can even be something to do on a long layover as it’s only a six-minute drive from the airport.
Wear flats or sneakers as you will be climbing ladders and stepping on and off boats.
Don’t wear a hat. I wore one and immediately regretted it. There were a few times the breeze almost took it away.
If you plan on staying a while, you can bring your own snacks and water. They do have a light snack stand if you don’t want to bring your own.
Arrive early for a parking spot as they are VERY limited.
ADDRESS: 1492 N Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA 92101
TICKETS: Adults $18 / Children $8 / Seniors, Students, Active Military $13
HOURS: Open 356 days a year
A special thanks to Visit San Diego for hosting us.