Also known as the USS Midway Museum, the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum is like a city on the sea, containing some 60 exhibits and 25 restored aircraft. Officially decommissioned in 1992, this Navy aircraft carrier today ranks as the world's most-visited floating ship museum, welcoming some 4.1 million visitors since its opening in June 2004.
The USS Midway was constructed during the last 17 months of World War II as the last of the straight-deck aircraft carriers. It first set sail a week after the war ended. With a steel flight deck covering four acres, it was the largest ship in the world until 1955. Each link in its massive anchor chain weighed 130 pounds. Some 3.2 million gallons of ship and aviation fuel could be stored onboard, and the electrical generators could have powered the homes of a million people.
During the Midway's 47-year odyssey, it set new standards in naval aviation. From Operation Frostbite in 1946 and conducting V-2 rocket launches in 1947 to rescuing refugees in Operation Frequent Wind in 1975 and serving as the Persian Gulf flagship for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, more than 225,000 Americans participated in the ships operations
Today, visitors can tour the crew's sleeping quarters and see the ship's engine room. They can walk through the massive galley that once served 13,500 meals and ten tons of food per day. Also on exhibit are the Midway's brig, post office, and machine shops.
Visitors are welcome in the pilots' ready rooms, the flight control room and the bridge, which towers high above the flight deck with its three elevators capable of lifting 110,000 pounds each. Aircraft on display include the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, a TBM Avenger, the F9F-8P Cougar, an AD Skyraider, the F-4 Phantom, a Huey gunship, an A-6 Intruder, and the F/A-18 Hornet, among others.
Docents assist visitors in understanding the various aspects of life aboard the vessel, with personal stories, anecdotes, and statistics. Self-guided audio tours are available, and there are optional flight simulators that recreate the experience of flying a Desert Storm mission or controlling a fighter jet through rolls, spins and somersaults. Not surprisingly, most visitors spend three or four hours aboard the ship.
The "Jet Shop'' is the USS Midway's gift shop, located on the hangar deck where jet engines were once repaired. It offers a range of apparel, books, scale models, mugs and drinkware, toys, games, CDs, DVDs, souvenirs and memorabilia. Right next door, the Fantail Cafy offers patio dining in a casual atmosphere. It features a variety of fresh salads, sandwiches, burgers, beverages, and more, priced in the $6~$11 range. Some of the menu items are prepared by following recipes from the ship's 1945 cook book. And one other place to relax with a beverage or snack is the Catapult Cafy, located on the flight deck.
The USS Midway Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a board of directors. General admission is $18 for adults, and $15 for students or seniors aged 62+. Retired military with ID and youth aged 6~17 years pay only $10 for entry. Children under five and active-duty military/reservists are admitted free of charge. The hours of operation are 10am to 5pm daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The ticket booth is open until 4pm. Use of the flight simulators costs $6~$30 additional.
The USS Midway San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum is located alongside Navy Pier at 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, California, 92101. It is just a few blocks from the Santa Fe Depot for easy access via train, coaster and trolley. For those coming by car, more than 300 paid parking spaces are available at the pier, in addition to street metered parking throughout the area.