Blog · San Diego · Everything To See and Do at the USS Midway Museum

Everything To See and Do at the USS Midway Museum

July 22, 2023
USS Midway Museum

While San Diego may be famous for sunshine, palm trees, and miles of picturesque beaches, the city also has a longstanding military history. In fact, the popular Southern California destination is home to more military personnel than anywhere else in the country.

One of the most memorable ways to get a first-hand look at the city’s military life is by visiting the USS Midway Museum, which is permanently docked in San Diego Bay.

Exploring the mammoth aircraft carrier and its many onboard exhibits and displays offers an immersive look at both day-to-day life on a Navy vessel and the exciting world of military aviation. (“Top Gun,” anyone?). 

Read on to learn more about this storied ship-turned-museum and why it’s considered a must-see for visitors of all ages.

History of the USS Midway

USS Midway

Commissioned in 1945 and named after the legendary 1942 Battle of Midway, the USS Midway is famous for being the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Though it missed serving in World War II by merely one week, the warship’s tour of duty is still impressive and included seven European deployments, serving in the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.

The Midway was decommissioned in 1992, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the carrier became part of the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum organization. Not long after that, in 2004, the ship arrived in its current berth overlooking downtown San Diego and opened to the public as the USS Midway Museum. Today, it showcases some 30 aircraft and 10 acres of exhibits and displays.

What to see on the USS Midway

USS Midway

It’s important to pace yourself and perhaps even get started early in the day when visiting the USS Midway because there’s a lot to see and do aboard the carrier with exhibits spread across multiple hangars and decks. 

Here are some of the stops you won’t want to miss.

Hangar Deck

In the Midway’s cavernous hangar deck, visitors can take in everything from World War II aircraft to the enlisted sailor’s bunks.

Insider tip: Be sure to climb into one of the bunks yourself to get a sense of what it’s like to sleep in such small, confined quarters below a busy flight deck.

You’ll also want to stop into the Battle of Midway Theater when exploring the Hangar Deck. The 90-seat space features a 15-minute movie about the ship’s namesake battle. Perhaps most movingly, the film features the voices of individuals who took part in the fighting and their memories of the historic battle.

Gallery deck

Have you ever wondered what it takes to anchor a hulking aircraft carrier? Midway’s anchor chain room on the Gallery Deck provides an answer. Here visitors can see and touch the Midway’s enormous anchor chains.

The Gallery Deck is also the location of a variety of other memorable stops including the Command Information Center, otherwise known as the tactical heart of the aircraft carrier. 

There’s also an exhibit on this deck dedicated to the unique role helicopters have played in naval aviation.

Below deck

Aircraft carriers are often referred to as cities at sea, and below deck is where many of the activities of daily life take place. 

The Midway allows visitors to explore the ship’s galley, where rank-and-file personnel ate their meals, as well as the Wardroom, where officers dined. The sick bay and dental areas below deck are also open to the public, as is the ship’s engine room. 

But be prepared — you’ll need to climb up and down ladders and stairs to visit many of the spaces throughout the ship.

Flight Deck

One of the most memorable parts of a visit to the Midway is climbing to the Flight Deck, where not only will you see fighters, bombers, and helicopters, but you’ll also have a stunning panoramic view of San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego. 

The unobstructed views here of the city’s skyline are unlike many other places in all of San Diego.

Flight Deck

While up on the deck, you’ll also want to explore the pilot ready rooms (another area that will look familiar to “Top Gun” fans) and the bridge where the ship is steered from.

Flight simulators

USS Midway Flight Deck

The USS Midway offers visitors the unforgettable opportunity to experience state-of-the-art flight simulators. For those who are brave enough, the simulator rides (which cost $10 per person) allow participants to experience aerial combat including rolling, looping, and spinning.

Visiting the USS Midway Museum with kids

With fighter jets, flight simulator rides, and the opportunity to explore the hangars and decks of a real-life aircraft carrier, the USS Midway is a museum experience unlike any other for kids. 

One of the best ways to take it all in when visiting with children in tow is via the Junior Pilot Program. Don’t let the program’s title fool you — the Junior Pilot Program is not about actually learning to fly. It’s an activity-filled audio tour of the aircraft carrier designed especially for kids.

Narrated by an airman, the tour is accompanied by an activity sheet of questions for young visitors to answer as they explore 30 locations around the aircraft carrier. Once the questionnaire is complete, kids can turn it in and receive their junior pilot wings, which are presented in a ceremony with a volunteer docent.

Tips for Visiting

USS Midway

There is no dedicated parking for the USS Midway Museum, so if you’re driving, you’ll need to pay for parking at adjacent parking lots on Navy Pier. Parking rates range from $5 to $30. There’s also metered parking on the streets surrounding the museum that costs $1.25 per hour with a two-hour limit.

The Santa Fe Train Depot (if you’re arriving by train or the Coaster commuter rail) is also located just a few blocks away from the USS Midway.

Cost to visit USS Midway

Tickets for the USS Midway Museum range in price from $31 for adults to $21 for those aged 6-12 years old. The cost of admission for veterans with military identification is also $21. Children 5 and under are free.

Ready for USS Midway

The Midway is one of the most visited museums in San Diego, attracting more than 1 million people each year. And it’s easy to understand why. From its flight deck to its hangars and the ship’s bridge, the Midway provides a unique and unforgettable look at life aboard an aircraft carrier and as a naval aviator.

If you’re looking for more top spots to explore in San Diego, check out our guide to Balboa Park, one of the city’s most iconic and beloved destinations.