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California's Military History

Aircraft carriers, battleships, museums and more—this epic road trip showcases the Golden State’s proud tradition of military service.

Start:USS Midway Museum
End:Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
4 - 6Days,13Stops,638Miles
USS Midway Museum
Stocktreck Images/Getty Images
Kansas City Barbeque
Daniel Grill/Getty Images
Liberty Station
Courtesy of Robert Benson/Liberty Public Market
Port of Long Beach
Leigh Green/Getty Images
Queen Mary
Thomas McConville/Getty Images
American Military Museum
––––
Fort Tejon State Park
Richard Cummins/Getty Images
Castle Air Museum
Len Wilcox/Alamy
USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum
Lucinsa Lee/Getty Images
The Presidio
Michael Marfell/Getty Images
Golden Gate Bridge
Agustin Rafael C. Reyes/Getty Images
Cavallo Point Lodge
Courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood/Cavallo Point
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Courtesy of NPS Photo
Stop 1

USS Midway Museum

910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego

From the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum, San Diego’s role as a naval town is on vivid display as ships cruise into port and aircraft take off from Coronado’s Naval Air Station North Island. Tour the massive carrier, the longest serving vessel of its kind and you’ll visit everything from the towering captain’s bridge to sailors' quarters crammed with bunks. Naval aviation enthusiasts will love the chance to get a close-up look at vintage aircraft on the hangar and flight decks.

SPOTLIGHT

Kansas City Barbeque

600 W Harbor Dr, San Diego

You can eat like a naval aviator or at least the film version of one at the Kansas City Barbeque, where several of the most memorable scenes in Top Gun were filmed.

Stop 3

Liberty Station

2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego

Sitting on San Diego Bay, Liberty Station is a unique urban district created from the 1920s-era Naval Training Center. With breezes blowing in from the bay, covered walkways lead between coral-coloured Spanish Colonial Revival buildings lining a sun-soaked parade ground. Grab a bite at Liberty Public Market, where you’ll find more than 30 food vendors. Vintage navy ship murals decorate the naval station’s former mess hall, which is home to a branch of Bottlecraft, the perfect place to explore the world of San Diego beers. And with a beautiful interior of reclaimed woods, and a bocce court outside, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens serves up world-inspired cuisine that you can pair with the pioneering craft brewery’s beers.

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Stop 4

Port of Long Beach

250 S Harbor Blvd, Los Angeles

In Long Beach and nearby San Pedro, you can board and tour two remarkable ships that date to the Second World War. Offering a unique perspective on the graceful Vincent Thomas Bridge and the busy Port of Long Beach, the Battleship Iowa Museum lets you tour a ship that hosted multiple presidents and served the nation for 50 years. Over in nearby San Pedro and barely half the 887-foot/270-metre Iowa’s size, the locally built SS Lane Victory merchant ship set sail late in the Second World War and remained active into the Vietnam War.

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SPOTLIGHT

Queen Mary

1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach

Spend the night in the Art Deco splendour of the Queen Mary, an iconic luxury liner that served as a troop-ship during the Second World War.

Stop 6

American Military Museum

1918 Rosemead Blvd, South El Monte

Just off State Route 60, the American Military Museum in South El Monte is home to the West Coast’s largest collection of tanks, jeeps and ambulances. The museum’s 170 military vehicles include a number from the Second World War, such as a scout car built in 1941 and an amphibious truck designed for landings and river crossings. Dubbed Tankland, the museum displays an M-47 Patton Medium Tank from the Korean War and a M551 Sheridan Airborne Tank from the Vietnam War that was light enough to be dropped into war zones by aircraft.

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    Stop 7

    Fort Tejon State Park

    4201 Fort Tejon Rd, Lebec

    Amid stately, centuries-old oaks, Fort Tejon State Historic Park preserves original adobe military buildings that date to 1854. A US Army garrison, Fort Tejon only remained in operation for about 10 years but, it has a rich history and this park in Grapevine Canyon on Interstate 5 brings alive the world of the California frontier. Fort Tejon also tells the story of one of the American military’s more unusual experiments: the Army’s long-defunct camel corps was briefly based here.

