Click for possible tour changes on the day of your tour here
uss midway

Military History of San Diego

San Diego, California, otherwise known as America’s finest city is a southern California destination filled with sun, sand and sea. Upon arrival, many head directly to the coast to dip their toes in the Pacific, feel the sand beneath their feet and take in the beauty of a sunset. Others check out the sights and spend their days visiting animal friends at the San Diego Zoo, exploring the majestic green space of Balboa Park or learning the lessons of tradition at Old Town State Park. Whether you’re here to hike, surf or explore, there’s more to experience than the medicinal benefits of vitamin D. Amidst the sun-drenched vistas, craft beer breweries and fish taco friendly food trucks is a constant that runs deep through the heritage and history of San Diego – the United States’ Military.

couple at San Diego USS Midway

San Diego’s relationship with the military goes back decades. Now synonymous with this city, the military and the city of San Diego walk hand in hand through their daily existence. Whether you’re here for a day or a week, you’ll notice the presence.

Fighter Jets and Ospreys zoom across the skies, massive aircraft carriers adorn the piers, warships weave their way into the horizon daily and SEALS of the humankind train at the beaches. Although the first presence of the US Navy at San Diego’s shoreline dates back to the early 1900s, it wasn’t until after World War I that San Diego became a major player in the Navy’s plans for a West Coast base. Decade after decade, San Diego’s stock, both literally and figuratively, continued to grow. Today, this city by the sea is a central force for the US Navy.

Not far from the international airport, the Coast Guard has a base on San Diego Bay. The Marines showcase their strength at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and further north at Oceanside’s Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The Navy is a staple of downtown San Diego with bases on Coronado Island, ships and aircraft carriers in San Diego Bay and according to is ‘home port for approximately 60 Navy ships and home base to 50 separate commands, each having specific and specialized fleet support purposes.’ And each year to the delight of thousands of spectators, the formidable feats of the Navy’s Blue Angels are showcased at the San Diego Air Show. San Diego is, without a doubt, a military town.

A visit to Coronado Island will find a military base on either side of a gorgeous stretch of beach. Naval Air Station North Island, the only naval base open 24/7, is often referred to as the ‘birthplace of naval aviation.’ Known for both its geography and weather, North Island took flight in the early 1900s. Today, sunbathing visitors on the beaches of Coronado regularly hear aircrafts before they can see them and often witness naval aviation maneuvers above the crashing waves of the Pacific. Civilians can also visit this base during the annual San Diego tradition of Fleet Week. As beachgoers wander the boardwalk away from North Island and past the famed Hotel del Coronado, the boardwalk ends at the Naval Amphibious Base, home to the military’s prestigious Navy SEALS. Guarded by Military Police officers, the beach directly in front of the base is open ONLY to active and retired military personnel.

World War II directly affected San Diego. The military presence exploded in leaps and bounds. Today, visitors to San Diego can witness some of this presence in their everyday outings. Visitors to Balboa Park pass by the Naval Hospital. Students learn about the naval partnerships that the University of California and Scripps Institute of Oceanography developed and continue to this very day. Used for aviation and pilot training, Miramar’s Marine Corp Air Station was first used by the Navy and Marines and once housed the squadrons including ‘Top Gun.” Today visitors have access to this incredible marine base each autumn when it opens for the spectacular air show. Even food vendors are commingled with military appreciation in San Diego. Fans of barbecue and movies can check out downtown’s Kansas City Barbecue, home to some of the scenes of the well-known Hollywood smash, Top Gun.

san diego uss midway and family

All across America’s finest city, visitors and veterans can find access to military history. The symbiotic relationship between locals and the military is found in all aspects of daily life. Through the decades the economy, culture and prowess of this sun-drenched city has become intertwined with military life. One of the first sights visitors see across the downtown skyline is the USS Midway.

One of the most photographed areas in the city is ‘the kissing statue’ of the sailor and the nurse set amidst the backdrop of the massive strength of the USS Midway and adjacent to the Embarcadero’s Greatest Generation Walk. Today’s visitors shop and enjoy what was once San Diego’s Naval Training Center in Point Loma’s Liberty Station. Visitors and nature lovers hike and whale watch at San Diego’s own Cabrillo Point. The military is woven into the fabric of San Diego’s history and the city; its residents and visitors are better for it.

For more places to check out the military history of San Diego, visit:

The USS Midway

Home to over 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft, visitors can take a self-guided audio tour through one of America’s longest serving aircraft carriers. Guests of the USS Midway can chat with volunteers, experience the life of a sailor aboard the carrier, meet veterans and try their hands at the amazing feats of technology aboard the decks.

San Diego Air and Space Museum

Dedicated to preserving the culture and history of aviation, visitors to this museum journey through the world of aviation, from the first flight to present day.

The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

This free museum is located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The only museum of its kind, the Flying Leatherneck museum preserves contributions of Marine Corps aviators, their flight and ground personnel while also allowing guests to experience the vintage aircrafts used in Marine Corps history.

The Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park

Set atop Balboa Park’s Inspiration Point, this free museum honors all men and women who have fought in the United States Armed Forces and Wartime Merchant Marine.

Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial

Honoring members of all branches of the military, this memorial set atop a mountain in the San Diego community of La Jolla is a place of honor and respect. It features various plaques for military servicemen and women and a flag specifically dedicated to those who fought during the Korean conflict.

Cabrillo National Monument

This National Monument shares the story of Juan Cabrillo’s arrival to San Diego. From the vantage height of Cabrillo Point, visitors get a view of the entire city including the naval bases in Coronado.

The San Diego History Center

Dedicated to the history of San Diego, a visit to this museum provides a journey back through time and allows visitors to witness stories of the diverse nature of this city.

San Diego Seal Tours

With a departure point at the Embarcadero, Seal Tours is a fun and convenient way to sightsee on your trip. Sit back and let our unique amphibious vehicle show you the top sights and best attractions around, such as the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum and the Star of India ship. There are famous landmarks all along the bay front and by taking a Seal Tour, your visit will be a memorable one. Find the lowest price and money-saying packages by purchasing tickets directly through our website.

You May Also Like…

Best Romantic Things to Do in San Diego

San Diego, the city of sun and surf, is also a paradise for couples seeking memorable romantic experiences. Nestled by the Pacific Ocean, this southern Californian city offers couples an array of things to do that cater to different tastes, making it an impeccable choice for partners, whether they're in search of adventure or tranquility. From serene beach walks and intimate winery tours to captivating sunset cruises and diverse cuisines, San Diego provides the perfect backdrop for romance. Incorporating these romantic things in San Diego into your itinerary will not only make your journey unforgettable but will also strengthen your bond with your partner amid the beauty and allure of San Diego.
Learn More

Maritime Museum & Star of India San Diego Visitor Guide

The Maritime Museum and Star of India stand as testaments to San Diego's profound maritime history. The world-renowned Maritime Museum of San Diego was founded in 1948 by a group of local historians and maritime experts committed to preserving and showcasing San Diego's nautical heritage. The heart of the museum is the Star of India, an 1863 iron bark that seems to have transcended the boundaries of time. The Star of India embarked on her maiden voyage on November 14, 1863, sailing from Great Britain to India, and then on to New Zealand. Despite enduring several arduous journeys, the ship found a new lease on life as a salmon hauler, sailing from Alaska to California.
Learn More