Visiting the USS Midway Museum is truly one of the most interesting things to do in downtown San Diego. The USS Midway was one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers in the 20th century (1942–1992) and is now a floating aircraft carrier museum that is docked permanently in the San Diego Bay along the popular downtown Embarcadero waterfront area.
When you visit the USS Midway Museum, you’ll learn what life was like on board this floating city, along with quite a bit of naval history. It is hard to believe that 4500 sailors once lived and worked here (200,000 throughout the years, in total).
Below, you’ll find my top tips for visiting the USS Midway Museum and all the information you’ll need to plan your visit including what to see, parking, hours of operation, how to buy tickets, and my favorite things to do. (If you make a purchase using the links below I may be compensated.)
Timed tickets purchased online in advance are required to visit the USS Midway Museum. All guests must wear face coverings, abide by distancing signage, and agree to a temperature screening before entering the museum.
This is the most important tip: Bring earbuds for the audio tour! The audio tour is a highlight so don’t miss it. Also, bring a credit card as prepackaged food sales will be cashless.
Some below deck areas will be closed and you won’t be able to climb into the aircraft on the Flight Deck, but rest assured that the experience will still be awesome.
Who Visits the USS Midway Museum?
Visiting the USS Midway Museum in San Diego is fun for many reasons. Nearly everyone, including entire families, can visit and enjoy the experience. You’ll see veterans and active-duty military personnel, especially Navy service members, visiting this museum.
Children frequently visit on school-sponsored field trips conducted by USS Midway staff (our daughter’s elementary school takes an annual field trip here). It is a must-visit for San Diego tourists, and for locals alike.
USS Midway Volunteers and Docents Add Incredible Value
Hands down, the museum would not be what it is without the tireless dedication of its volunteers and docents. You’ll find the latter particularly insightful as many were Midway sailors on the ship when it was still in service. Oh, the stories they can tell that will enhance your experience. It’s worth keeping an eye out for them when you’re visiting the USS Midway Museum.
See also: Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
Restored, Vintage Aircraft
The USS Midway Museum has dozens of restored vintage aircraft, including jets and helicopters, on the outside 4-acre flight deck and below in the main hangar. For many, this section is a highlight of visiting the USS Midway Museum.
Others who know a lot more about aircraft may find that their knowledge enables them to appreciate these planes and helicopters on a much deeper, meaningful level. Kids, in particular, love this part of the museum because they can get right into the cockpits of many of the aircraft and pretend to fly. (Climbing into the cockpits is temporarily paused.)
Flight Simulators a La Carte
There are two enticingly-elaborate flight simulators available to ride in the main hangar. Our daughter and her friends always ask to ride them. The cost of one ride is $14 or $16 (for either one or two people), but they are really cool. It’s worth doing at least once. Some height restrictions apply.
Highlights Beyond the Vintage Aircraft
Everyone who visits the USS Midway Museum will find their own favorite spots. My daughter and her friends enjoyed these areas of the ship the most:
- The brig, which is tiny!
- The kitchen, which fed hundreds at a time in a remarkably small space.
- The electrical turbines in the engine room.
- A sentry post where a guard (now a mannequin), stationed in front of an access door to weaponry/missiles, was apparently authorized back in the day to shoot any trespasser who crossed a yellow line painted on the floor in front of him.
- The tight sleeping quarters.
USS Midway Museum Dining Options
A lot of people visiting the USS Midway Museum choose to eat at one of the many downtown San Diego restaurants nearby, but there is also a self-service bistro called the Midway Marketplace on the Hangar Deck that offers pre-made sandwiches, salads, snacks and more for sale. (Note that the Fantail Café which served recipes from the ship’s 1945 cookbook is now closed.) Bring a credit card as transactions here are cashless. Food is also prepackaged and can be enjoyed in an outdoor dining area.
The Gift Shop
Visiting the USS Midway Museum usually involves a stop at the gift shop — especially if you’re visiting the USS Midway Museum with kids. My husband chaperoned my daughter’s recent field trip to the USS Midway, and the girls lured him into the gift shop where they bought a tub of slime.
You’ll find a wide variety of logo items and toys in the shop, but what caught my husband’s eye was a small collection of ‘vintage’ 1950s candies for sale near the register, a good souvenir option for visitors looking for something small and sweet.
If you don’t want to buy souvenirs, you can also make your own with the USS Midway chocolate chip cookie recipe.
What to Know Before Visiting
Visiting the USS Midway Museum involves a lot of walking, stair climbing, and bending. That’s because this WWII-era U.S. Navy ship has very narrow stairs, low ceilings, and cramped hallways that may pose unique challenges for some visitors. That said, there are several elevators, and about 60% of the exhibits are wheelchair accessible.
The sights on the USS Midway that are most popular with visitors are deep inside the ship, far from natural light, wind, or other weather. Don’t skip a visit if you happen to be in San Diego on one of our rare drizzly days.
As mentioned above, the flight deck on top is one of the biggest draws. It is totally open to the sky, and accessible no matter what the weather. Bring some sun protection if you plan to spend time here (you will).
It’s a good idea to wear layers when you’re visiting the USS Midway Museum. You might want a hat or a cover up when you’re exploring the flight deck and it’s nice to be able to take off a layer when you check out the cramped hot quarters below.
USS Midway Tickets
You’ll need USS Midway Museum tickets, but you don’t need to pay full price. There are multiple tiers of USS Midway Museum admission ticket prices, with different prices for adults, seniors, students, retired military, and more, as well as a discount for purchasing tickets online. Admission is free for children under the age of 5 years old.
The USS Midway Museum admission fee includes a self-guided audio tour that is narrated by former sailors on the ship. The audio tour takes visitors to about 60 locations. If you were to visit all the locations, it would take about 3 hours, but most people pick and choose the locations that they find most interesting.
There are three ways to buy discount USS Midway tickets.
- Buy straight-to-the-gate tickets through aRes Travel (these are often discounted).
- Bundle tickets with San Diego Zoo.
- Get the Go San Diego sightseeing pass.
USS Midway Museum Parking and Directions
The USS Midway Museum is located at 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101.
The Midway is docked right at the end of Broadway, alongside Navy Pier, and is therefore very walkable to and from most downtown San Diego hotels. It is also steps from the Maritime Museum of San Diego so it’s very common for people to visit both on the same day.
If you plan to take the trolley or a train, the MTS station and Santa Fe Depot station are just a few blocks from the Midway (a 5-minute walk). You can also get there via the free Circuit shuttle called FRED that operates in Downtown.
There are about 300 parking spaces located on Navy Pier immediately adjacent to the ship, but you’ll pay for it ($10-$20) and it tends to fill up quickly during the summer and on holidays. Metered parking is available on the streets near the USS Midway Museum with a two-hour time limit. Walking will give you maximum flexibility and eliminates the need to find parking. If you have to drive, plan to arrive early in the day when parking is easier to secure.
USS Midway Museum hours are daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Last admission is at 4 p.m.
Have you been to this San Diego attraction yet? What tips for visiting the USS Midway Museum can you share?
*Photos with the exception of the top are used courtesy of the USS Midway Museum.
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