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maritime museum of san diego

Maritime Museum & Star of India San Diego Visitor Guide

The Maritime Museum and Star of India stand as testaments to San Diego’s profound maritime history. The world-renowned Maritime Museum of San Diego was founded in 1948 by a group of local historians and maritime experts committed to preserving and showcasing San Diego’s nautical heritage. The heart of the museum is the Star of India, an 1863 iron bark that seems to have transcended the boundaries of time. The Star of India embarked on her maiden voyage on November 14, 1863, sailing from Great Britain to India, and then on to New Zealand. Despite enduring several arduous journeys, the ship found a new lease on life as a salmon hauler, sailing from Alaska to California.

Adding further depth to the museum’s educational offerings is the MacMullen Library and Research Archives, housed aboard the 1898 ferryboat Berkeley. This invaluable resource offers a wealth of knowledge for those keen to delve deeper into maritime history. Furthermore, the museum is the publisher of the quarterly peer-reviewed journal “Mains’l Haul: A Journal of Pacific Maritime History,” which offers scholarly insights into the maritime history of the Pacific region.

The inclusion of the Maritime Museum and Star of India in your travel itinerary allows stepping back in time to immerse yourself in the maritime past that has significantly shaped San Diego. The breathtaking view of San Diego Bay offered by these landmarks is a bonus.

Things To Do at the Maritime Museum

Star of India

The Star of India, an iron ship built in 1863, stands as a remarkable testament to the resilience of maritime vessels and holds the title of the “world’s oldest active sailing ship.” Unlike her wooden contemporaries, the iron structure of Star of India represented a bold experiment in shipbuilding. Beginning her life as Euterpe, she sailed through a tumultuous period, surviving a cyclone, a collision, the death of her first captain, and even a mutiny within her first few voyages to India.

Star of India

Despite the hard beginnings, the Star of India was soon repurposed as a cargo ship, making four more trips to India. In 1871, she changed hands to an ownership in London and began a 25-year-long journey of transporting British emigrants to the South Pacific. During these two-and-a-half decades, she accomplished over 20 circumnavigations. The records indicate that she often found herself “laboring and rolling in a most distressing manner,” yet she prevailed, embodying the spirit of the little iron ship that could.

As you tour the Star of India in the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the cramped quarters give poignant insight into the life of the emigrants aboard. Limited rations, disease, and malnutrition were the norm, revealing the harsh conditions of their journey. Yet, for many, this marked the start of a successful life in their new home of New Zealand.

Exhibits at the Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum in San Diego boasts an array of captivating exhibits, each revealing a distinct facet of maritime history. The “Steam and Splendor” exhibit at the Maritime Museum of San Diego captures the elegance and technological innovation of the steamship era. This exhibition transports visitors to the 19th century, a time when steamships — crossing vast oceans and connecting continents — symbolized progress and luxury. By showcasing a collection of maritime artifacts, models, and historical photographs, the exhibit illuminates the grandeur of steamship travel with sections dedicated to the engine room’s powerful machinery, the ornate design of passenger accommodations, and the societal shifts brought about by steam-powered navigation. It’s an educational journey that reflects on how these majestic vessels were marvels of their time, paving the way for modern seafaring travel and commerce.

Another captivating exhibit in the Maritime Museum in San Diego is “The Model Gallery,” which features an extensive collection of meticulously crafted ship replicas. Each model represents a specific era or type of ship, offering insights into the evolution of maritime technology and design. From ancient galley models to modern ocean liners, visitors get to witness the incredible detail and craftsmanship that goes into creating these miniature versions of naval vessels.

Lastly, a must-see exhibit is “Harvesting the Ocean,” which provides an in-depth look at San Diego’s commercial fishing history. This exhibit is an enlightening journey showcasing the innovations, challenges, and triumphs of the commercial fishing industry and its crucial role in shaping and sustaining the local community.

Climb Into a Submarine: USS Dolphin

At the Maritime Museum of San Diego, visitors have the rare opportunity to board the USS Dolphin, which once held the record for the deepest dive ever performed by a submarine. Retired from service in 2007, the Dolphin now serves as an exhibit that provides an introspective view into the life of submariners and the advanced underwater research conducted by the U.S. Navy. Touring the submarine is a hands-on learning experience; guests can navigate through the narrow passageways, peer at the complex control panels, and even peer through the periscope, connecting with the deep-sea explorations that were once part of the Dolphin’s everyday missions. The USS Dolphin captures not only the essence of naval engineering and the spirit of marine exploration but also immortalizes the silent service of the men who operated under the ocean’s depths, making it an enlightening and humbling addition to anyone’s visit to the museum.

The Spanish Galleon Replica, the San Salvador

As soon as you lay eyes on the impressive life-sized replica of the Spanish galleon, the San Salvador, you are immediately transported back to the 16th century. This ship is not only a testament to maritime evolution but also a symbol of European exploration, known for being the first ship to arrive from Europe on the western coast of the United States in 1542.

The grandeur of San Salvador is truly a sight to behold. From its towering masts and billowing sails to its intricately carved hull, every detail of this ship has been meticulously recreated to offer an authentic glimpse into the past. The ship’s main deck, lined with heavy cannons, provides a stark reminder of the galleon’s dual purpose as a trading vessel and a formidable force in naval warfare.

As you explore the bowels of the ship, you encounter the cramped crew quarters and cargo holds, offering insight into the challenging living conditions of sailors during long arduous voyages. The ship also features an exhibit detailing its historical significance, including the journey led by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo from Navidad, Mexico, to what is now San Diego.

One of the highlights of a visit to the San Salvador is the opportunity to book a four-hour sailing experience aboard this magnificent vessel. This immersive journey allows visitors to experience the thrill and challenge of navigating a 16th-century galleon, gaining a deeper appreciation of the crew’s skills and resilience. During the sail, knowledgeable guides share captivating stories of the original San Salvador’s historic voyage, bringing the ship’s rich history to life.

Interesting Facts About the Star of India

Set sail on a journey through time with the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship! This iron wonder has braved treacherous seas and weathered countless storms. Did you know these interesting facts about the Star of India?

  • The Star of India was launched just five days before Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Gettysburg Address.”
  • The ship has an impressive record of sailing 21 times around the globe, relying solely on wind and human power.
  • Unique for its time, the Star of India was never equipped with auxiliary power.
  • The vessel once found itself in a precarious situation when it went aground in Hawaii.
  • It earned its status as an “American” ship through an Act of Congress.
  • The Star of India had a brush with the extreme elements when it got trapped in ice in Alaska.
  • A testament to its enduring functionality, it still sails in the ocean, managed by a dedicated crew of volunteers.


How long does it take to go through the Maritime Museum in San Diego?

Typically, visitors spend approximately two to three hours exploring the Maritime Museum in San Diego. However, the duration can vary depending on individual interests and the level of interaction with each exhibit. For an immersive experience, allocating a half day would be advisable.

What can you see in the Maritime Museum?

The Maritime Museum offers a treasure trove of maritime history with various exhibits like the meticulously crafted ship replicas in “The Model Gallery,” the enlightening “Harvesting the Ocean” exhibit, and the immersive experiences inside the USS Dolphin submarine. Don’t miss the impressive 16th-century Spanish galleon replica, the San Salvador, and the iconic Star of India.

Why is it called Star of India?

In 1901, the Euterpe was bought by the Alaska Packers Association, who renamed it the Star of India, in line with their policy of prefixing their ships’ names with “Star.”

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