The USS Midway Museum is truly one of San Diego’s best attractions. It was America’s longest serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century (1942–1992) and is now a floating museum that is docked permanently along the popular downtown Embarcadero waterfront area.
Visitors will have a chance to learn what life was like on board this floating city in addition to 50 years of military history. It is hard to believe that 4500 sailors once lived and worked here (200,000 throughout the years, in total).
Who Visit the USS Midway?
The answer is that the USS Midway Museum appeals to nearly everyone. You’ll see veterans and current military personnel, especially Navy. Children visit on school-sponsored field trips conducted in conjunction with USS Midway staff (our daughter’s elementary school takes an annual field trip here). It is a must-visit for tourists (a huge draw for overseas visitors) as well as local and visiting families.
Each group has their own style, interests and priorities while visiting. (As some areas are small spaces, this can require a bit of understanding and respect by members of each group for the others.)
USS Midway Volunteers and Docents Add Incredible Value
Hands down, the USS Midway 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 sailors on the ship when it was in service. Oh, the stories they can tell that will enhance your experience. Keep an eye out for them.
Restored, Vintage Aircraft
Both on the outside flight deck and below in the main hangar, the Midway features dozens of restored, vintage aircraft, including jets and helicopters. For many, this section is a highlight. I know very little about these aircraft myself, so am always impressed in a “wow, neat!” sort of way. Others who know a lot more about these aircraft may find that their depth of knowledge enables them to appreciate them on a much deeper, meaningful level.
Kids enjoy the ability to climb into the cockpits of many of these aircraft and pretend to control them.
Flight Simulators A La Carte
There are several enticingly-elaborate flight simulators available to ride in the main hangar. Our daughter and her friends always ask (multiple times) to ride them. The cost of one ride is $16 (for either one or two people) but they are really cool.
Highlights Beyond the Vintage Aircraft
As noted earlier, there are various groups who visit the USS Midway Museum and each of them likely has their own particular areas of emphasis and interest.
For our daughter and her friends, the areas of the ship that seemed to draw the most genuine interest are:
- the brig (tiny!).
- the kitchen (industrial-style, cooking for hundreds, but also cramped).
- the electrical turbines.
- 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.
You can download a tour map of the USS Midway to get a feel for what’s on board but it really doesn’t compare to seeing it all in real life.
USS Midway Dining Options
The Midway does feature the Fantail Café with casual, patio seating. In addition to sandwiches, salads and hamburgers, it offers a range of foods from the ship’s 1945 cookbook. It is simple fare but if you can snag a table on the outdoor patio, you’ll be treated to a view of the action on the Embarcadero. It’s a nice break.
Because the Midway is docked in the downtown area, however, there are dozens and dozens of eating options of all sorts just blocks away and all around it if you don’t have time to stop into the Fantail Café.
USS Midway Gift Shop
My husband chaperoned my daughter’s last field trip to the USS Midway Museum and the girls lured him into the gift shop there (which I found humorous) where they bought a tub of slime. In addition to a wide variety of “Midway” logo items and toys, what caught his eye was a small collection of ‘vintage’ 1950s candies for sale near the register, which he didn’t realize were still made.
For some, this may be a revelation, while for others this is obvious. This WWII-era ship has a lot of very narrow stairs, low ceilings, and very narrow hallways which may pose unique challenges. But, 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. But, as mentioned above, a big draw is also the flight deck on top, which is totally open to the sky, whether that be on any particular day bright sun, wind or rain. Layers are best for a visit here and you may want to bring a hat and sunscreen for the flight deck.
USS Midway Tickets
You’ll need tickets for the USS Midway Museum though children under the age of 5 years old are free.
There are multiple tiers of ticket costs, with different prices for adults, seniors, students, retired military and more, as well as a discount for purchasing tickets online.
Each admission tickets comes with a self-guided audio tour that is narrated by former sailors on the ship. The tour takes visitors to about 60 locations.
If you were to visit all of the locations, it would take about 3 hours but most people pick and choose the locations that are most interesting.
There two ways to buy USS Midway discount tickets:
- Print and go straight to the gate tickets at aRes Travel (sometimes these are discounted).
- Go San Diego Card
How To Get To the USS Midway
The Midway is docked right at the end of Broadway, and is therefore very walkable to/from most downtown San Diego hotels. Walking may give visitor maximum flexibility and in particular eliminates the need to park.
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). If you plan to drive, there is extensive public parking available on a portside dock immediately adjacent to the ship (about 300 spaces are here). The cost is $10 and the lot can fill up quickly. If parking, it’s wise to plan a visit for early in the day.
What do you love about the USS Midway?
*Photos with the exception of the top are used courtesy of the USS Midway Museum.