How to Tour the USS Midway Museum

posted by Sharon February 15, 2020 23 Comments
USS Midway Museum San Diego

A visit to San Diego, California is not complete without a tour of the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier now docked in the bay. With 10 acres of exhibits and displays, this “City at Sea” is open for you to explore – and it’s massive. From the time you enter on the Hangar Deck, you can go up and down to levels from the top “Island,” where the captain steered the ship, down to where you are actually below the outside water line among a nest of water pipes that fed the boiler.

The Midway was commissioned in September 1945 and was active until 1991, making it the longest-serving carrier in US Navy history. When commissioned, it was the largest ship in the world at 1,000 feet long. Today, it appears as it did on its last journey.USS Midway Museum San Diego

I recently toured with an excellent docent, Ron, who filled us in on the history and workings of the Midway. He is the perfect guide because he was in a Navy Air Wing on a carrier so he knows a lot about flight operations and life on a ship. Here are highlights from our tour that will help you plan your visit.

Enter on the Hangar Deck

Entry to the Midway Museum takes you right into the Hangar Deck. The ship houses about 30 planes and helicopters today, and this is still where they are brought for repairs or upkeep. Planes are on display here, and there is a flight simulator ride. At one end, (the bow) a theater shows a movie about the Midway. A gift shop occupies the stern, and off to the side is a café. We toured for about five hours, so if you stay that long you may want to have a snack or lunch. Restrooms are at the stern, too.USS Midway Museum San Diego

USS Midway Museum San DiegoGo Below Deck to Learn About Life at Sea

Descending stairs from the Hangar Deck, you will come to the world of those who lived on the Midway. Imagine 4,500 men running through the narrow hallways, working in the mess hall and laundry, and sleeping in the narrow bunks. You may wonder if women lived on the Midway. Women were not allowed to serve on combat ships until 1993, so no women were on the ship during the years the Midway was active. USS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoYou first come to the chow line and galley. About 14,000 meals a day were served round the clock. Officers had separate mess halls available. USS Midway Museum San DiegoIf you are taking the complimentary audio tour, you follow the yellow signs, like this one you see at the chow line. The green signs are for the Junior Pilots. Kids have their own signs and answer questions along the way. Then they take their flyer back to the information desk and if they have answered correctly, they earn their wings. (I’m guessing the people handing out wings are lenient about these answers being perfect.)USS Midway Museum San DiegoPhotographs from the days of active service tell more about what life aboard the Midway was like.USS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoEverything needed for daily life was here in this “city.” The Midway had a post office, a chapel, a sick bay, and a brig. USS Midway Museum San DiegoThe laundry washed, dried, and ironed 43,000 pounds of clothes a week. The barbershop provided 80,000 haircuts a year.

Five doctors, including surgeons, were onboard. Four dentists worked on the ship.USS Midway Museum San DiegoFire was a concern always in the forefront for this self-contained sea-going city. The red pipes carried sea water, and the blue had an added chemical to make foam. Depending on the cause of the fire, various pipes could be opened to quench it.USS Midway Museum San DiegoContinuing down, you come to the big engine room, with its dials and pipes for water. Midway ran on steam power, so water was important. The phrase “full steam ahead” applied. Four engines moved the huge Midway along.

You will notice lots of long hallways, many stairs and ladders, and more dials, knobs, switches than you could ever count.USS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San Diego

Climb Up to the Island

Above the Hangar Deck you’ll find the Island, the area for navigation and steering. The Captain looked over the bow of the ship, with this view. USS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoYou go up some steep ladder-like stairs to get to the Island. If you’re not comfortable with this, you can see a video of the area on the Hangar Deck.

The radar room was crucial.USS Midway Museum radar

Battle plans were formulated in the map room. The Midway served in the Viet Nam war and the Gulf war. It cruised in the Atlantic Ocean in the 1950s during the Cold War, then went to the Pacific Ocean. The Midway was based in Japan for nearly 18 years. You’ll see indications of this around the ship, such as signs in Japanese and a lovely Japanese fan on the wall of the ward room.USS Midway Museum San Diego

Go Outside to the Flight Deck

Here is where the planes took off and landed. The Flight Deck features 26 restored carrier aircraft. You’ll see jet fighters, attack aircraft, and helicopters.USS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San Diego

Board a helicopter and get a feel for what it’s like to ride in it. The seats are not plush.USS Midway Museum San DiegoThe Midway occupies a prime spot in the San Diego Harbor. Be sure to enjoy the city views from the Flight Deck.San Diego California USS Midway Museum San DiegoWe were reluctant to end our tour. There’s still more of the Midway to explore. We hope to return soon. What a fantastic day we enjoyed, touring this impressive ship.USS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San DiegoUSS Midway Museum San Diego

Practical Information

For information about tickets, hours, and exhibits, check out the Midway’s website.

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23 Comments

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Tamar Benjamin February 16, 2020 at 3:26 am

What an awesome place to tour!

