UPDATED February 2015
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The USS Midway Museum is a retired aircraft carrier in San Diego that has been turned into an amazing museum. This floating city on the sea was in service for 47 years before it was decommissioned. The USS Midway Museum is a world-class museum with over 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft to explore. The self-guided audio tour and plenty of docents available to talk to gave us the opportunity to really imagine what it would be like to live for months at sea on an aircraft carrier.
The USS Midway Museum is one of the most family-friendly museums I have ever visited: young children are encouraged to climb in planes, push buttons, and pull levers. The audio guide is narrated by Midway sailors, and has sections just for kids. My young ones loved this museum and were in no hurry to leave, even after we spent nearly four hours touring the USS Midway Museum.
Here are some things you should know as you plan your visit to the USS Midway Museum.
The USS Midway Museum is a good deal at $20 per adult. However, if you purchase your tickets online, you can save $2 per ticket off the admission prices, AND avoid the ticket line. If you buy tickets in advance, you will need access to a printer to print your tickets. If you pre-purchase tickets, skip the ticket line and head straight to the bottom of the stairs to start your tour.
Group discounts are also available.
The USS Midway Museum parking costs $10 and has 320 slots. If the parking lot is full when you arrive, there are public parking garages and metered parking not too far away.
Do you really need a stroller? I brought an umbrella stroller for my two-year-old son and was glad I did, although most people would recommend leaving the stroller behind. This is a ship with steep staircases and narrow corridors. You will not be able to take a stroller into the lower level of the museum, and you do not want to miss that section about life at sea with 5000 sailors.
If you have a child who needs a nap or who likes to run away, you will be glad for a stroller. Otherwise, you should leave it behind. A backpack or sling would work well for a younger child. You can park your stroller anywhere and leave it while you tour sections of the ship that are not stroller friendly.
Audio Guide Tips
Audio guides are available only for children ages six and above (paid admission). However, when I asked, the staff let me have extra headphones for my two younger children and each device has a second headphone jack so if you are okay with sharing, younger children can listen to the audio guides as well.
When to Visit the USS Midway Museum
July is the busiest month at the USS Midway Museum, followed by August. Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days with as many as 5000-6000 visitors on a busy day. Fridays follow closely behind as the next busiest day. I visited on a Saturday in early August and arrived at 10:30 a.m. I was able to park in the lot, and while the museum was crowded, I was able to see the entire museum.
Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours on the ship. I couldn’t imagine staying that long with five children, but we loved it and after we stopped for snack to reenergize, we stayed nearly four hours. I could have easily stayed longer.
The USS Midway Museum has a food court and also a small refreshment stand on the flight deck. The refreshment stand up top is CASH ONLY and has pretzels, churros, granola bars, drinks, frozen lemonade, etc. The Fantail Cafe has salads, burgers, sandwiches, etc. between $6-11.
Talk to the Docents
The highlight of the visit for me was talking with the many docents available to answer questions and talk about their experience in the U.S. military. Make time to ask these men about their service. I spoke to a World War II veteran who stormed the beach in Normandy on D-day and earned a purple heart for wounds he obtained there. It was an experience I will never forget.
Tips for your tour of the USS Midway Museum
Once you enter the museum, head straight up the stairs or elevator to the flight deck and start your tour at the Captain’s Bridge. This special 3o-minute guided tour takes you through the control center of the ship and is very popular. Children must be 42 inches tall to tour the Captain’s Bridge.
About 1600 people per day are able to tour the Captain’s Bridge, so if this is a priority to you, plan to arrive early and start with that tour. The wait gets longer as the day goes on, and the last tour of the Captain’s Bridge starts at 4:00. On busy days, the line may close at 3:30.
The flight deck is filled with airplanes and amazing views of San Diego Harbor. We saw the USS Ronald Reagan in the harbor. My children spent over an hour climbing in the planes and sitting in a helicopter. My favorite part of the flight deck was listening to the docents explain the take-off and landing procedures. Listening to sailors who worked on the USS Midway explain their role in helping planes land and take off was fascinating.
On the main deck of the ship you can try out flight simulators, climb in bunks and cockpits, check out the Ejection Seat Theater, and visit the gift shop and cafe. On selected days you can meet World War II veterans.
The lower decks give you a glimpse of daily life on the city at sea. Tour the laundry rooms, kitchen, mess hall, chapel, movie theater, post office, and more to visualize what life was like on an aircraft carrier.
Good To Know
Location: 910 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last admission is at 4:00 p.m.
Admission: $20 adult, $15 student, $10 child. Discounts for seniors and retired military. Active-duty military personnel (including reservists) are free.Disclosure: The USS Midway Museum offered my family free admission in exchange for a review of the museum. The opinions expressed here are my own.
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