There are many ways to discover tales of San Diego’s past, but a historic treasure lies beneath the sands of Coronado Shores Beach. There, you might see the remains of the SS Monte Carlo.
This sunken ship has become part of Coronado’s history, and local lore continues each time it’s visible. Let’s dive into the story of the shipwreck + local legend.
The early journey
The concrete ship — originally named SS McKittrick — was built in 1921 in North Carolina, intended to be part of President Woodrow Wilson’s emergency fleet during World War I. By the time the war ended, the vessel was mid-construction. It was completed and then sold as an oil tanker.
The history gets a bit dicey in 1932 when it was sold again, renamed the SS Monte Carlo — and was believed to be operated by the mob. This was toward the end of Prohibition, and owners moved the ship to California to capitalize on crowds gathering for the 1932 Olympics held in Los Angeles by offering unregulated fun in international waters off the coast.
What went down?
In the mid-1930s, the 300-ft ship was the largest member of “Gambling Ship Row” — a fleet ranging from LA to San Diego — used for gambling, drinking, and other legally questionable activities. It anchored 3 miles off the shore of Coronado in 1936, and closed for the winter after a gala on Nov. 1, 1936.
On New Year’s Day 1937, the chains anchoring the ship broke during a strong storm that would lead to it sinking. But it wasn’t a titanic disaster— only two caretakers were on board, and the US Coast Guard rescued both. No one claimed ownership of the boat and its illegal activities, leaving it to break apart + become shipwrecked in Coronado.
Can you see the wreckage?
This piece of San Diego history is sometimes visible, making it a rare shipwreck you can actually visit. You might catch a glimpse during low tides — particularly in winter — while visiting Coronado Shores Beach. Storms may also increase exposure, like a notable El Niño in 2016.
There are rumors of buried treasure on this ship, but don’t go looking. In 2012 it was reported that a Coronado local found $410,000 in coins, but the real discovery: It was an April Fool’s prank.