The longest serving aircraft carrier in U.S. history, the USS Midway was decommissioned in 1992 after nearly 50 years of service in campaigns such as the Vietnam conflict and Operation Desert Storm. In 2004 it was transformed into one of the world’s most impressive naval museums, stationed along San Diego’s Embarcadero, attracting patrons from all over the world. A floating city unto itself, the Midway offers a wealth of activities, from tours to over 60 special exhibits to private events, and more. Guests can peruse the impressive fighter aircraft gallery featuring 29 planes and helicopters from World War II through today, including F4 Phantoms, F4F Wildcats, and A-6 Intruders. Tours of the carrier’s interior include the flight control center, bridge, galleys, jail, engine room, pilots’ ready room, and more, all accompanied by audio stories narrated by former Midway servicemen. For more personal accounts, guests can chat to any of a number of docents on board, many of whom served aboard the carrier. Both children and adults can experience flight simulators, watch movies in the Midway’s theater, and climb into the cockpits of certain aircraft. The Midway’s restaurant even serves authentic meals from its 1945 menu.
As a nonprofit, the Midway gives back much to the community that has embraced it. To start, portions of the carrier’s massive four-acre flight foot deck can be rented for private events holding up to 3,000 people, including birthdays and fundraisers. More than 400 active duty military events are held during museum hours, such as re-enlistments, retirements, changes of command, and memorials, all of which the public are invited to observe. Over the course of any year, some 5,000 youths participate in the Midway’s overnight programs, bunking in the carrier’s berths like real sailors. Science, math, and social studies workshops are also available on-board for students in grades 2-8 looking to get a one-of-a-kind education. Additionally, the Midway maintains a naval library open to all members and former servicemen.
With a ship this size it’s no surprise that special events abound, such as this month’s Legacy Week beginning May 23, during which the Midway’s hangers are transformed into a Discovery Zone for kids featuring aircraft and ship restoration activities, military equipment, demonstrations, and more. A blood drive, live bands, ceremonies, and meet and greets with the actual pilots who flew the aircraft add to the excitement. Also on the horizon is the carrier’s 4th of July festivities, which includes USO-style entertainment and one of the best seats in San Diego from which to watch the fireworks over the bay.
There is so much to do on the Midway it bears repeat viewing. Thankfully memberships allow for as many return visits as you’d like — there’s no telling who might be on deck on a given day to regale guests with stories of their service at sea. To view package deals and an upcoming calendar of events, visit the museum’s Web (619.544.9600, midway.org) RYAN THOMAS