Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

Houston, Texas

Houston Maritime Museum

This seaworthy collection was sparked by one man's passion for sailing. 

Nestled in this small museum is a big collection of intricate model ships from all around the globe.

After he retired from the shipbuilding business, Jim Manzolillo sailed around the world seven times. On each of his 95 ocean voyages, he would buy model ships at different ports of call and bring them back to his home port of Houston. He also amassed a collection of maritime artifacts and relics. In the late 1990s, he decided to do something with all his treasures. He opened the Houston Maritime Museum, in the Houston Museum District, in 2000.

Docents are on hand on certain days to present the extensive collection, which includes replicas of ancient Greek ships, U.S. Naval vessels and the Santa Maria.  There are ceramic vases from ancient shipwrecks, coal from the Titanic, pearls from the islands, and a large collection of sextants. There are also artifacts discovered by Manzolillo and his good friend, astronaut Buzz Aldrin. For hardcore enthusiasts, the museum includes a naval library filled with rare maritime tomes. 

The museum is a hub for miniature ship modelers from all across America. The museum offers classes for children and adults. It even has a “hospital” where modelers will repair damaged miniatures sent in from around the globe. It is the home of the Gulf Coast Historical Ship Modelers Society. Educational lectures are offered to teach the more landlocked among us how to tie a perfect knot and learn the ways of the sea.

Manzolillo died in 2007, but the museum has continued to flourish. It plans to move to a large new home at the Port of Houston within the next few years. Though it has grown, the museum still boasts a homey, personal feel. “Some of the things in there were things I played with as a little girl,” Manzolillo’s daughter recently exclaimed. And so the Houston Maritime Museum continues on, encouraging both  children and adults to explore the wonders of the sea.

Know Before You Go

Docents on duty all day Wednesdays & Fridays and Tuesday & Thursday mornings.