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San Diego’s Rich Maritime Heritage

History Ahoy!

Ever since Spanish ships first sailed into the natural harbor under command of Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, San Diego Bay has played welcome host to visitors.

The present-day bay looks much different, as time has transformed its 34 miles of waterfront into a vacation paradise lined with parks, marinas, restaurants, hotels, shopping, museums and bikeways adorned with eye-catching public art, but San Diego's history lives on in this bustling maritime destination.

HISTORY

San Diego Bay’s rich history is worth exploring as you can trace Cabrillo’s steps or experience the life of a lighthouse keeper who guided mariners. Naval history abounds from the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s ships moored along the Embarcadero, to the nearby USS Midway and impressive Navy ships.

  • Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma prominently features a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast, and an intrepid explorer who discovered both San Diego and California. From the park’s cliffs, enjoy birds’-eye views of the bustling harbor and downtown skyline. A multilingual recorded message details information about Cabrillo's voyage at a lookout spot above Ballast Point, as do displays and a video dramatization in the monument's museum.
  • Cabrillo discovered San Diego Bay sailing aboard the San Salvador. The Maritime Museum of San Diego has recently completed a full-size, fully functional, historically accurate replica of Cabrillo's flagship. This vital link to San Diego's maritime history can be found in San Salvador Village at Spanish Landing when it’s not sailing the open seas. After her maiden voyage later this year, she has become part of the museum’s permanent fleet and sails the California coast as a San Diego ambassador.
  • The historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse is one of eight original lighthouses on the West Coast, restored and refurbished into a museum to reflect what life was like for the lighthouse keeper and his family in the 1800s. In the adjacent assistant keeper's quarters, interactive exhibits shine a light on the story of Point Loma’s lighthouses. Few places in San Diego afford better views of the California gray whales’ annual southward migration, occurring mid-December to mid-March.
  • Located along Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island in Coronado, Carrier Row is home to two aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet: USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan. Although the naval base is closed to the public, seafarer’s onboard Flagship Cruises, Hornblower Cruises and other harbor excursions can glimpse these magnificent ships in their berths, as well as mighty Navy destroyers docked at Naval Base San Diego in the South Bay.
  • Each September as part of Fleet Week San Diego anyone can tour Navy ships and the birthplace of naval aviation during the NAS North Island Open House, the only Navy open house on the West Coast. Other highlights include flyovers, performances by the Navy SEAL Leap Frogs parachute jump team and displays of Navy jets, helicopters, vintage aircraft, boats and hovercraft.
  • Another way to experience the U.S. Navy’s prominence on the bay is aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier, the world’s most visited ship museum. The Midway highlights San Diego’s rich military history and pays tribute to more than 200,000 sailors who served aboard the vessel during its 47 years. Exhibits and activities include 29 restored aircraft, flight simulators and a self-guided audio tour of the crew’s sleeping quarters, galley, engine room, hanger, flight deck, towering bridge and more.
  • The Maritime Museum of San Diego located along the Embarcadero on Harbor Drive has one of the world’s finest collections of historic and other vessels on which visitors can relive the early days of seafaring. Ships include the Star of India, the world's oldest active sailing ship (built in 1863), Californian, the official tall ship of the State of California, HMS Surprise from the Academy Award-winning film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and two former Soviet and U.S. submarines.

GO FISH

Since the tuna industry sprang up in the early 1900s, San Diego has been a sport fishing paradise with fresh catches available just off the coast. Thousands of fishermen, cannery workers and shipbuilders once lived and worked along San Diego Bay, creating tight-knit communities in Little Italy and Point Loma. Today, the bay is home to the world’s largest sportfishing fleet, welcoming anglers from around the world.

  • Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines on a wide range of ocean fishing trips, departing daily from the bay’s H&M, Point Loma and Fisherman’s Landings. Excursions include family-friendly full- and half-day excursions, private charters to offshore islands and the outer banks, or longer trips deep into Mexican waters. Depending on the season, yellowfin, Bluefin, yellowtail, albacore, halibut, rock fish and more can be caught in the bountiful waters of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Dive into the popular new Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, located on Fish Harbor Pier by Seaport Village, to purchase fresh local seafood every Saturday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Fishermen and women are more than happy to pose with their catches – ranging from tuna and halibut to box crabs and octopus – and fishing boats anchored in the background.

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