Okay, here’s the scenario… You are in San Diego for the day and are planning your strategy for seeing the city. Today isn’t the day for the big attractions, so check the map, let’s see… something downtown… hmmm, of course, hit the Gas Lamp District do a little shopping. Definitely need to figure on a fabulous lunch close by at SeaPort Village… then finish the afternoon with something that’s fun but still relaxing… let’s see… a-ha, of course, a harbor cruise! Perfect!
Well, that’s how it happened for me recently anyway. My GF and I had already seen some of the bigger attractions in San Diego this summer, and I definitely wanted to get into the city itself this time. So we headed out to do a little shopping and walking around downtown, then planned to spend the afternoon in the harbor area, which is only a few blocks away. I love it there because it’s always a great place to hang out, with different maritime museums and ships to look at, fun people and vendors to see, and only a very short stroll from Seaport Village, which is full of interesting shops and great little restaurants. After satisfying our hankering for the downtown experience, and having a quick bite, we were contemplating our options for the afternoon.
Still feeling the whole city vibe, we wanted to tour around some more, and realized that we had never done a harbor cruise. I figured, what better way to see it all without having to walk or drive? So after a little checking, we saw that Hornblower Cruises & Events had the best options for us, and they were located right where we were. They run a number of different types of cruises on various vessels, from whale watching and site-seeing harbor cruises, to charter boats, lunch and dinner cruises, and special event cruises. They run one-hour harbor cruises throughout the day, alternating between San Diego’s North Harbor and South Harbor loops. But if you are anything like me and want to see everything, then you can simply book a two-hour cruise, which combines a north and south cruise together, and you get to see both! It was very easy, even for me, to surmise that with as much experience as they have, and that many ships (or boats… I still never can figure out when a boat should be called a ship and vice versa), they must know what they are doing. We checked a few and decided that we were still in an exploring frame of mind, so I of course picked their two-hour harbor cruise.
We got our tickets and were soon boarding the very cool Adventure Hornblower. It has two big decks of windowed interior seating, and a large, upper deck for anyone who likes the sun and breeze. Being all about the outdoor experience (and of course the best photography spots), we immediately made a beeline upstairs. The top deck has rows of comfortable viewing benches and a number of patio tables and chairs, which I thought was awesome for the two of us during the two-hour cruise. We soon were sailing on the South Harbor loop, gently passing by Coronado Island, then underneath the famous Coronado Bridge, and along the main naval shipyards that are located just outside the downtown area. The captain was narrating and pointing out all the key things of interest as we went, and being an ex-naval officer and local resident, knew a ton of details about everything we were seeing.
Honestly, I had always just presumed that the whole area was made up of just the city of San Diego and the nearby residences. I had no idea that the harbor and surrounding area were originally developed years ago as a major seaport for the military, and a large portion of that history actively remains there today. So while I was basically expecting a scenic boat ride, it turns out that I actually learned a lot more about the area than I had expected. Double bonus!
After looping through the South Bay, we headed for the second leg of the cruise. The North Bay has an even bigger variety of things to see, including more views of the city itself, a naval air base, a submarine base, Shelter Island (which I learned was completely man made from the material they dredged out of the harbor, if you can believe that!), and even sea lions hanging out on the old docks. All very fun and interesting, and can really only be seen from the water, so it’s really a unique experience. And as we discovered, there is actually no bad place to sit on the ship. Since the harbor has things to see on both sides, and the ship does a big loop, if there was anything that you didn’t see on the way out, you would soon be on the other side and see it on the trip back. There’s no need to move from one side to the other to take it all in, which is great.
All in all, it’s a very relaxing way to see and learn a lot about San Diego. There’s plenty of points of interest and history to check out, or if you prefer, as some people do, just kick back on the deck and take in the sun with snacks or cocktails while the scenery and sailboats calmly drift by. The kids on board seemed to love all of the big navy ships, the nachos, and of course just being on a big boat (big kids like me included), so it’s definitely a great experience for everyone.
The Hornblower ship and crew were top notch, and because of how much we enjoyed the harbor cruise, we are already looking into their other cruises for the next time we visit. For us, it was the perfect way to relax in the afternoon and finish the day, while still touring San Diego. If you have a little less time available, you could always take one of their one-hour cruises instead, but of course I’d recommend the two-hour cruise if you can swing it.
Hornblower Cruises & Events is located at 1066 N. Harbor Dr., San Diego.
For more info, check out hornblower.com or call 619-686-8715.