Inside the Icon: USS Midway
The former Navy ship has a decorated military history but continues to impress as a maritime museum, with massive preservation efforts, record-breaking attendance, celebrity visitors, and one of the best waterfront views in all of San Diego.
Photo by John Bahu
Visit the Icon
910 North Harbor Drive, Downtown
The USS Midway went into active service one week after WWII ended in 1945 and was the only U.S. Navy ship to serve for the entire duration of the Cold War. It was also the world’s first ship to carry nuclear weapons. It opened as a museum in June 2004.
After the Midway’s decommissioning at North Island and storage in Washington, it took 12 years for a group of more than 1,000 San Diegans to obtain the permits needed to bring the ship back to the city in 2004. Today, about 700 local volunteers donate 250,000 hours annually—the equivalent of more than 100 full-time employees.
With only five months to convert the aircraft carrier into a museum, there was much to accomplish in a short amount of time. That meant operating without regular electricity during that first summer. An employee had to stop at a gas station on the way to work each morning to get fuel for the pier’s generator.
Fresh off the Boat
The Midway Museum hit its projected first-year attendance less than five months after opening, was profitable by the first month, and debt-free in 18 months. As a nonprofit, all proceeds go back to the museum.
Running a Tight Ship
The museum employs a specialist diver to inspect and maintain the 1,000-foot hull, making minor rust and corrosion repairs beneath the water line.
A Night at the Museum
The Midway hosts 300 private evening events per year. Revelers have enjoyed helicopter landings, fireworks, and skydivers landing on the flight deck. (Given the wind gusts and occasional uninvited seagulls, the Midway is not used for weddings.)
The museum hit 1.4 million visitors in 2015, their sixth consecutive annual attendance record. Four in 10 guests are from foreign countries, one in 14 are from China, and one in 10 are from Europe.
American Idol, The Bachelor, Wheel of Fortune, and many other TV shows have filmed on the Midway.
Guests can explore the ship’s galley, engine room, jail, flight simulators, and more—plus 29 aircraft and climbable cockpits spanning the 20th century, such as an F-14 Tomcat and H-46 Sea Knight.
Hollywood stars, pro athletes, and foreign dignitaries have visited the museum, but almost all of them have requested to keep their visits under wraps. One notable exception?
Hollywood heavyweight and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, his now ex-wife Maria Shriver, and their kids, who went on private tours during his term.