Thursday, September 12, 2013

West Coast Tour - San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

by Kate Sheahan
West Coast Tour Coordinator

  • The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is at the heart of SF’s Fisherman’s Wharf District with three major sites: The Visitor's Center, Maritime Museum and Hyde Street Pier. It is part of the West Coast Tour not only because it might be one of the best free perches to view the America’s Cup racing this week, but the park buildings and collection of vessels are a needed stop for those interested in architecture and the sea.

    A century ago, the prescription for anxieties caused by city living was sunlight and fresh air, which sparked what was called the International Style of architecture. It was inspired by the horizontal lines of the ocean liners
    of the day and technological advancements in glass, and later gave way to the Art Deco and Modern styles. The showpiece building of the Maritime Park, built in the 30's and originally known as the "Bath House," is of this era and a definite retreat for those weary of tourist crowds. The three-story, newly-renovated gem is filled with glass walls, outdoor balconies and covered in restored tile murals of Seussian underwater scenes, all flanked by outdoor stadium seating overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and AC racecourse.

    The museum boasts a rare 1851 model of the schooner America, which was in the first America’s Cup. Park Preservation Manager, Bill Doll, explains that, “unlike the America's Cup races of recent memory, no yachting syndicates from California formed to support the design and construction of a vessel for the original race. California had only become a state in 1850 and San Francisco didn’t get going until during the Gold Rush, so at the time of the America, racing in California was just non-existent.” Contemporary sailboat racing in California is special.

    At the Maritime Museum you really can see the entire progression of the history of California sailing through the 120 historical craft (with six vessels on the national register), lively video and photography installations, and then a panoramic view of the live AC racecourse beyond the Hyde Street Pier towards Alcatraz. 

    Every afternoon Park Rangers will emerge to share legendary stories. Listen to the story I caught about the history of the Scottish Sir Lipton and how tea sales propelled America's Cup racing and defined sportsmanship.

  • The Maritime Museum 
  • has its own fleet of 12' Pelican sailboats, which were designed for SF bay in 1959. Unlike the AC 72's, the plans were in Popular Mechanics and could be built with plywood and raced by the common man. They are parked on the Hyde Street Pier, raced on Thursday evenings in the turning basin, and are a great way for anyone to begin to understand how sailing and racing works.

    In terms of the best secret spots to watch the America's Cup, Park Rangers say the afterdeck of the Sailing Ship Balclutha (1886) or Steam Ferryboat Eureka (1890) will give you a great view of the America's Cup racing, for free. They are parked on the Hyde Street Pier.

    Follow the West Coast Tour on Facebook and Twitter at @USSailing as I visit perhaps the finest sailing school in the world - San Francisco's OCSC, "The Olympic Circle Sailing Club," teaching the "joy, art, science, tradition and responsibility of sailing" in a holistic way.

    San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Dates and Hours of Operation 
    • Hyde Street Pier, located at Hyde and Jefferson Streets, is open 9:30am to 5:00pm. Last pier entry at 4:30pm. 
    • Visitor Center, located at the corner of Hyde and Jefferson Streets, is open 9:30am to 5:00pm.
    • Maritime Museum (in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building), located on Beach Street at the foot of Polk Street. The building is open from 10am to 4pm daily.
    • Maritime Library, located on the third floor of Building E in Fort Mason Center (auto 
    • entrance at Buchanan Street and Marina Blvd). The library is open Tuesday –Thursday, 1pm to 5pm. 
    • For other open hours call 415-561-7030 and visit historyculture/museum-collections.htm.
    San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Contact Information
    • General Park Information: 415-447-5000
    • Pacific West Info Center: 415-447-0463
    • Maritime Store: 415-775-2665
    • USS Pampanito: 415-775-1943
    • Park Website:
    • Association Website:
    • Library Friends:

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