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Fodor's Southern California 2014
Maritime Museum Review
From sailing ships to submarines, the Maritime Museum is a must for anyone with an interest in nautical history. This collection of restored and replica ships affords a fascinating glimpse of San Diego during its heyday as a commercial seaport.
The jewel of the collection, the Star of India, is often considered a symbol of the city. An iron windjammer built in 1863, the Star of India made 21 trips around the world in the late 1800s, when it traveled the East Indian trade route, shuttled immigrants from England to New Zealand, and served the Alaskan salmon trade. Saved from the scrap yard and painstakingly restored, the Star of India is the oldest active iron sailing ship in the world.
The popular HMS Surprise, purchased in 2004, is a replica of an 18th-century British Royal Navy frigate and was used in the Academy Award–winning Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
The museum's headquarters are on the Berkeley, an 1898 steam-driven ferryboat, which served the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco until 1958. Its ornate detailing carefully restored, the main deck serves as a floating museum, with permanent exhibits on West Coast maritime history and complementary rotating exhibits.
Two submarines are featured at the museum: a Soviet B-39 "Foxtrot" class submarine and the USS Dolphin research submarine. Take a peek at the harbor from a periscope, get up close with the engine control room, and wonder at the tight living quarters onboard.
At Spanish Landing Park, about 2 miles to the west, the museum is constructing a full-scale working replica of the San Salvador, the first European ship to land on the western coast of the future United States. To view this work-in-progress (daily 10–3:30), obtain directions at the Berkeley. Once complete, the San Salvador will be on display at the museum's main location.
Sail the Pacific on the Californian. Weekend sails, typically from noon to 4, cost $43 for adults; buy tickets online or at the museum on the day of sail. Arrive at least an hour early on sunny days for a spot onboard. Cruise San Diego Bay for only $3 plus museum admission on the 1914 Pilot boat. The 45-minute narrated tours are offered at several times. Partnering with the museum, the renowned yacht America also offers sails on the bay, and whale-watching excursions in winter. Times and prices vary.
Parties of eight or more should call ahead for special group admission and a guided two-hour tour. Exploring the submarines requires climbing through several midsize hatches; wear flat shoes and pants. Keep an eye out for the workshop onboard the Berkley where volunteers build extraordinary model ships.
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