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.
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 Military.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.