What: The USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California, a display of historic American military might second to none.
How to Get There: From the north, take I-5 south. From the east, grab I-8 until it intersects I-5 and go south. Once on I-5, watch for the Embarcadero area in downtown San Diego right on the harbor.
Best Kept Secrets: The regions east along US 94 and north San Diego County offer fabulous riding. And you’re just a short 20 minutes away from Baja if you head south on I-5 from San Diego. Anthony’s on the Pier (a mile north of the Midway) is a great stop for lunch or dinner.
San Diego is a gem of a city. Located near California’s southernmost tip, it offers a temperate climate, incredible restaurants, a magnificent downtown area, arguably the best zoo on the planet, great shopping and world-class museums. Of these, my favorite is the USS Midway Museum.
This isn’t just a museum: It’s the actual USS Midway, an immense aircraft carrier, the longest serving ship in U.S. Navy history and a visible symbol of U.S. power. Docked at the southern end of San Diego’s Embarcadero area (a run of restaurants, shops and sights on San Diego’s harbor), a USS Midway visit should be on your bucket list.
You should plan on spending a good half day at the USS Midway Museum, because there’s a lot to see. The USS Midway includes more than 60 exhibits, with the ship itself being the most unforgettable part; make no mistake, it’s huge. When it first put to sea in 1945 (eight days after Japan surrendered), the USS Midway was the largest ship in the world, a distinction it held for the next decade. I had a sense of the Midway’s size, but it wasn’t until I was in the main hangar in the bowels of the ship and up on the 4-acre flight deck that I realized just how huge it is. They say an aircraft carrier is a floating city. When you see it in person, you’ll understand why.
On the flight deck and in the hangar below, the USS Midway displays 29 aircraft. You can explore nearly the entire ship, from the crew’s quarters to the “island” where the Air Boss controlled flight operations. You’ll want to leave your helmet and other riding gear with your motorcycle, as the climb up to the flight operations center is tight. The docents (museum guides) are the best part of the visit. Many are senior citizens who flew the aircraft on display. Not aircraft like the ones on display, but the actual aircraft on the Midway. Their stories and the historical connections are real.
I once heard a U.S. president say that when there was trouble anywhere, his first thoughts turned to the carriers. That sure was true for the USS Midway, because where there was trouble, there went the Midway. During the Vietnam War, Midway aviators shot down the first two North Vietnamese Migs in 1965, a whole bunch more after that, and the very last Mig in 1973. If you’re old enough to remember the news footage of U.S. troops pushing helicopters off a carrier deck at the end of the Vietnam War, that was on the Midway. They did that to clear a landing zone for an escaping South Vietnamese Air Force pilot and his family in a small Cessna: They landed on the Midway. She deployed to the Arabian Sea during the Iran hostage crisis, and when North Korean thugs killed two U.S. Army officers in 1976 (while I was stationed in South Korea), the Midway appeared off the coast. Many of the Desert Storm missions were flown from the USS Midway.
After serving proudly on active duty for 47 years, the Midway was decommissioned in 1992 and mothballed in Bremerton, Washington. San Diego, a great Navy town, recognized the opportunity and grabbed the Midway in 2003. During its first year of operation, the USS Midway Museum attracted nearly a million visitors, more than double what the town expected. It’s that good! — Joe Berk