Maritime Museum of San Diego
1492 North Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101
The old-fashioned charm of the Star of India contrasts with its urban setting
For a great family adventure along San Diego Bay, be certain to visit the San Diego Maritime Museum (sdmaritime.org). We went there expecting to tour the famed Star of India, one of the last steel-hulled sailing ships to be built, and among the oldest still afloat, but were pleasantly surprised to find that the museum has more than one vessel to explore. The price of admission actually includes not only the 1863 Star of India, but also the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley that was active in the San Francisco Bay area for over sixty years. The Berkeley houses the museumís gift shop, as well as art exhibits and several impressive models and photographs representing the breadth of San Diegoís maritime history, from commercial vessels to the mighty ships of the U.S. Navy home-ported in San Diego over the years.
Also on display are the 110 year old steam yacht Medea and a century old San Diego harbor pilot boat. Rounding out the collection of surface ships is a couple of replica sailing ships. One, the Californian, is used for harbor tours and was built locally at Spanish Landing, the site of a current project being undertaken by the museumóthe construction of a full scale replica of the San Salvador, Juan Cabrilloís ship that made first contact with California in 1542. When it is finished, the San Salvador should be a fascinating tour, and is my first reason for already planning a return visit. The other replica is of the British warship used in the filming of Master and Commander. Unfortunately, the HMS Surprise was in dry-dock during our visit, so I have a second reason to return, because I hear itís quite impressive. On board the Star of India, visitors can see several areas of the ship decked out as they would have looked 100 years ago.
For children, several hands-on activities include a dress-up room in berthing, a hoisting station where one can try to lift various sacks using leverage, as well as an opportunity to stand on the helm, ring the shipís bell, and pretend to spin the massive wheel. Also on display were exhibits on rope tying, model ship building, musical instruments, and of course the history of the ship. My children found more to do and were entertained longer than I had expected. But my real reason for taking a great deal of interest in the Maritime museum was up next.
Kids enjoy the hands-on fun at San Diego Maritime Museum
The San Diego Maritime Museum completes its superb collection with a pair of actual military submarines. The first is the B-39, a Soviet Foxtrot diesel boat used as a location for the film Phantom. While I found the boat to be quite inferior to the American boats with which I am more familiar, a very knowledgeable docent informed me of the lethal capabilities of the B-39. The cramped quarters allowed me to share some stories with the kids, and with the nearby USS Dolphin I had a great opportunity to compare the rival naval ships in short order. While the USS Dolphin (555) is a research vessel and not an attack boat, it does hold the US record for deepest dive, and the opportunity to walk the deck plates of a real American sub once again was not to be missed. Everything from the smell to the sound powered phones took me back a little and gave my kids an opportunity to connect with my past. They looked through periscopes, sat in the driverís seat, pretended to have a meal in the tiny galley, and imagined what it would be like to sleep in the steel racks.
One submarine was enough for my wife and oldest daughter, so they visited the Berkeley gift shop while I toured the boat with my other three kids. She knew what a great time I was having, so she bought me a B-29 hat and a T-shirt advertising the museumís upcoming exhibit, a Vietnam era Swift Boat. The nice people in the gift shop allowed me to switch out the Soviet hat for the crew style Dolphin hat, and the promise of riding around San Diego bay in a swift boat is reason number three to plan a follow up visit very soon.
An authentic Navy submarine--what could be more exciting for the kids?