San Diego is a military town. Sailors are about as common here as surfers. Several large military installations call San Diego County home, including Camp Pendleton, home to the 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and Naval Base San Diego. Tributes to military history are peppered throughout the region and its influence is still very much visible today. Plan to see for yourself with this list during your next visit.
Perhaps the most visible piece of military history in San Diego is the USS Midway Museum docked at Navy Pier along the downtown waterfront. The aircraft carrier, named for the infamous World War II battle, was in operation for decades before it was decommissioned and turned into a floating museum filled with restored aircraft and other exhibitions.
At the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar, you can learn more about military aircraft and the men and women who flew them. There are also Open Cockpit Days where visitors can experience Marine aviation from a pilot’s perspective.
Miramar, formerly a Naval Air Station, was also the setting for the 1986 film Top Gun. Although the Top Gun flight school has since relocated to Fallon, Nevada, a few of the film’s local backdrops have stood the test of time. The bar at Kansas City Barbecue still looks about the same as when Maverick and Goose let loose on “Great Balls of Fire,” and what’s commonly referred to as the Top Gun house at 102 Pacific St. in Oceanside still stands.
While in San Diego, be sure to pay Liberty Station a visit. The site was known as Naval Training Center, San Diego from 1923 to 1997 and many of its original structures remain intact, although they are now filed with shops, galleries, and eateries including Liberty Public Market.
Just a few miles up Interstate 5 is the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. The outdoor memorial’s curved walls are lined with plaques featuring veterans’ pictures and stories. At the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center, in what used to be the chapel of a naval hospital in Balboa Park, see exhibits on World Wars I and II, Pearl Harbor, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and women in the military. This museum also boasts an impressive collection of memorabilia, dating back to the Civil War.