Most kids love boats, so you can imagine how excited they get about a really, really big boat. Downtown San Diego’s USS Midway Museum is just that: a retired aircraft carrier that is now permanently docked and open to visitors along the city’s Embarcadero. The deck of the enormous ship is covered with naval aircraft from World War II through Operation Desert Storm—not just for looking at but for climbing inside and exploring, too. Other interactive exhibits include you-are-there-style recordings of real conversations between military pilots and a chance to ride in a flight simulator.
Also on the downtown waterfront, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is fittingly housed within one of the finest collections of historic ships in the world, including the awe-inspiring sailing ships Star of India, HMS Surprise (the floating star of Pirates of the Caribbean 4), and the Californian, a replica of a Gold Rush-era revenue cutter and the Official Tall Ship of the State of California. Coolest of all, some of the ships go sailing and whale watching, with you aboard; including a 75-minute tour of San Diego Bay aboard an aptly named, Vietnam War-era Swift Boat.
Once you’re back on land, don’t forget to stop for a smooch or a silly pose in front of the Unconditional Surrender statue, inspired by the famous photo of a soldier and nurse at the end of World War II. Walk farther along the waterfront and you’ll see more artwork that salutes San Diego’s military community, like the bust of Admiral Sprague at the Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial and the Military Tribute to Bob Hope, honoring the movie star’s long stint entertaining troops.