You might imagine that a city on the coast would have an important sailing history. And you would be right. But if I asked you where you’re most likely to take your children in San Diego, you’d probably answer, “the Zoo or Sea World”. Those are popular attractions, worthy of a visit for sure. But I just took my grandchildren to ‘sail the seas’ at the Maritime Museum, and they loved it! My daughter and I enjoyed it, too. After our experience, I’d rate the Maritime Museum in the top ten San Diego attractions for kids.
Are you interested in knowing why the Maritime Museum ranks right up there with some of the best attractions in San Diego? I can think of at least five reasons:
1. Kids love to ‘sail the seas’
When I told my grandchildren we were going to go see ships, they were excited. As if I’d said, “Let’s go to Disneyland!” That excited. There’s something about exploring a ship and seeing the sails set to go, the gentle rocking of the waves and the smell of the sea — actually, it appeals to me, too. The Maritime Museum has 11 ships docked on the San Diego harbor, so there’s no shortage of exploring to do! There are yachts, submarines, tall ships, and historic replicas.
While these ships usually don’t leave dock, some of them can and do. And knowing that makes them even more interesting. For example, did you know the Star of India is the oldest ship in the world still sailing regularly and the oldest iron-hulled merchant ship still floating?
Besides exploring a deep-diving submarine (USS Dolphin) or the replica of the first ship to sail into San Diego’s harbor (the San Salvador), there are hands-on activities for children. At ‘Sailor Days’ stations, kids can make their own miniature boats to take home, color sea animals to hang on a poster, learn to tie knots, or make crayon rubbings of nautical scenes. A lower deck of the Star of India has a miniature boat the kids can play on. Exhibits let them test pulley systems or learn how rope was made.
2. It’s educational and affordable
Visit the San Diego Zoo or Seaworld and you’re going to pay $46-$92 for admission. Plus up to $22.00 for parking. Admission to the Maritime Museum is $8.00 for children and $18.00 for adults. Parking is available at metered spots for only $2.50 per hour. It’s very affordable for a family ‘sail the seas’ experience!
Not only will your family be entertained for hours, but you’ll all come away having learned something new. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable docents are posted in key locations to answer all of your questions and even tell you their own sailing stories. They’ll point out details you might not have noticed, like the speakerphone system on the submarine. Or you’ll be given a personal demonstration of a ship’s still-working mechanisms.
3. The Maritime Museum is part of San Diego’s history
Another part of the education you’ll receive at the museum is learning about the history of sailing in San Diego. There are exhibits about the fishing industry and how many people were involved in fishing and canning tuna in San Diego. Areas like Barrio Logan and Little Italy were almost solely dependent on fishing for their livelihood. You’ll learn about San Diego’s military naval history from before World War I to today, with models of aircraft carriers and other military ships.
You can also learn what it would be like to ‘sail the seas’ into San Diego on a ship like the Star of India. And what the difference would be between sailing as a crew member or as an emigrant.
The San Salvador was the first ship to enter San Diego’s harbor and the introduction of the first Europeans to California. Exploring the replica at the Maritime Museum gives you an idea of what it must have been like to discover San Diego in 1542.
4. It’s not a touristy attraction
Learning how to ‘sail the seas’ at the Maritime Museum is a treat because it’s not overly crowded. Docents have time to give you and your family the attention you deserve. You’ll have time to explore and learn at your own rate. I know, because my grandchildren could try their hand at the captain’s wheel, climb all over the decks, swing on ropes, lift items with pulleys, and do craft projects without waiting in lines.
We could watch a model ship builder, take a scavenger hunt designed for the kids, and climb down the steep steps into a submarine and look through the periscope. There’s a lot to do and experience without having to wait for others.
5. You’ll enjoy the best views of downtown San Diego
You are, after all, right on the waterfront of one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. Right across the street from the Maritime Museum is the relatively new Waterfront Park with playground, art, and water play areas. (My grandchildren loved this, too!).
Also across the street is the San Diego County Administration Building, built in 1938, and renovated to preserve its art deco grandeur.
You can see the San Diego downtown city skyline and watch airplanes land at the nearby San Diego International airport.
- You’ll find a gift shop housed on the Berkeley Ferry, and the ‘Sailor Days’ activities are here, too. The ferry is a beautiful example of the glory days of passenger ferries, with gorgeous stained glass windows, carved wood benches, and wooden floors. Cool note: The Berkeley was used to help evacuate the burning city of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
- The HMS Surprise, which wasn’t open the day we visited, is a replica of a late 18th-century Royal Navy frigate and was used in the film Master and Commander: Far Side of the World.
- Maritime Museum offers several immersive sailing adventures including a family overnight on the Star of India (ship stays docked), a Pirate Adventure, a 4-hour Tall Ship Adventure, and a Naval History Bay Tour.
- You can sometimes find Groupon discounts on general admission at the Maritime Museum to save even more.
- Summer hours are from 9 am to 9 pm.
I hope you and your family enjoy the opportunity to ‘sail the seas’ at San Diego’s Maritime Museum. As a travel writer, I was offered complimentary admission in exchange for my review. All experiences and opinions are my own.