San Diego is one of the top naval cities in the United States. The Maritime Museum of San Diego was established in 1948 as a display of actual historic sea vessels. Combined with the USS Midway Museum next door, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is a great hands-on look at the evolution of sea craft.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is on the harbor in downtown San Diego. This is a prime area of activity and this overall area is one of our top free attractions in San Diego. A combined visit to the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum is one of our top paid attractions. Note these are two separate attractions, but as we discuss below you can save money by combining these into a single visit with the Go San Diego Card.
What makes the Maritime Museum of San Diego unique is that it is an actual collection of ships docked at the harbor. The main museum exhibits are actually on a ferryboat.
Entry to the Maritime Museum of San Diego is $18 for adults 18 and over. Youths age 3 to 17 are $8. A family package admits two adults and 2 children for $47.
An option we use, even as San Diego residents, is the Go San Diego Card combined with the USS Midway Museum. For visitors just in San Diego for a day or two the Go San Diego Card allows you to build your own pass. With the build your own pass you add 2 or more attractions to the pass and save 20% off the gate price for each attraction. We do this to visit both the Maritime Museum and Midway on the same day.
If you are in San Diego for 3 or more days you may want to consider a Go San Diego Card which includes the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the USS Midway Museum, the museums in Balboa Park and many other big San Diego attractions. It also includes a harbor cruise located right next to the museum.
The Go San Diego Card allows visitors access to up to 40 attractions for either 1,2,3,5 or 7 days. This is not a cheap option and we generally recommend it for 3 days or more where it is $209 adults/$189 children age 3 to 12.
A 7-day pass is a very good value at $299/$269. The 3-day or more passes include admission to the very big attractions like SeaWorld and Legoland. If you do get a Go San Diego Card it is very possible to do the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the USS Midway and take a harbor cruise, all in the same day.
If you are a resident, or frequent visitor to San Diego, you might consider a membership option. Annual membership to the Maritime Museum of San Diego is $85 for a family and $50 for individuals. Many other options are available. One advantage of memberships is some significant discounts for the museums on-the-water adventures.
The ships are the heart of the Maritime Museum of San Diego. There are many exhibits at the museum, but they rotate frequently. You can tour the ships in any order, but the Berkeley Ferryboat is probably the center of the museum. We will mainly focus on the ships and mention the exhibits in relation to each ship
Berkeley Steam Ferryboat
The Berkeley Steam Ferryboat is an 1898 ferryboat that operated in the San Francisco Bay for 60 years. It played an important role rescuing people from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It came to San Diego in 1973.
The Berkeley is home to the museum gift shop, the research library, and a special events venue. On the main and lower deck, there are exhibits. This includes exhibits on steam engines, San Diego’s military history and San Diego’s history as the tuna capital of the world.
The lower deck has rotating exhibits such as an exhibit on rum and pirates that ran during 2018.
PCFG 816 Swift Boats
In 2011, Malta donated a Swift Boat to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. This was a boat the U.S. had given to Malta in 1971 where it was in active service for 40 years. During the summer you can take a 75-minute high-speed tour on the boat.
555 USS Dolphin Submarine
Kids love going on submarines and the Maritime Museum of San Diego has two of them. The largest one is the USS Dolphin which in 1968 set a depth record for firing a torpedo that stands today. The deep diving capabilities made the Dolphin a leader in naval research.
It is fun to compare the Dolphin submarine with the Soviet B-39 sub from the Cold War. This submarine is definitely not for the claustrophobic. At the entrance, there is a portal that you can test to see if you are comfortable going on the sub. You need to climb through 5 such portals.
The submarine has some good information on the Cold War. Most notable is an exhibit on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
This ship was built in 1970 as a replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate. It came to the Maritime Museum of San Diego in 2004. It was used in the movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
The HMS Surprise has the Man-of-War exhibit. This is an interactive exhibit focused on what it was like to serve various roles on a war ship in the age of sail.
The Californian is a huge tall sail ship that was built in 1984 in San Diego Harbor. It was launched that year for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It is still an active ship where you can book special tours.
We actually were able to watch the building of the San Salvador, which was officially unveiled in 2015. This is a replica of the Cabrillo’s ship that landed in San Diego in 1542. The ship includes exhibits on the Age of Exploration. It also goes out to sea on special tours.
The San Salvador is a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s ship that arrived at the port we now call San Diego on September 28, 1542.
Star of India
The highlight of the Maritime Museum of San Diego is the Star of India. This ship was built in the Isle of Man in 1863. Today it is considered the oldest active sailing ship in the world.
The Star of India exhibits focuses on its voyages around the world. There is also a look at what life was like at sea back in the 19th century.
A rite of passage for many San Diego schoolchildren is spending a night on the Star of India. These field trips have students actually taking on the role of 19th-century sailors. This includes having to take a watch throughout the night.
Steam Yacht Medea
This small 1904 Steam Yacht has been at the Maritime Museum since 1973. It is docked right by the Berkeley.
The America ship is a replica of the first ship to win the World’s Cup. Unlike most of the ships at the museum, the America is a look but don’t touch exhibit. To go on this ship you need to book a special tour.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego offers several on-the-water excursions. They are not included with general admission Most of these must be booked in advance. See our separate guide to those excursions.
As mentioned, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is great to combine with the USS Midway Museum which is next door. You can check out our guide to the Midway.