Few cities in the world have a naval presence that’s on par with San Diego. This coastal city has long been a hub for the US Navy and is currently the largest naval base in the Pacific. The Naval Amphibious Base across the bay in Coronado is also where the Navy SEALS train for elite missions.

When you’re in San Diego, a naval ship is almost always on the horizon. Some of the ships in the port are actually museums that tell a story beyond warfare on the water. They let you experience the life of a sailor, a life that is unlike anything we experience on land. They also provide insight into life in San Diego, which has served as a home base for the Navy for over 100 years.

Naval Museums That Are Actual Ships

Naval museums are unique in that they aren’t always a collection of artifacts in a building. Often an actual naval ship is a museum and essentially a living piece of history. Visitors can walk through the ship to see the inner workings you don’t get to see on land.

The USS Midway Museum is one of the world's most famous floating naval museums. This gigantic aircraft carrier is impossible to miss if you are around San Diego Bay. Visitors can go through various floors of the aircraft carrier and up on the flight deck, where a selection of aircraft can be seen up close.

Feats of Engineering That Preserve History

Naval museums preserve a unique part of American history, but they offer far more than that. Each ship is a testament to innovation and engineering. Seeing them in a picture simply doesn’t capture the impressive magnitude in the same way as looking up at the towering ship from below.

San Diego's naval museums are worth visiting even if you’ve never been in the military. They offer unique, immersive experiences that can be appreciated by anyone interested in engineering and architecture.

San Diego Naval Museums Showcase Personal History for Locals

Because the Navy has been a part of the city’s identity for decades, naval museums are a piece of personal history for San Diego locals. So many residents have a personal connection to this military branch, whether it be a family member in the Navy during WWII, working for the 32nd Street Naval Station as a civilian or seeing the ships at the base in Coronado every day from a downtown condo.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego is an amazing experience for visitors and residents alike. It has the only exhibit exclusively about San Diego’s Navy history. You’ll get an in-depth look at how its presence has helped shape the city for over a century.

Planning a Visit to a San Diego Naval Museum

A visit to a San Diego naval museum isn’t like visiting one of the many museums in Balboa Park or downtown art museums. Once aboard, you’ll want to give yourself time to explore the surroundings. At least 2 hours is suggested, but for a museum like the USS Midway, you can easily spend four hours looking at exhibits.

Naval ships can be hard to navigate due to narrow pathways, low ceilings and steep staircases. Comfortable, closed-toe shoes that are easy to walk in are highly recommended. You may also want to bring a light jacket since the breeze around San Diego Bay can be chilly. 

During the busy summer season, it’s best to get tickets to naval museums in advance. When purchasing tickets, check to see if reentry is allowed and look at the current visitor hours, which can vary depending on the season.