Pier 45 San Francisco – Home To Two Vintage Navy Vessels

Pier 45 in San Francisco is part of the longer section of the downtown waterfront called Fishermans Wharf. Pier 45 is home to two unusual attractions that are both fun and fascinating — historic war vessels, the submarine USS Pampanito and the liberty ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien.

Step aboard these two historic ships to see what it felt like in World War II. It's something like taking a time machine back to the Pacific theater of the 1940s. Let's take a closer look into these two vessels on Pier 45 San Francisco.

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USS Pampanito

USS Pampanito

During World War II, submarines were an emerging technology, but they quickly became an absolute necessity to defeat the Axis powers. This submarine's full title is USS Pampanito SS-383; it's what was called a Balao Class Fleet Submarine. Its fighting days, though, are in the past. Nowadays, it's a popular memorial; a testament to the valiant war efforts of the US Navy. This sub was important in the Pacific war; during its two tours it sank six Japanese war ships and damaged four others.

This floating museum is open daily, even on national holidays. There are two tour options — a walking tour through the vessel where you read and learn on your own, or a low-cost audio tour that walks you through each room and features accounts from sailors who served aboard during World War II. With these oral accounts of battles you feel like you're reliving history.

The audio tour begins at the back of the submarine where the first stop is the torpedo room. With several massive torpedoes are on display, kids are sure to love this room. This is a small space, so you're up close and personal with these mighty weapons.

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The Engine Rooms

Leaving the torpedo room, you enter the first of the two engine rooms. Here you discover what it was like to be the captain of a submarine. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the steering controls. The second engine room is similar to the first, and here you get a real feeling for how complicated it was to navigate a submarine.

Next up, you come to the sleeping quarters. These tight spaces show you how unenviable the life of a submarine serviceman was. There were only two bunks for every three people aboard because at least one of them was always on duty.

The last room is mission control. Filled with buttons and control panels, this space is just a bit more complicated than those childhood games of Battleship. Here you find a route map showing all the missions the USS Pampanito undertook during the war. Finally, climb up top to the deck, home to a few cannons.

The USS Pampanito hasn't been retrofitted to accommodate tourists so you'll be squeezing through tight spaces the same way sailors had to. Claustrophobics and those who can't navigate small spaces beware. The doors are small and the stairs are steep.

  • Pier 45
  • The entire tour takes 30 to 40 minutes
  • $20 for adults
  • $10 for children
  • Website

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SS Jeremiah O'Brien

SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Berthed next to the Pampanito on Pier 45 San Francisco is the SS Jeremiah O'Brien — a bit larger than the submarine. L This ship is one of only two surviving, operational Liberty ships built for World War II. During the war, the SS Jeremiah O'Brien completed seven tours, starting with its first mission in 1943. The ship was built at an amazingly fast pace, taking only 56 days to complete.

Like the Pampanito there are two ways to tour the SS Jeremiah O'Brien — browse on your own or take a self-guided tour using the available brochure. Using the brochure give you a better understanding of the important places on the ship, plus general information about each of them. The tour starts on the main deck. From there, descend a steep set of stairs down into the cargo holds. Like the USS Pampanito, if you have claustrophobia or can't maneuver in tight spaces, you might want to skip this part of the tour.

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D-Day Missions

In the cargo hold watch a video about the history of the ship that also tells about the missions the ship went on. Take a seat and marvel at how the Jeremiah O'Brien made eleven crossings of the English Channel to the Normandy beaches to support the D-Day invasion. Next, continue on by looking at photos that show the construction of the ship as well as how these types of ships were used during the war. Continue at your own pace into the museum where you learn more about World War II. There's even a display of the Normandy invasion site. This exhibition was a gift from France to celebrate the countries' alliance.

Once you're finished below deck, come back topside to marvel at the large guns on the main deck. The size of these guns is impressive and you can just imagine the damage they inflicted on the enemy navy. Take a peek into the small living quarters where the sailors slept as well as the officer's mess hall. At this point, you'll be right back where you started.

  • Pier 45
  • $20 for adults
  • $10 for children
  • Like the USS Pampanito, the SS Jeremiah O'Brien is open daily starting from 9 AM. It is however closed on national holidays.
  • Website

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