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      Stop 8

      Castle Air Museum

      5050 Santa Fe Dr, Atwater

      Adjacent to a decommissioned Strategic Air Command base, Castle Air Museum displays more than 70 restored aircraft that span a period from before the Second World War to the present day. You’ll see fighter jets and historic bombers, plus you can tour an Air Force One that served six presidential administrations during 30 years of operations. One of the most historic planes at the Atwater museum is its Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range reconnaissance aircraft that could fly at three times the speed of sound.

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        Stop 9

        USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum

        707 W Hornet Ave, Alameda

        Along San Francisco Bay in Alameda, visit a historic aircraft carrier that was deployed for 18 critical months during the Second World War at the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum. Not only did the Hornet see action in some of the Pacific’s biggest combat operations during the war, including Iwo Jima, it also played a critical role in the space programme. The Hornet picked up the first two Apollo moon landing crews after splash down and the museum displays an Apollo test command module that the carrier recovered as part of preparations for manned lunar missions.

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          Stop 10

          The Presidio

          Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco

          Set at the mouth of the Golden Gate, the Presidio has a long military history: it started in 1776 as a Spanish fort and later became a US Army base. Today it’s a 14,491 acre park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Walk 24 miles of trails through eucalyptus groves, visit a working archaeology lab or admire large scale art installations. Splash out on a stay at one of the two historic hotels on-site: the Inn at the Presidio or the Lodge at the Presidio. Don’t miss the grandiose Palace of Fine Arts, originally built for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Expo, and now home to an intimate theatre.

          Stop 11

          Golden Gate Bridge

          Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito

          With towers soaring 746 feet/227 metres into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay and all of it painted fire-engine red, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge makes a dramatic destination.

          Yes, you can simply drive across the bridge, but it’s more fun to walk (even for just a portion of the span). It can get a bit cold and windy, especially when the fog slips in (common in summer), so dress in layers. Cycling across the bridge is another fun option—there are plenty of hire companies (two favourites are Blazing Saddles and San Francisco Bicycle Rentals); most bikes come with route maps detailing where to ride to from San Francisco—towns like Sausalito and Tiburon, in neighbouring Marin County. Back in the city, there’s a nice gift shop and a café, and paths that let you wind down to historic Fort Point, completed in 1861 as a military outpost.

          SPOTLIGHT

          Cavallo Point Lodge

          601 Murray Cir, Sausalito

          You can stay at Sausalito's Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker, which was formerly an Army post. Many of the rooms are in former officers’ residences with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline.

          Stop 13

          Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

          4202 Alhambra Ave, Martinez

          At the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, be prepared to use your imagination to fully appreciate this important Second World War and civil rights landmark. There’s little left of the busy port, where ammunition and bombs were loaded onto cargo ships. But take a guided tour and the tragedy of 17 July 1944 will come vividly alive. Working rapidly and with no formal training, sailors, all African-American, were loading munitions onto two cargo ships. Then something went terribly wrong. Explosions sent a column of fire and steel two miles up into the summer night sky during the worst Second World War disaster on the US mainland. The memorial commemorates the 320 men who died, as well as the historic legal case that followed. Because the memorial is located on an active military site, visitors must book their tours at least two weeks in advance.

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            Road Trip Snapshot

            Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

            Stop 1USS Midway Museum
            910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego
            Stop 3Liberty Station
            2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego
            • Liberty Stationhttp://www.sandiego.org/members/parks-gardens/liberty-station.aspx#pdrDp8Kye2jpV387.97
            Stop 4Port of Long Beach
            250 S Harbor Blvd, Los Angeles
            Stop 6American Military Museum
            1918 Rosemead Blvd, South El Monte
              Stop 7Fort Tejon State Park
              4201 Fort Tejon Rd, Lebec
                Stop 8Castle Air Museum
                5050 Santa Fe Dr, Atwater
                  Stop 9USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum
                  707 W Hornet Ave, Alameda
                    Stop 10The Presidio
                    Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco
                    Stop 11Golden Gate Bridge
                    Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito
                    Stop 13Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
                    4202 Alhambra Ave, Martinez

                      Car & RV Hire

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