Postcards & Passports

Experiencing San Diego on a Harbor Cruise

This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019

It’s a beautiful summer day. A few puffy white clouds dot the sky and the sun’s rays sparkle on the water. It’s a perfect day for experiencing San Diego on a harbor cruise. With my elderly mother, we make our way to the Hornblower dock with tickets in hand. We are about to embark on a two-hour cruise that will highlight much about what makes San Diego an incredible destination.

This is a treat for my mother. She only makes it to San Diego once every year or so. She loves to get out and see new places, but her ability to navigate has been restricted over the years. Touring on a boat works well for her. As we board the boat, I can see that a harbor cruise is the attraction of choice for many — families with young children, empty nester couples, young adults, several teens, a professional photographer, and many who are speaking foreign languages.

We stop for the embarkation photo and smile. No obligation to buy, of course, but these photos always turn out so good! Then we make our way to the upper deck, to enjoy the sunshine. This is a popular place to be, and we can only find one empty chair, so I claim it for my mother. It’ll be fine, because I want to wander and take photos, anyway.

The Harbor Cruise Tour

As the boat slowly backs away from the dock in a wide arc, we get a better glimpse of its nextdoor neighbor, the USS Midway.

Switching from reverse, we travel north along the waterfront for awhile, then pull away from it.

I run to the back of the boat to get this beautiful shot of the San Diego skyline with our wake creating an arch that draws my eye back towards the city.

I am thrilled with the movement of the boat, the warmth of the sun and the wind blowing my hair. The views are fantastic, too! I am even enjoying the camaraderie of the passengers onboard. Some are eating snacks; others pointing out landmarks. Many selfies are being taken, too! I can still carry on a conversation with my mother, and we are occasionally given interesting information by the ship’s captain.

The boat slows down a bit so we can see seals and sea lions basking on a floating dock. Occasionally, taking a Hornblower cruise will also allow you to spot dolphins playing or even smaller whales. But not today.

We sail past the naval base at the end of Coronado Island, and past Shelter and Harbor Islands, too.

The Second Half of the Harbor Cruise

As we are taking the 2-hour cruise, we wait while our boat pulls into dock and allows 1-hour tour passengers to disembark. It’s the right time to grab a healthy snack from the top-deck snack bar. I’m surprised how much fruit I receive in my fruit cup — more than enough for my mother and I to share!

Again, we pull away from the dock, but this time, we head south — past the USS MIdway, Tuna Harbor Park with the ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue, towards Seaport Village, and then the San Diego Convention Center.

Now we can see the shipyards that seem to go on forever. Drydocks with ships being repaired are pointed out to us, as well as specialty ships, like the super stealth ship we passed.

Another highlight of this part of the harbor cruise is sailing under the Coronado Bridge. I just love its graceful arch!

What About the Boat Itself?

I decide to explore the boat a little. The lower deck is ready for dinner cruises, but you can still sit here, too, if you’d like to get out of the sun for awhile.

There are viewing spots all over the boat, at the front and rear, and along the sides, as well as the top deck. There are also restrooms for your convenience. Certified life preservers are available for both adults and children.

The boat’s crew are very friendly and always willing to help, from lending a hand while boarding, to giving directions to the restroom or answering questions about the sights.

Disembarking from the Harbor Cruise

As we come to the end of our harbor cruise, we realize we actually learned a lot too — besides really enjoying the views. One thing I remember is that no buildings in San Diego can be higher than 500 feet because of its proximity to the San Diego International Airport.

We disembark and I immediately spot a pedicab waiting right there for us. Taking my mother back to our car by bicycle ride is the perfect end of our outing! Depending on how far away you’ve parked, you might enjoy using a pedicab, a rented bicycle, scooter, or strolling by foot.

If you’d like to explore more of the San Diego harbor, it is very walkable. Be sure to read “Doing the San Diego Harbor“, a walking tour designed for exploring on foot or bicycle.

Important Details:
  • The Hornblower ticket booth is at 970 N. Harbor Drive. You’ll want to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure time, because that’s when boarding begins.
  • Even on a sunny day, the breezes can be cool; bring a sweater or light windbreaker.
  • Be sure to use sunscreen; you won’t know you’re getting burned because of the breezes.
  • The one-hour tour makes a loop from the downtown dock to Pt Loma and back. The 2-hour cruise adds a second loop south of downtown, taking in the drydocks, shipyards and Coronado, plus sailing under the Coronado bridge.
  • If you want to sail on a weekend, it’s best to make reservations! Use this code: SD3D for $3 off when you book online or at 619-686-8715. And this code, SD5D, will get you $5 off of any tour until September 30, 2018.
  • You should also check Groupon for coupons. Here’s a current offer for half-off the 2-hr harbor tour. Be sure to search for other Hornblower specials, too. For example, right now there is a Groupon special for Hornblower’s Rock the Yacht party cruise.
  • If you want to see more of San Diego’s wildlife, take the Hornblower Whale & Dolphin Watching tour.
  • If seasickness is a problem for you, you may wish to use seasickness prevention before boarding, but most passengers do not have problems on the harbor tours, because they are not out in open waters.

I’d like to thank Hornblower Cruises for hosting me and my mother for this harbor tour. This is an honest review of our experience.

harbor cruise

13 thoughts on “Experiencing San Diego on a Harbor Cruise

  1. Heather

    Beautiful photos!! I love the San Diego waterfront and can’t imagine a better way to explore than by boat.

    1. Tami Post author

      Thanks, Heather! So much of San Diego’s history is centered on this harbor, so it’s a great place to start exploring.

  2. Kaylene Isherwood

    It’s been too long since I’ve been to San Diego. It’s such a beautiful place and going on a harbor cruise would be a great way to see this stunning city. I love your photos, especially the one of the skyline. Your post certainly makes me want to go on this cruise 🙂

  3. Evelyne

    What a fun cruise for you and your mom. The San Diego skyline really is beautiful. Funny how they do an hour and re-dock but I would choose the 2 hours as well.

    1. Tami Post author

      I thought it was odd to re-dock, too, but the two hour cruise is basically a figure 8 route, so it kind of makes sense.

  4. michele h peterson

    I took my mother on a cruise of the Toronto harbour and it sounds as though Hornblower Cruises is the perfect Mother-Daughter escape in San Diego too. That pedicab back to the car would have been handy for us.

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