1100 Railroad Avenue
Vallejo, CA 94592
It’s actually a peninsula more than an island, jutting off the coast alongside Vallejo bordered by the San Pablo Bay and the Napa River. It’s also the first United States Navy Base on the Pacific—or at least what remains of it. Launched in the 1850s, the base, which closed in 1996, turned out and serviced ships for nearly 150 years.
In that time, it saw several major milestones, including the Navy’s first aircraft landing deck, built in 1910 on the cruiser Pennsylvania and various large battleships like the California, the largest ship ever built on the Pacific Coast when she launched in 1919. But Mare Island is perhaps best known for the USS Ward, which not only holds the record for fastest building time (17.5 days during World War I), but was also the ship to fire the first U.S. shots of World War II.
These days, Mare Island is something of a a ghost town. Stately, long-empty mansions stand at attention on Officer’s Row, and St. Peter’s Chapel, the West’s first nondenominational military church, still sits pretty with its Tiffany windows. The massive Building 46, formerly the pip shop, has been converted into a museum, and on the dry docks along the waterfront, we’d venture to guess there’s a ghost or two.
A 3-hour tour is available (suggested donation $14 for adults/$5 for kids) on most days, and affords glimpses at several ships being restored, as well as the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation and Artifacts Museum, the chapel, and mansions. Visit the tour site to reserve.
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Take a Blue and Gold Fleet Ferry to Vallejo.
Photos: Visit Vallejo