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Discover the fascinating tales of ships buried under San Francisco

Now hidden beneath the bustling city streets

Little do most people know that roughly 40 ships are buried underneath the Embarcadero and the Financial District, which used to be the city’s original shoreline.

History of San Francisco’s buried Gold Rush ships

The story of San Francisco’s buried ships begins during the Gold Rush of 1849, a period that transformed the city from a sleepy village into a booming port. As fortune seekers flooded the area, the San Francisco harbor became a forest of masts, with over five hundred ships arriving. Many of these vessels were abandoned as their crews deserted them for the gold fields, leaving them to rot and eventually sink in the mud of the expanding shoreline.


Walking through the Financial District and along the Embarcadero today, few might realize they’re treading above a hidden fleet. These buried vessels, discovered during construction and archaeological digs, have become a subterranean museum of San Francisco’s maritime past. The city’s original shoreline, now several blocks inland, conceals about 40 of these ghost ships, offering a unique glimpse into the city’s dynamic history.

National Maritime Museum map of Buried ships in San Francisco
National Maritime Museum map of Buried ships in San Francisco


Tales of Three Buried Ships

  1. The Niantic: This whaling vessel turned Gold Rush storeship found its final resting place near the Transamerica Pyramid. Initially serving as a makeshift hotel, saloon, and storage space, it met its end in the fire of 1851. Today, artifacts from the Niantic, including a section of its hull, can be viewed, telling the tale of San Francisco’s early entrepreneurial spirit.

  2. The General Harrison: Discovered under a modern-day restaurant, the General Harrison was another victim of the 1851 fire. Its excavation revealed ash, melted glass, and personal artifacts, providing a vivid snapshot of the chaos that ensued as San Francisco burned.

The Rome: Unlike the Niantic and the General Harrison, the Rome was deliberately sunk in a cunning scheme to claim land rights. Now buried beneath the bocce ball courts near the Ferry Building, the Rome’s story is a testament to the lengths to which people went to establish a stake in the burgeoning city.

12 Fun Facts About San Francisco’s Buried Ships

    1. Gold Rush Fleet: At the peak of the Gold Rush in 1849, San Francisco’s harbor was swarmed with over 500 ships as fortune seekers flocked to the city. Many of these ships were abandoned and now lie buried beneath the city.
    2. Underneath the Financial District: The Financial District and parts of the Embarcadero are built over the city’s original shoreline, concealing about 40 ships beneath their foundations.
    3. The Niantic Hotel: The Niantic, a whaling ship turned storeship, was repurposed as a hotel, saloon, and warehouse before it burned down in the great fire of 1851. Its remains were discovered near the Transamerica Pyramid.
    4. A Hidden Reminder: Every day, San Franciscans walk over these buried ships, mostly unaware of the city’s submerged history beneath their feet.
    5. Archaeological Gold Rush Pompeii: Archaeologist James Delgado refers to these buried ships as San Francisco’s “Gold-Rush Pompeii,” a hidden layer of history preserved beneath the urban landscape.
    6. The Apollo’s Treasure: The first ship to be discovered, the Apollo, was found with coins and a gold nugget, now displayed at the Maritime Visitors Center.
    7. Ships as Land: Some ships were deliberately sunk to claim land rights, a practice that shaped parts of San Francisco’s waterfront.
    8. Rome in the Metro Tunnel: The Rome, a ship used in a land-grab scheme, lies beneath the Muni Metro, passed by thousands of commuters daily.
    9. Charles Hare’s Shipyard: The Candace, found at Spear and Folsom streets, was part of a former ship-breaking yard where ships were dismantled for parts.
    10. Fire and Rebirth: Many of the ships met their end in fires, including the great fire of 1851, only to be rediscovered as part of the city’s efforts to excavate and understand its past.
    11. Museum Artifacts: Artifacts from these ships, including oil paintings, letter holders, and fragments of daily life, are on display at the Maritime Museum, offering a tangible connection to the past.
    12. Legal Sea Claims: San Francisco’s unique laws allowed individuals to claim land where a ship was sunk, leading to strategic scuttling of vessels for property rights.

Location and Address

While the ships themselves remain buried and largely inaccessible, their stories and artifacts can be explored at:

The Buried Ships of Yerba Buena Cove by Michael Warner et al., 2017
The Buried Ships of Yerba Buena Cove San Francisco by Michael Warner et al., 2017


Why You Should Visit

Exploring the history of San Francisco’s buried ships offers a window into a pivotal time when the city was at the heart of global commerce and personal fortune-seeking. It’s a chance to connect with the adventurous and often reckless spirit of the forty-niners. Visiting the Maritime National Historical Park and walking the streets under which these ships lie provides a unique way to experience San Francisco’s layered history.

Did You Know?

  • Yerba Buena Cove: Before the land was filled to expand the city, Yerba Buena Cove’s waters lapped against what is now downtown San Francisco, serving as the final resting place for many abandoned ships.
  • Maritime Park’s Map: The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has developed a map depicting the potential locations of these buried ships, a project evolving since the 1960s.
  • Copper-Clad Time Capsules: Some of the ships, including one with a copper-clad stern discovered near the Ferry Building, still contain charred remnants from the fires that consumed them, preserved under layers of mud and time.
  • The Apollo, discovered in the 1920s, was the first ship unearthed in downtown San Francisco, along with treasures such as coins and a gold nugget.
  • The mud beneath the Financial District is still saturated with seawater, with the tides affecting the buried ships just as they did over a century ago.
  • Charles Hare’s ship-breaking yard at Spear and Folsom streets was once a bustling operation that dismantled abandoned ships for parts, a testament to the city’s resourcefulness and economic opportunism.
  • Modern Encounters: The Muni Metro’s encounter with the Rome during tunnel construction highlights the ongoing interaction between the city’s development and its buried past.
  • A Law of the Sea and Land: The sinking of ships like the Rome for land rights showcases the creative legal maneuvers that shaped San Francisco’s expansion.

San Francisco’s maritime past, hidden beneath its modern streets, serves as a reminder of the city’s transformation and the enduring spirit of discovery and ambition. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply curious, the tale of these buried ships adds a fascinating layer to your San Francisco visit, inviting you to ponder the city’s depths both literal and metaphorical.

The search for Buried Ships Continues 

Ron S. Filion has unveiled a new map titled “Buried Ships of San Francisco,” which chronicles more than 70 ships entombed beneath the city’s thoroughfares. This map, featured in Filion’s 2023 publication bearing the same name, traces the shifting shoreline of San Francisco from 1849 to 1857 and pinpoints both confirmed and potential sites of these maritime relics. Available on Amazon, his book Buried Ships of San Francisco delves into the narratives and backgrounds of over 180 ships from the Gold Rush era that found their end in San Francisco’s waters.

Buried Ships Map of San Francisco Copyright Ron S. Filion 2023
Buried Ships Map of San Francisco Copyright Ron S. Filion 2023


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