San Diego is one of my favorite cities for family vacations. It has a ton of things to do and lots of great outdoor fun at its beaches and theme parks. With such a large military presence, the area is also known for its naval aviation history (it was the setting of Top Gun!), and one of the best places to learn more about naval history is at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego’s bay.
The USS Midway Museum is housed on the actual ship which fought in battles from 1945 – 2004 when it was decommissioned and docked permanently as a museum in San Diego. Named after the famous Battle of Midway, it was the largest ship in the world for a decade and was utilized in the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.
The Battle of Midway was fought from June 4 – 7, 1942, making this week its 80th anniversary. It was one of the most strategic and important naval battles of the war, resulting in the Japanese losing many of its aircraft carriers, which had conducted the attack on Pearl Harbor just six months before. The battle is considered the turning point of the Pacific war by many historians.
The USS Midway Museum looms above San Diego’s bay as part of the Navy Pier. It’s quite impressive and your kids will be in awe of its size! It’s such a picturesque place that the recent Top Gun: Maverick premiere was held on its deck!
Pick up your mobile guide, get your kids a copy of the junior pilot scavenger hunt, and walk through its cavernous entrance to the hangar deck exhibits. This level has many planes to explore but don’t miss the Battle of Midway Theater where you can learn more about the ship’s namesake naval battle. You could also watch the movie, Midway, with your older kids (12 and up) before a visit to learn about this crucial WWII battle.
Young and old alike will be excited to see so many planes in one location! Spend time walking around the deck and taking in all of the history through your mobile guide.
When you’re ready, head to the back wall to enter the Enlisted Sailors’ Bunks and Forecastle.
This is not recommended for really small children or strollers as it’s a winding path through narrow corridors. If you have toddlers or babies, just enjoy the planes and head to the upper deck.
If you do continue the tour, your elementary and older kids will love creeping through the tight quarters, trying out the bunks, and pretending to man mission control.
Kids will be amazed at the anchor rooms where you can look through portholes into the sea!
After exiting, spend more time exploring the hands-on activities with the fighter plane simulators.
Then head upstairs to the flight deck. Its jaw-dropping view of the San Diego skyline and the historic planes will make any plane or history enthusiast happy! There is a safety fence surrounding the deck but be sure to hold tight to little ones’ hands – there are many trip hazards!
Head to the Captain and Admirals quarters to learn how the higher ups lived while on board. It’s interesting to compare it to how the other soldiers fared below!
See if there are any special talks you can listen to on the flight deck. We sat in on a volunteer former pilot explaining how they learned to land the aircraft on a floating, ever-moving ship. It was quite interesting!
We ran out of time so we couldn’t check out the below deck exhibits but they look so cool! We’ll have to see on our next visit!
Visiting the USS Midway Museum should be on your must-do list while in San Diego with the family. It’s such a fun and moving experience!
- Cost: $26/13 and up; $18/youth (6-12); free/5 and under – tickets must be purchased in advance here
- Recommended: all ages (corridors recommended for 6 and up)
- Tour time: 1 – 1.5 hours
- Gift shop located onsite and online
- Transportation: A parking lot is available at next door Navy Pier. It is also walkable from most of downtown San Diego and is accessible via the San Diego trolley at the Santa Fe Train Depot and American Plaza Trolley stations. I also recommend using the Old Town Trolley tour as a good way to get around the city.
- Dining options: The museum has a cafe on the Hangar Deck in which to grab a quick bite. The nearby Seaport Village is a great option with lots of seafood restaurants right on the bay and ice cream shops!
- Nearby hotels: Downtown San Diego has great hotels within walking distance to the museum. We’ve stayed at the Hilton and Marriott before. For a neat experience, stay at the (newly renovated) historic Hotel Del Coronado. It was under renovations while we stayed there last summer but it is truly the grand dame of California beach hotels!
- Nearby attractions include: The New Children’s Museum, Historic Gaslamp Quarter, and Balboa Park with its amazing San Diego Zoo, Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego History Center, and San Diego Natural History Museum is just a short 10 minute drive from the Midway
Books to Read: