San Diego is one of the top naval cities in the United States. This makes it an appropriate place for the USS Midway Museum. The USS Midway was a long-serving aircraft carrier. Touring the Midway is one of San Diego’s top attractions for all ages. This is the Fun Diego Family guide to the USS Midway Museum.
The USS Midway Museum opened in 2004. At the time there was quite a bit of controversy with some neighbors complaining it would be an eyesore. Today it is one of San Diego’s most popular attractions passing 1 million annual visitors in 2012. It is a centerpiece of the downtown San Diego harbor front.
The USS Midway was named after the famous World War II Pacific Battle. However, the USS Midway was not commissioned until the end of the world. It served from September 1945 to 1992 (Japan surrendered in August 1945).
In 1945, the Midway was the largest ship in the world. It had 4,500 crew members and served 13,500 meals a day. It was truly a city at sea and that is definitely a key point of the tour.
The USS Midway was set to be scrapped. However, San Diego has a strong veteran community. This community helped bring the ship to San Diego and restore it to its current condition as a fascinating piece of 20th century history.
The basic Midway tour is self-guided. The tour includes a free audio-tape. There are points of interest all around the Midway where you can get a description of what you are seeing. In many cases, sailors describe their live on the ship. Separate green points of interest are a specific audio tour for children.
Because there is so much to see on the Midway, this guide is simply a basic overview. We have additional articles with detailed pictures of what you will see. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to see everything on the USS Midway and you may want to plan ahead.
There is a small parking lot right by the USS Midway Museum on the Navy Pier. Cost varies but is usually about $20. This lot fills up fast so most parking will be in downtown lots or at metered spaces.
Entry to the USS Midway Museum is $23 for adults 18 and over. Youths age 6 to 12 are $10. College students and ages 13-17 are $17, seniors are $20, retired military is $10. Active military and children 5 and under are free. If you order in advance online, you can save $1 each person off admission price.
An option we use, even as San Diego residents, is the Go San Diego Card combined with the next door Maritime Museum of San Diego. For visitors just in San Diego for a day or two, the Go San Diego Card allows you to build your own pass. With the build your own pass you add 2 or more attractions to the pass and save 20% off the gate price for each attraction. We do this to visit both the Maritime Museum and Midway on the same day.
A major advantage of the Go San Diego Card is you can avoid the line and go right onto the USS Midway. At most attractions, this is not a big deal, but the USS Midway line can be long.
If you are in San Diego for 3 or more days you may want to consider a Go San Diego Card which includes the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the USS Midway Museum, the museums in Balboa Park and many other big San Diego attractions. It also includes a harbor cruise located right next to the museum.
The Go San Diego Card allows visitors access to up to 40 attractions for either 1,2,3,5 or 7 days. This is not a cheap option and we generally recommend it for 3 days or more where it is $209 adults/$189 children age 3 to 12.
A 7-day pass is a very good value at $299/$269. The 3-day or more passes include admission to the very big attractions like SeaWorld and Legoland. If you do get a Go San Diego Card it is very possible to do the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the USS Midway and take a harbor cruise, all in the same day.
If you are a resident or frequent visitor to San Diego, you might consider a membership option. Annual membership to the USS Midway Museum is $110 for a family and $70 for individuals.
USS Midway Tour
The USS Midway can be divided into three main sections:
- The Main Deck/Hangar Deck where you start your tour
- The Flight Deck where the planes launched
- Below Decks where the USS Midway functioned as a city at sea.
This guide just scratches the surface. See our more detailed pictorial guides of each area for a better idea of what you will see
Main Deck/Hangar Deck
You will enter the center of the USS Midway on the Hangar Deck. This is where you pick up your audio tour. The audio tour is included with admission. There are many points of interest throughout the USS Midway. Simply punch in the number listed on the yellow kiosk and listen. For children, there are green stations with an audio tour targeted towards them.
On this main deck you will see several planes you can climb aboard. There are also flight simulators that cost extra. One of the first exhibits is the Bird Dog plane. This was a plane that rescued people from Saigon, Vietnam in 1975. It landed on the USS Midway without the normal tailhook that catches landing planes.
On the right, as you enter is the Battle of Midway Theater. This is a 15-minute film about the 1942 Battle of the Midway. Of course, this was the battle that gave the ship its name when it was commissioned 3 years later.
From the Battle of Midway Theater, you can head to the Gallery Deck. This tour goes through the Fo’ C’ SLE (the anchors for the ship), the Command Information Center (CIC), Carrier Air Group (CAG) and a Helicopter history exhibit.
The Gallery Deck tour starts at the theater but ends across the ship near the entrance. It is best to do the Gallery Deck either first or last.
To the left of the entrance is access to both the lower deck and the flight deck. There is also a gift shop and restaurant. Note that you can buy a Revell model of the USS Midway. This model is actually how the aircraft carrier looked in 1945. In the 1960s the flight deck was significantly expanded to its current 4 acres. The cafe is located outside on the hangar deck with a nice view of downtown.
Right by the gift shop, you can head up the stairs to the flight deck. Along the way, you will see the life rafts used in case of emergency.
The huge flight deck is a museum of aircraft and helicopters. You can actually go in some of the helicopters and aircraft.
There are two places on the flight deck where veterans (usually of the USS Midway) hold frequent talks about the challenges of launching and landing planes. There is a great deal of information about the flight crew needed to operate flights on an aircraft carrier.
Directly across the Flight Deck from where you came in, you can go down a staircase to view the Pilot Ready Rooms. This is where pilots were briefed before and after flights. Next to the Pilot Ready Rooms is the Admiral and Commander’s Country. This is where the admiral lived. During Operation Desert Storm (1990/1991) it was a center of operations.
The Island is the large command center that sits several stories above the flight deck. The Island Tour is a guided tour of this area. It is included with admission. However, you may need to wait in line as they only send in small groups of 20 to 30 at a time.
The Island Tour takes you into the navigation and flight deck operations for the USS Midway. It involves climbing some steep staircases but is well worth the effort.
The Below Deck area is all about how the USS Midway was a city at sea. You tour the mess hall where up to 14,000 meals a day were served. You will also see the chapel, post office, barber shop and other signs of a town with 4,500 citizens. Throughout the tour, you will see mannequins of soldiers going through their routine.
The laundry complex is huge and did 43,000 pounds of laundry a week. The medical complex is actually a mini-hospital. There are full dental and surgery facilities. There is even a jail, which of course provides some good photo-ops.
The below deck area also includes a tour of the engineering section of the USS Midway. This includes the engine room and control room areas of the ship.
The USS Midway Museum hosts many special activities. This includes the possibility to sleep overnight. There are also special movie and party nights. Memorial Day and the 4th of July are host to major annual events.
Right next to the USS Midway Museum is the Greatest Generation Walk. This is not so much a walk, but a display of monuments focused on World War II.
A short distance down the pier is the Maritime Museum of San Diego. This is a museum with multiple ships and submarines you can tour. We like to combine the Maritime Museum of San Diego and USS Midway Museum Tour in a single day.
Overall the USS Midway Museum is one of San Diego’s top attractions. It is right by downtown and the airport so there is no excuse not to visit.