Exy Johnson on San Diego Bay - Festival of Sail

The cannon fire dissipates away from the Exy Johnson at the Festival of Sail.

Summer may technically come to an end in late September, but most consider Labor Day weekend to be the season’s official closure with most schools starting the next week. Thankfully, San Diego’s Embarcadero goes out with a bang during the warm “last-weekend-of-summer” with not only a sand sculpting competition and an 1812 overture with fireworks, but also cannon battles and tall ship cruises at the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Festival of Sail.

The Festival

A small fee ($5 in 2013) grants visitors entrance to the Festival of Sail which includes numerous vendor booths, street food, beer gardens, over a dozen tall ships, and all of the Maritime Museum’s ships and exhibits.

The vendor area takes over the street portion of the festival. Walk around for a bit if you want to do a little shopping. If it’s hot, take a seat and enjoy some of the live music. Otherwise, make your way to the main event on the water, the tall ships!

Over a dozen tall ships and their crews are waiting along the water for visitors to come aboard. Take the time to explore each ship and ask questions of those onboard. Kids can have fun collecting all the stamps from each one of the ships.

Make sure to tour the museum’s collection including the Star of IndiaHMS Surprise, B-39 Submarine, USS Dolphin Submarine, and the Steam Berkeley Ferry. Start off with the submarines since only a few people can enter at a time and lines will quickly form.

Tip: Take a break from the sun and the crowds on the second level of the Steam Ferry Berkeley. Order a drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) from the bar, grab a seat next to one of the windows and watch the people and the ships go by.

Cannon Battles

At least twice a day, two of the tall ships take to the waters of San Diego Bay engage in a spectacular and loud cannon battle. While you can see the battles from the shoreline or the deck of many of the ships, the best view is from the cannon battle cruises offered by the Maritime Museum.

Even if you are not around for the schedule cannon battles, the ships out on the water sail by at regular intervals and “fire” at the docks. Head to the dock behind the Steam Ferry Berkeley and get up close with a few cannons that museum staff and volunteers will fire.

The dock’s cannon crew will also fire two Napoleonic cannons a few times throughout the day. Just make sure to cover your ears for those two!

Getting to the Festival of Sail

You can drive if you want to, but parking near the Festival of Sail is almost impossible. I highly recommend using alternative modes of transportation. Park at one of the trolley stations (Old Town is usually a good option) and take the Green Line to the County Center/Little Italy Station. Once off the trolley, walk a few blocks west to the festival.

Not quite ready for San Diego’s public transportation? Then consider using the car services offered by UberLyft or Sidecar. They will drop you off right at the festival and when you are done, use their services to get you home.

Festival of Sail Information

When: Labor Day Weekend
Where: 1492 North Harbor Drive San Diego, CA 92101
Website: www.sdmaritime.org/festival-of-sail/

Photos of Festival of Sail