Waves crash violently against your boat, the sails up ahead are almost torn to shreds by the howling winds. All you can taste are the salt water and blood on your lips, while the smell of gunpowder burns up your nostrils. You’re fighting for your life – to stay afloat and survive.

Sound familiar? Probably.

You can probably pick the scene from any maritime classic that pits man against the elements. While the high seas are often challenging, only the bravest of the brave venture into its unpredictable bowels to rescue people in trouble: the US Coast Guard.

In appreciation of the men and women of the US Coast Guard and to commemorate Coast Guard Day (August 4), we’ve lined up the 7 best maritime museums you have to visit. What are you waiting for? It’s time to cast off!

Maine Maritime Museum

Bath, Maine

Credit - John Dalton/Flickr Creative Commons

Credit – John Dalton/Flickr Creative Commons

The Maine Maritime Museum (formerly the Bath Marine Museum) has a large, eclectic, and uber cool collection that includes thousands of documents, maritime relics, pieces of art, and even an incredible research library. You can take advantage of tours such as the Bath Iron Works Story Trolley Tour (current and former employees of the yard give you amazing stories on shipbuilding and history) while the Discovery Boatbuilding Program lets visitors get hands-on with basic boat building and woodwork. The museum also runs daily cruises where you can view Maine’s lighthouses from the water and see ships under construction at the Bath Iron Works yard.

Basic Admission: $15.50

 

Michigan Maritime Museum

South Haven, Michigan

Firing of the gun aboard the Friends Good Will - Credit - Michigan Maritime Museum

Firing of the gun aboard the Friends Good Will. Credit – Michigan Maritime Museum

Made up of five buildings that offer everything from constantly changing exhibits to boat building and maritime skills lessons, Michigan Maritime Museum has something for everyone – whatever floats your boat!

An educational program at the museum - Credit - Michigan Maritime Museum

An educational program at the museum. Credit – Michigan Maritime Museum

Dedicated to preserving the history of the maritime culture of the Great Lakes, and Michigan in particular, the museum also has fun summer programs like “Pirate Chaser Adventure Sails” where kids can enjoy the thrill of chasing after buccaneers on the replica tall ship Friends Good Will.

Basic Admission: $8 (Dockside boarding of Friends Good Will is included with admission if the vessel is in port during summer season)

 

Maritime Museum of San Diego

San Diego, California

Credit - Maritime Museum of San Diego

Credit – Maritime Museum of San Diego

Born in 1948, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is now home to the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the United States. The jewel in its crown is the Star of India, an iron sailing ship that dates back to 1863, while its museum and library is housed aboard the Berkeley, a ferryboat from 1898.

Credit - Maritime Museum of Sand Diego

Credit – Maritime Museum of San Diego

The museum not only gets rave reviews for its propagation of maritime history and culture, but also its fun-filled activates like this summer’s “Sailor Days” where kids and adults alike can play sailor and learn about maritime skills like raising sails and tying knots. Another cool event is the “Sip N’ Ship Beer Festival” (scheduled for late August) where you can enjoy craft brews and food trucks while walking about the museum’s many ships. Summer also means that the museum is open till 9 PM!

Basic Admission: $16

 

You can also commemorate Coast Guard Day by watching these two awesome flicks …

The Finest Hours: A heroic tale of how the US Coast Guard comes to the rescue of a stricken ship caught in a storm. (Interesting fact: motor lifeboat 36460 that recently portrayed the 36500 [the original rescue boat] in the movie can now be seen at the Michigan Maritime Museum!).

The Guardian: Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher star in this Coast Guard drama about self-sacrifice and service.

Mystic Seaport

Mystic, Connecticut

The Seafaring Village - Credit - Mystic Seaport

The seafaring village. Credit – Mystic Seaport

Famous for being the largest maritime museum in the US (spread across 19 acres on the shores of the Mystic River), Mystic Seaport is notable for its world-famous research library, large collection of old sailing ships and boats, and its 19th-century seafaring village where storytellers and historians bring the past back to life.

The Charles W. Morgan Credit - Mystic Seaport

The Charles W. Morgan. Credit – Mystic Seaport

It’s also home to the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden sailing whaler and the oldest American commercial vessel still afloat. You can interact with costumed actors who dramatize the tough yet colorful a life at sea, check out a demonstration of how to rescue sailors from a ship, and listen to chanteymen serenade you with sailors’ songs of the sea.

Basic Admission: $26 (visit on your birthday and you get in for FREE!)

 

USS Midway Museum

San Diego, California

Credit - USS Midway Museum

Credit – USS Midway Museum

The longest-serving aircraft carrier in US history (1945-1992), the USS Midway Museum offers a self-guided audio tour, where you can see and experience the sleeping quarters, engine room, pilots’ ready room, and other areas of a large carrier.

