San Salvador at Sea

Sail Into the Past on this Multi-Night Tall Ship Experience

The Maritime Museum of San Diego Offers a Pacific Adventure Sail

If you grew up reading seafaring adventure books like Treasure Island and thought sailing the open seas as a crew member aboard a wooden galleon could only happen in your wildest dreams, think again. Go ahead and feel confident putting this one on your Bucket List, because it is exactly the type of experience the Maritime Museum of San Diego offers with it’s Pacific Heritage Adventure Sail aboard the San Salvador.

Sail the San Salvador
The San Salvador at Sea. Photo by Alex Saikowski

The original San Salvador was sailed by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a maritime navigator exploring on behalf of the Spanish empire.  Constructed as an exploration ship, the San Salvador was not the square-rigged galleon typical of the day as it was designed with the ability to sail into small harbors, as opposed to crossing the open sea.

The ship landed in the San Diego Bay on September 28th 1542, where Cabrillo claimed the land for Spain.  To put this timeline in perspective for you, Blackbeard the pirate wasn’t on the scene until over a hundred years later, and Mary, Queen of Scots would be born three months after Cabrillo came ashore in San Diego.

In 2015, the Maritime Museum of San Diego completed construction of a full-sized, historically accurate and functional replica of the historic San Salvador galleon.  Now it is available for public tours and incredible Bucket List worthy trips to sea. So, if you ever truly wondered what it would be like to sail the open seas as a crew member aboard a Spanish galleon, you can now find out by taking a voyage into the past with this physical, hands-on historical experience.

I must admit when I learned it was possible to set sail on a tall ship, sleep in a bunk and be part of the close-knit crew at sea, the kid in me perked up and I had to learn more.  I spoke with Theresa Amos Smullen, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Maritime Museum of San Diego, who was happy to share the details about this unique Bucket List worthy experience.

Sail the San Salvador
The Maritime Museum of San Diego. This photo and main article photo by Chris Szwedo

“Passengers get to be crew members and are broken up into quarters and put on a crew call where they learn skills like how to hoist and trim a sail” says Theresa, who has taken the 3-night, 4-day journey herself and was assigned to trim the sails, assist the cook and even got to steer the ship under the direction of Captain Ray Ashley.  When asked what most people’s favorite part of the experience is, she said volunteers and docents give lessons to each person, which are often a favorite part of the overall journey. “Learning celestial navigation and listening to history under the stars; it’s the things they learn they enjoy the most.” She adds, “Most people enjoy the organic nature of being at sea at night and watching the dolphins follow along in the waves created by the bow of the ship”.

I’m struggling to think of many experiences cooler than this right now and I am ready to pack up and go to San Diego.  Who’s with me?!

Theresa let me know the next Pacific Heritage Adventure Sail sets out soon, on July 20th 2018 and sails from San Pedro to Catalina Island and ends in San Diego on July 23rd. The package includes four days, three nights, meals and onboard accommodations.  Novice and experienced sailors alike are invited to join the crew in sailing lessons and hands-on demonstrations while at sea.  Learn about celestial navigation, cartography, knot tying, sail handling, archaeology and more all while immersed in the centuries-old atmosphere of a Spanish galleon.  I have been assured that no experience is necessary and everyone over the age of 12 with a sense of adventure is welcome aboard!

Sail the San Salvador
Sailing the open seas! Photo by Alex Saikowski

For those looking for the experience of sailing on a tall ship but aren’t able to go all-in for the overnight excursions, the museum also offers 4-hour day trips aboard the San Salvador.  All trips aboard the San Salvador include admission to the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a must-see attraction to those with a penchant for maritime history and unique hands-on experiences.  Visitors to the museum can tour their world-class collection of historic sailing ships, steam-powered boats, and submarines and imagine what life at sea would be like.  Go a step further and book the Pacific Heritage Adventure Sail and you can do much more than just imagine what it would be like; you can experience it first-hand.

So, what are you waiting for?? Perhaps Mark Twain sums it up the best:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~ Mark Twain

View of the upper deck bunks aboard the San Salvador.  Video by Mark Albertazzi


The Maritime Museum of San Diego is open daily in the summer from 9AM – 9PM, along Star of India Wharf at 1492 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101-3309.

For more information and to register for the upcoming July 20 – 23 Pacific Adventure Sail, call the Maritime Museum of San Diego at 619.234.9153 ext. 111 or Click here to download the Application Packet.

More details can be found by CLICKING HERE


Panning view of the masts and deck aboard the San Salvador.  Video by Mark Albertazzi


If experiences like this sound awesome to you, check out Don’t Forget The List (DFTL).  DFTL is a new, one-of-a-kind travel company focused exclusively on custom Surprise Travel and Bucket List experiences.  We craft personalized packages based on your particular likes and preferences to help YOU have a unique custom getaway of your own.  With connections to unique destinations and experiences across the United States like the Pacific Adventure Sail from the Maritime Museum of San Diego, DFTL guarantees your next getaway will be far from a cookie cutter experience. Find out more here.