One of the best things to do in San Diego for kids is to visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego for its large collection of historic vessels (originals and replicas). Adults will find climbing aboard these docked ships and submarines and learning about the roles they played in history from docents equally cool.
The good news is that this San Diego museum is located on the Embarcadero downtown, just a few minutes walk from Little Italy and the USS Midway Museum, making it easy to see all plus Seaport Village in one pleasant day spent enjoying our year-round sunshine.
Things to Know Before Visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego
If you’re planning a trip to the Maritime Museum of San Diego, this section will detail ticket prices, opening hours, available parking, and more.
Tickets and Hours
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the entrance gate closes at 4 p.m.
Ticket prices are as follows:
- General admission: $20
- Seniors (62 and older): $15
- Military Personnel with ID: $15
- Students age 13–17: $15
- Children age 3–12: $10
- Children age 0–2: Free
Some add-on activities will require payment. Walk-up tickets are available at the ticket booth for the 45-minute Historical Bay Cruise between Monday and Friday.
EXCLUSIVE LA JOLLA MOM DISCOUNT
Use promo code GOSDO5LJM to apply an extra 5% off ALL Go San Diego sightseeing passes! This discount stacks on top of sale rates! Expires 12/31/23.
(Pass has limited value for families at many attractions during Kids Free October in San Diego — we recommend individual tickets during this timeframe instead.)
The Maritime Museum of San Diego gift shop is open from Thursday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
You don’t need admission to enter the gift shop. Here you can browse a neat collection of books, maritime memorabilia, San Diego souvenirs, and even homemade gifts.
Parking and Public Transportation
As parking in the downtown San Diego area is challenging, the Maritime Museum of San Diego suggests using public transportation, rideshares like Uber or Lyft, or a taxi. Some of the public transportation options available can be found below:
- FRED (Free Ride Everywhere Downtown)
- MTS Bus
- MTS Trolly
- Coaster (the Coaster/Amtrak station called Santa Fe Depot is a short walk from the museum)
Some parking lot locations can be found on these websites:
Some metered street parking is available but difficult to come by.
Top 10 Things to Do at Maritime Museum of San Diego
While there is a lot to see, these are our favorite activities.
1. See the Official Tall Ship of the State of Californian (Replica)
The Californian set sail for the first time to celebrate the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The replica ship is modeled after 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence which patrolled the coast during the Gold Rush.
She’s built for speed and has hosted living history overnight adventures for students, sailing enthusiasts, and history buffs on various excursions up the coast of California and even to Hawaii.
In 2003, the Californian was declared by the Governor as the Official Tall Ship of the State of California.
You can join a Sunday 4-hour sailing where passengers are invited to participate in the ship’s sailing. The day ends with a cannon salute.
2. Admire the Ship that Discovered California (Replica)
The San Salvador is a replica ship of the one Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed on when he discovered San Diego.
Like the other Maritime Museum of San Diego ships, it’s neat to see the parlors and rooms that are certainly a step back in time.
Tip: If you’re in San Diego to learn about California history, it’s easy to pair a visit to this San Diego museum with exploring Cabrillo National Monument and Old Town San Diego on the same (full) day.
While it’s usually docked at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, you can join a 4-hour sailing tour on San Salvador that departs on some Saturdays.
3. Climb Aboard the World’s Longest Active Sailing Ship
She set sail five days before Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and is the world’s oldest active sailing ship. The iron ship’s career involved sailing from Great Britain to India and New Zealand 21 times.
During our most recent visit, a docent who sailed on Star of India captured the attention of many guests onboard with his colorful stories.
4. Book San Diego Bay Cruises on Pilot
Join a public 45-minute San Diego Bay cruise on Pilot, the ship responsible for guiding commercial ships into the bay between 1914 – 1996.
This historic cruise is a great activity for those who would like to sightsee from the bay (you may see some sea lions and other marine life) but have limited time. There are multiple daily departures.
5. Check Out the Model Ships
At the aft-end of Berkeley, you’ll find some incredible model ships considered fine art pieces from the museum’s collection and others donated by local philanthropists and enthusiasts.
6. Take a PCF 816 Swift Boat Bay Cruise
These boats are called PCFs (Patrol Craft Fasts) by the U.S. Navy, but sailors refer to them as Swift Boats. They were used in the Vietnam War.
Two V12 diesel engines deliver 980 horsepower as you roar through the San Diego Bay on a 75-minute PCF 816 Swift Boat cruise.
You’ll listen to retired Swift Boat Sailors and docents talk about what it was like to be a crewman in Vietnam while also addressing San Diego military history.
7. Tie a Knot
This activity can be a bit more challenging than it looks, but it’s one that both kids and adults love to tackle. Try your hand at tying various sailors’ knots. It’s fun.
8. Walk Through the Exhibition Gallery on Berkeley
After touring the Maritime Museum of San Diego ships, spend some time walking through the permanent and visiting exhibition galleries on the Steam Ferry Berkeley.
Berkeley hails from the San Francisco Bay, where she operated for 60 years. She played an important role in rescuing San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake/fire victims.
The sizable ship is home to the museum’s offices, a major maritime research library, the museum store, event space for 800, museum exhibits, and more.
9. Reserve Guided Tours
Book a guided tour if you have a group of 10 or more people. These can be self-guided, docent-led (recommend), or youth group tours.
10. Plan Special Events
At the Maritime Museum of San Diego, these events include the likes of channeling your inner pirate during a themed sailing, aboard one of the tall ships, New Year’s Eve parties, and much more.
One of my missions is to remind San Diego residents and visitors to check local museum special events to take advantage of one-of-a-kind programming.
11. Browse the library
Not only does the Maritime Museum of San Diego release its own publications, but they also have a library, archives, and an impressive collection of objects available to view aboard the Berkeley.
12. Get Really Hands-On
The Maritime Museum of San Diego facilitates educational programs and workshops led by trained docents. Check out the docked and on the water adventures.
Row in one of the museum’s longboats or spend multiple days aboard one of the tall ships! The offerings are super cool and diverse no matter your age.
Why We Love the Maritime Museum of San Diego
There’s much to love about the Maritime Museum of San Diego, especially if you’re interested in nautical history. Even if you aren’t, there’s plenty to learn and do here.
As a family-friendly museum, it’s no surprise that many exhibits are very hands-on. The cool factor of this experience is part of why it’s on my list of best museums in San Diego for kids.