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William Kendall February 16, 2020 at 10:42 am

A wonderful concept for a museum!

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Shiju Sugunan February 16, 2020 at 9:55 pm

Interesting exhibits! I would love to visit.

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riitta k February 16, 2020 at 10:46 pm

What a fantastic experience you had! I have never visited a ship like this.

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Carol February 17, 2020 at 8:34 am

I’ve visited several ship museums but not the Midway. Sounds marvelous!

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Bill February 17, 2020 at 10:43 am

Superb what an awesome museum to visit, knocks the spots of ours

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junieper2/Jesh StG February 17, 2020 at 11:44 am

Awesome shots, Sharon! We had that same feeling at closing time – now, already? great you took to many pics of the inside, because that is what we skipped – too set on seeing all the different models of airplanes. One wouldn’t think this would be so interesting, even to non-air force people, but you get addicted to it, while viewing and hearing all the stories, and history!
Great post for All Seasons, Sharon. Loved your comment about painting in your church. If I get the opportunity, I will sure make use of it:):) Many thanks for the invitation:) and have a lovely week.

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image-in-ing: weekly photo linkup February 19, 2020 at 3:55 am

We have something similar in Wilmington NC. We did the tour a few years ago, but it was a somewhat claustrophobic experience for me! I don’t think I’d be cut out for that life!
Thank you for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2020/02/inside-shop.html

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Ann Plans Travel February 19, 2020 at 5:43 am

My husband would absolutely love to visit this museum. After reading your article I was amazed to learn just how many things there are to do there.

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Laura February 19, 2020 at 7:09 am

The Midway is such a cool spot to take visitors to San Diego. I’ve gone to a few events on it as well & it’s always incredible!

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Claire February 19, 2020 at 9:42 am

I love museums that offer something unique and let you really have an experience, I’ve never been to San Diego but I would def check this out!

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Nicky February 19, 2020 at 10:54 am

This is fascinating! It was in effect a floating city wasn’t it? I laughed out loud at the price a Rolex was back then, but I wonder how many got sold on board? Thank you for sharing, it truly is a unique piece of maritime history.

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Carryn February 19, 2020 at 4:38 pm

This is so interesting and unique! I thoroughly enjoy visiting museums and this is definitely one I’d love to add to my bucket list.

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Courtney February 19, 2020 at 6:32 pm

This is soooooooo cool!! Love seeing all the pics! I never knew the shipp was very self sufficient and had doctors, surgeons and dentists! Full respect to those who served it there

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Jan February 19, 2020 at 10:14 pm

What a lovely blog! We love to visit museums and especially maritime and ship museums. You could spend half a day exploring this place. Saving your blog for my future reference when I go to San Diego. 🙂

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Fae Celine February 20, 2020 at 12:33 am

I’ve never visited a ship museum before. This looks like a wonderful experience.

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Jenn | By Land and Sea February 20, 2020 at 4:30 am

We would have stopped here when we were in San Diego if I would have known how cool it was then! Thanks for sharing!

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Kathryn Dickson February 20, 2020 at 6:20 am

Believe it or not, I was in San Diego on a work trip, barely left the hotel and missed this completely. Looks like a return trip is in order!

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Slavka February 20, 2020 at 6:25 am

I visited an aircraft carrier ship in NYC once and i loved it, it was interesting. So I definitely will want to see this one in San Diego when I go there 🙂

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Andi February 20, 2020 at 1:09 pm

After dozens of trips to San Diego, I FINALLY got to do this tour and it is so worth it! You got great photos! It was pretty cool to see so much of a naval ship, my dad was in the Army and I have seen plenty of tanks and airplanes, but not ships so I really enjoyed it!

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Aditi Sharma February 20, 2020 at 4:01 pm

Oh wow – this is truly an experience that we missed out on when we last visited San Diego. Your pictures really help put into perspective how massive USS Midway is – I was amazed to see how large the hangar deck is! It’s nice to take the complimentary audio tours as they can be so informative – glad to hear that there’s one available on deck as well. Will definitely include a visit to USS Midway on our itinerary next time we visit San Diego. Thanks for all the details.

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Wendy Lee February 20, 2020 at 4:21 pm

I have visited San Diego dozens of times and I still have not seen the USS Midway Museum. And to be honest, I never thought I wanted to, but after seeing your photos I think I need to go. I had no idea how big it is and how much there is to see on board. Thanks for all of this great information!

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Yukti Agrawal February 21, 2020 at 6:07 am

My children loves to visit museum and that too which are full of science, technology and automobiles. Now for me too visit to San Diego, California is not complete without taking a tour of the USS Midway. Good to see a retired aircraft carrier which is now put up at the bay and holding 10 acres of exhibits and displays. It is good that we can go up and down to levels from the top “Island,” where the captain steered the ship, down to below the outside water line among a nest of water pipes that fed the boiler. It must be a real experience.

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