Credit - USS Midway Museum

Credit – USS Midway Museum

You can also step into the cockpits of numerous aircraft (about 29 restored naval aircraft can be seen on board), while videos and flight simulators are sure to thrill kids. The museum guides and former fighter pilots you will meet along the tour offer exciting personal stories and astounding statistics that’ll make this an interactive experience you won’t forget.

Basic Admission: $20 (Get $2 off the ticket price and avoid the long line when you book online)

 

USS Constitution Museum

Boston, Massachusetts

A school group enjoys a guided tour at the USS Constitution Museum. Courtesy USS Constitution Museum. Photo by Greg M. Cooper Photography.

A school group enjoys a guided tour at the USS Constitution Museum. Courtesy USS Constitution Museum. Photo by Greg M. Cooper Photography.

Dedicating to preserving the history and the inspiring stories around the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat, the USS Constitution Museum is full of great memorabilia about “Old Ironsides.” The museum has enthralling programs and exhibits for adults and kids, including the USS Constitution’s role in America’s war for independence, the history of the ship, its construction, and the life of a sailor in the nascent US Navy.

Visitors explore the galleries at the USS Constitution Museum. Courtesy USS Constitution Museum. Photo by Greg M. Cooper Photography.

Visitors explore the galleries at the USS Constitution Museum. Courtesy USS Constitution Museum. Photo by Greg M. Cooper Photography.

You can also catch a glimpse of the swords, muskets and pistols and other relics from battles faced by the gallant naval vessel.  Note that the ship operates separately from the museum, however you can access certain areas of the ship for pictures on a first-come, first-served basis (check out the USS Constitution website here).

Basic Admission: The museum suggests a donation of $5-10 for adults

 

The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Newport News, Virginia

Credit - The Mariners' Museum and Park

Credit – The Mariners’ Museum and Park

If you’re a Civil War buff, then you’ll love The Mariners’ Museum and Park. The museum is home to The USS Monitor Center & Foundation, which is responsible for the conservation of the history of the famed ironclad. However, there are loads of other exhibits too, including a 550-acre park and even a 3D theater.

Credit - The Mariners' Museum and Park

Credit – The Mariners’ Museum and Park

The International Small Craft Center features boats from all around the world, while other cool exhibits include “Abandon Ship”(about survival after a shipwreck) and the Crabtree Gallery (showcasing intricate miniature ships). There are also a number of very affordable summer programs for kids on subjects like sea monsters, mermaids, and pirates, while adults will enjoy the Gallery Crawl (scheduled for late September) where they can enjoy viewing rare artifacts while sipping on a glass of wine.

Basic Admission: $13.95 (All through this August, admission is only $1!)

 

Honorable mentions:

Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA): Known for its great pieces of art on exhibit, the Peabody Essex Museum also has an excellent maritime history collection that includes old paintings, drawings, ship models, weapons, and navigational instruments – a definite must-see for aficionados of maritime art in particular.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (New York City): The USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, the Enterprise space shuttle, some nifty fighter jets, and a diesel-powered strategic missile submarine all under one roof – need we say more? See their website for more info on new exhibits.

Independence Seaport Museum (Philadelphia, PA): Check out the world’s oldest steel warship still afloat, the Cruiser Olympia, and WWII submarine USS Becuna. The museum’s “Ship Model Shack” is the home of the Philadelphia Ship Model Society, the oldest ship modeling society in America, and you can watch modelers carefully construct detailed model ships on select Saturdays and Sundays.

 

Are there any other great maritime museums that we may have missed? Let us know in the comments below!

 

4 Responses

  1. Terry Miller

    You left out the largest collection of naval vessels anywhere in the world. Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts has the battleship USS Massachusetts, the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the submarine USS Lionfish, the Soviet-built guided missile corvetter Hiddensee, two PT Boats and many other exhibits.

    Reply
    • Adrian
      Adrian

      Hi Terry – Thanks a bunch for your comment and for bringing Battleship Cove to our attention – we’ll definitely feature it in a future post as it looks quite impressive!

      Reply
  2. Karen McHenry

    You did not mention the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. I have only been to the San Diego Maritime Museum and the USS Midway on your list. The Midway is amazing, but the museum in Astoria far exceeds the San Diego Maritime Museum.

    Reply
    • Dhinesh
      Dhinesh

      Hi Karen – Thanks for bringing Columbia River to our attention! What aspects did you like at Columbia River more than San Diego? Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

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About The Author

Dhinesh Manuel

Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by night...no wait...that's Batman...my bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!