To find out more about San Diego’s nautical history, nautical and historical buffs can trace the steps of Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who discovered California in 1542, or glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper and his family who worked to keep ships safe in San Diego Bay during the 1800s.
There is also naval history on display, from the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s many ships moored along the Embarcadero to the nearby USS Midway Museum.
Among the city’s nautical history highlights are:
● Located along Coronado’s Naval Air Station North Island, Carrier Row is homeport to aircraft carriers currently under commission for the Pacific Fleet. Although all military bases are closed to the public, guests touring the San Diego Bay aboard harbor cruises can catch sight of one or more of these magnificent ships in their berths or passing to or from port;
● Point Loma’s Cabrillo National Monument has a statue of the European discoverer of California, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. From its cliffs, guests enjoy bird’s-eye views of the America’s Cup World Series races, the bustling harbor and downtown skyline. Mounted telescopes help visitors identify bayside landmarks. Information about Cabrillo’s voyage is provided by a multi-lingual recorded message at a lookout spot above Ballast Point, as well as in the displays and a video dramatization available in the monument’s museum;
● In the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse, now restored into a museum, tiny rooms preserve the furnishings, toys and other possessions of the lighthouse’s former keeper and his family, while the herb and vegetable gardens around the whitewashed structure attest to their self-sufficiency. Few places in San Diego afford better views of San Diego Bay and the harbor, as well as the mating rituals of California gray whales passing through on their southward migration every year;
● The Maritime Museum of San Diego, located along the Embarcadero on Harbor Drive, has one of the world’s finest collections of historic vessels on which visitors can relive the early days of seafaring. These ships include the Star of India, built in 1863 and today the world’s oldest merchant sailing vessel still in operation, and the California, the official tall ship of the State of California; and
● Set along San Diego Bay, the USS Midway Museum pays tribute to the hundreds of thousands of men who served their country aboard the vessel and highlights San Diego’s rich military history. The USS Midway, part of the U.S. Navy fleet for 47 years, was home to more than 200,000 sailors during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, as well as other conflicts and crises around the world.
San Diego offers a wealth of harbor tours, dinner cruises, private charters and whale-watching excursions. Sights that can be viewed from the waters of San Diego Bay include Navy submarines, aircraft carriers, Naval Air Station North Island, the huge arc of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the USS Midway Museum and picturesque communities along the shore.
Among many options for water tours of San Diego are:
● Hornblower has the largest fleet of charter yachts in Southern California. Hornblower offers three-hour nightly dinner-dance cruises, Sunday champagne brunch cruises, one- and two-hour narrated harbor tours daily and seasonal whale watching adventures;
● Narrated San Diego Bay tours are also offered on Flagship Cruise & Events’ fleet of vessels. In addition to one- and two-hour narrated harbor tours daily and seasonal whale watching adventures, dinner-dance and Sunday brunch cruises with live entertainment are also available;
● Old Town Trolley Tours’ SEAL – Sea and Land Adventures tour provides a 90-minute land and water adventure aboard a 40-foot long vessel, providing guests with magnificent views of downtown San Diego and narrated excursions of the San Diego Bay and nearby Mission Bay; and
● San Diego Speed Boat Adventures offers daily guided tours which give guests the chance to drive their own 13-foot mini speed boat through the sites of San Diego Bay.
Back on dry land, San Diego’s attractions include:
● San Diego Bay boasts 16 parks covering 250 acres along the shoreline. Most parks are edged by landscaped walkways, perfect for a variety of recreational activities. Playgrounds, bike trails, picnic and inline skating areas are also among the park’s popular offerings. Popular parks are found on downtown’s Embarcadero, Shelter and Harbor Islands, Coronado and Imperial Beach.
● Seaport Village, a 14-acre waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment complex, recreates a California harbor setting of a century ago. With four miles of meandering cobblestone pathways, ponds, fountains and landscaping, Seaport Village offers 55 theme shops, four bayfront restaurants and 13 theme cafes. After shopping and dining, guests can watch live entertainment, walk along the bayfront or sit in the grass and watch passing ships along the water.
● Across the bay on the Coronado peninsula, Coronado Ferry Landing is a retail and entertainment complex featuring waterfront dining and one-of-a-kind shops surrounded by tree-lined walkways, palms and ponds.
Sculptures and graceful memorials set along San Diego Bay evoke San Diego’s international ties, cultural diversity, military significance and unique oceanfront environment. Featured among the city’s public artworks are:
● First installed in 2004, Urban Trees is an annual exhibit that features 30 new, original sculptural works of public art, each designed and fabricated by a different artist, which are installed along the North Embarcadero waterfront;
● The late Niki de St. Phalle adorned San Diego with many of her sculptures during her years spent in the area. San Diego Bay is the setting for her striking “Coming Together,” which is set against the architecturally striking San Diego Convention Center;
● Near the former site of the old Fleet Landing, between Navy Pier and the G Street Mole, is the striking, nine-foot black granite obelisk of the “Aircraft Carrier Memorial,” which commemorates the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers and all who have served on them; and
● Also located near the G Street Mole, the “Military Tribute to Bob Hope” is dedicated to the Hollywood legend’s 50 years of entertaining the troupes during various international conflicts.