As host to our nation’s largest military community, there is no shortage of San Diego military museums, monuments, and memorials dedicated to those who have so nobly served our country.
As a retired Navy Captain, it swells my heart with pride that America’s Finest City recognizes the innumerable sacrifices of these men and women in uniform—many who gave their lives and deserve our highest honor.
A large number of these commemorative places highlight the deeds and sacrifices of our World War II veterans —those unassuming patriots Tom Brokaw so eloquently portrayed in his amazing book America’s Greatest Generation.
But some, like the USS Maine Monument in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, memorialize units, men, and engagements of a much earlier era. Others pay tribute to veterans and military accruements of more modern times. Here are our most notable and not to be missed military museums, memorials, and monuments honoring these American heroes.
USS MIDWAY MUSEUM
Address: 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
The crown jewel of San Diego’s military museums, the USS Midway CV-41. It is located on the Embarcadero showcases over 50 years of Naval aviation from the decks of the U.S. Navy’s premier fighting ships.
It’s the most popular museum in San Diego and the most visited military ship museum in the country. Docent and audio-guided tours of the ship’s spaces provide visitors with an insider’s look at life onboard these massive floating airports.
This vessel’s interior, hanger bay, ready rooms, and flight deck displaying all the principal aircraft types that have served onboard carriers warrant a full day of adventurous exploring. And if you want to explore even more ships, don’t miss the San Diego Maritime Museum. It is just a few minutes’ walk away.
Read our full guide on the USS Midway Museum here>>
VETERAN’S MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL CENTER
Address: 2115 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104
The Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center resides in the former chapel of Balboa Navy Hospital in Balboa Park. This unique museum honors the thousands of San Diego area veterans who’ve served in conflicts ranging from the 1845 Mexican War to the present.
Artifacts, uniforms, medals, and memorabilia put a human face on war, regaling fascinating stories of service and heroism. The museum also illustrates the lengthy history of evolution of the military presence in Balboa Park. You can find numerous fascinating photographs and drawings.
FORT ROSECRANS NATIONAL CEMETERY
Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
Serene and majestic, this national cemetery is often referred to as the ‘Arlington of the Pacific.’ Solemn rows of white tombstones stand as silent sentinels in military formation under sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Numerous markers and monuments honor veterans of various wars and conflicts.
My first visit there was especially painful as I said my farewell to a dear friend and former roommate from Officer Candidate School who passed away while I was in Iraq. One of the Cemetery’s most moving stone inscriptions is a somber, reflective poem by Theodore O’Hara poignantly titled The Bivouac of the Dead. Don’t leave here without reading it. It’s moving.
“GREATEST GENERATION COLLECTION” MEMORIALS
Address: Tuna Park Harbor, 3 Tuna Lane, San Diego, CA 92101
The Port of San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Park encompassing the USS Midway is home to a collection of monuments and memorials. Most of them are dedicated to the valor of America’s “Greatest Generation” during the great conflict of World War II.
The Unconditional Surrender statue is the much-photographed 30-foot-tall monument in the shadow of the USS Midway. It immortalizes that famous impromptu Times Square kiss by an exuberant sailor and a nurse celebrating the unconditional surrender of Japan bringing World War II to a close.
Bob Hope USO Memorial
The Bob Hope USO memorial titled A National Salute To Bob Hope & The Military pays a fitting tribute to this famous comedian who graciously entertained the troops during WWII and for many years afterward.
The memorial consists of 16 bronze sculptures portraying the comedian at a microphone surrounded by servicemen and women from the many conflicts throughout his nearly 50 years of bringing them comfort and humor. The look on their faces says it all. Thanks for the memories, Bob!
USS San Diego Memorial
Tuna Harbor’s USS San Diego Memorial is a massive monument honoring the city’s namesake, the USS San Diego (CL-53). During WWII, the light cruiser served with distinction in the western Pacific. Two massive granite slabs list names of all who served on board during those campaigns. A life-sized bronze sculpture of a sailor pays homage to all her valiant crewmembers.
Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial
The Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial features ship plaques and a bust of Admiral Clifton Sprague. The statue honors the heroism and sacrifice of Task Unit 77 during one of the most decisive engagements of the war. Two small escort carriers and three destroyers were lost in the valiant “Taffy 77’s” defense of the Leyte landings against a vastly superior Japanese task force.
US Aircraft Carrier Memorial
The US Aircraft Carrier Memorial commemorates U.S. Navy aircraft carrier fleet and the sailors and airmen who have served onboard these magnificent vessels. The centerpiece of the memorial is a massive black granite obelisk bearing the names of all U.S. carriers from USS Langley (CV-1) through the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
The Homecoming statue reflects the most precious moment in a sailor’s life: the joyous embrace of his wife and child after returning from those lengthy sea deployments that are an integral part of naval life.
I for one will never forget the thrill of seeing my beloved family, full of anticipation as they waited on the pier, finally seeing me hurrying down the gangway and rushing into their arms. This towering seven-foot bronze sculpture captures the moment beautifully.
VIETNAM UNIT MEMORIAL MONUMENT
Address: Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, CA
The Vietnam Unit Memorial Monument in Coronado honors Navy and Coast Guard sailors who gave their lives in the Vietnam war, in the air, at sea, on inland waters, ashore, and in POW camps from 1960-1975.
The monument resides on the Naval Amphibious Base. It serves as a source of inspiration to future generations of naval warriors. A curved flag-adorned wall holds plaques listing all 2,564 Navy and Coast Guard personnel who perished in the Vietnam conflict. The wall gracefully frames three restored Vietnam-era “Brown Water Navy” craft that are open for touring.
MOUNT SOLEDAD NATIONAL VETERANS MEMORIAL
Address: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Dr S, La Jolla, CA 92037
This stunning memorial with its massive cross sitting high atop 824-foot Mount Soledad is visible from miles away. After years of political and legal battling due to its religious theming, the issue was finally put to rest in 2015. The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association purchased the half-acre of land under the cross from the Department of Defense for $1.4 million making it private property.
Mt. Soledad It is considered the nation’s only memorial that honors living and deceased veterans throughout our history from the Revolutionary War to the present day. It remains one of the most conspicuous landmarks in our entire city.
San Diego has a long and storied history with the U.S. armed forces. This is not an all-inclusive listing of the San Diego military museums, memorials, and monuments. If you have visited others you feel are worthy of sharing, please let us know.
Michael Kompanik wrote Amazing San Diego Military Museums, Monuments & Memorials for San Diego Explorer.
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Last Updated on March 4, 2021 by Maria Haase