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This San Diego museum has a ship-ton of breathtaking boats

From a Soviet diesel-electric sub to a 154-year-old windjammer sailing ship, the San Diego Maritime Museum has an impressive array of ships. Here's a closer look.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
3 min read

San Diego has a long maritime history. There's a naval base in the harbor and a marine base just up the road. The incredible USS Midway is nearby and available to tour. So it's not surprising that the San Diego Maritime Museum celebrates ships of so many different eras.

There are sailing ships from the 1800s, submarines, even a massive ferryboat that's a beautiful example of turn-of-the-last-century design and ornamentation.

Two replica sailing vessels offer a glimpse of what ships from historic paintings look like in the real world. Even more amazingly, all these ships are in the water, and most regularly sail.

Check out the gallery below for a look at the many ships, inside and out.

Sails and subs: A tour of the San Diego Maritime Museum

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Star of India

Right up against the dock is one of the coolest ships at the museum. Built in 1863, the Euterpe, as it was then known, was designed for speed and cargo. The metal hull was incredibly advanced for its day and offered more cargo space and the possibility of a larger overall ship compared to its wooden predecessors.

Originally three masts and full-rigged, the Euterpe was sold in 1906 and converted to a barque, which is more economical to run (requiring a smaller crew) and performs better when running upwind. Though well into the age of steam, the Star of India, as she became known, carried salmon from Alaska to California.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Today she's in beautiful condition and is one of the oldest ships in the world still sailing. Inside, there's a surprising amount of space, given it's a sailing ship.

HMS Surprise

The HMS Surprise is neither old, nor an "HMS" anything. It's an honorary name taken from her name in the movie "Master and Commander."

Originally called the Rose, she's a replica of a mid-1700s Royal frigate of the same name.

Though built in 1970, you wouldn't know it. It looks and feels legit, other than the modern bathrooms (aka "heads") in the bow.


In one of the many fascinating counterpoints at the museum, next to the HMS Surprise is the B-39, a Soviet diesel-electric submarine, one of the largest of its era. Though a big sub, nearly 295 feet (90m) long, she's not quite as big as the nuclear missile submarines like the Redoutable.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The attack sub has six torpedo tubes in the bow, and four more in the stern. Inside, tight corridors narrow to even tighter hatches, making the tour a challenge for those less flexible.

A video told at different stations throughout the ship tells the story of the sub and its crew.

USS Dolphin, ferryboat Berkeley, and more

Though far smaller than the B-39, the Dolphin has its own big story. A research sub, it holds the record for deepest dive by a traditional submarine: more than 3,000 feet (914m).

A 119-year-old ferryboat might seem like an odd addition to a maritime museum, but the Berkeley has a stunning interior that gives a glimpse of design of the late Victorian-era. She also has museum exhibits, a sort of museum within a museum.

In all, there are 11 ships at the museum, and in the above gallery you'll see pictures inside and out of seven of them (some were not available when I visited the museum).

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

If you're at all interested in ships and boats, I highly recommend combining this with a tour of the USS Midway. You can walk from one to the other. The two together offer a fantastic look at a century and a half of maritime and naval history.

The San Diego Maritime Museum is open every day.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.