Military History in San Diego

The military might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of San Diego, but it is actually a significant part of the area’s storied history.
Military History in San Diego
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San Diego’s Long-Standing Connection with the US Navy

The history of San Diego is intertwined with its history as a military base of operations. Currently, it is one of the biggest veterans and active-duty military centers in the country. This is thanks to its past as the site of a military fort, a location of Civil War army bases, and a tactical base for the US Navy and Marines.

San Diego is home to the Center for Military History; whose mission statement involves efforts to preserve and showcase Navy history both in the area and abroad. They aim to teach people of all ages about this surprising and often-overlooked aspect of San Diego’s history. They also work to establish San Diego State University as a center for studying military history with national recognition.

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The Military Exploits of San Diego

San Diego’s military history dates back to its very inception in 1769. When the first mission was established in Old Town and what would later become San Diego, the Presidio military fort was also constructed. This fort was originally used as a combat base during conflicts between early Spanish colonists and Native American tribes.

As Spanish control over the area expanded, the Presidio remained an important fort. It was used as a military headquarters while Spanish explorers colonized Northern California. While the base effectively fell into disuse around 1835, it was recently restored and reopened as part of the Junipero Serra Museum.

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San Diego remained an important area for the military in many future wars and other conflicts. The popular tourist destination The Davis-Horton House was used as officer barracks prior to the Civil War, which you can visit and see for yourself.

California was ideologically divided during the Civil War, and San Diego and the rest of Southern California largely aligned themselves with the ideals of the Confederacy. San Diego was the sight of more than a few debates and one violent conflict instigated by a California miner named Dan Showalter.

The most well-known part of San Diego’s military history is its connection to the US Navy, which began in the early 1900s. It houses the Naval Base San Diego which is still in use today. It is also home to the USS Midway aircraft carrier which has since been turned into an educational museum.

San Diego is now the largest naval base in the Pacific, and its military history has directly contributed to its current status. As a large ocean side port, it’s an ideal location for fleets of ships, as well as plenty of aircraft.

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San Diego and its Military Presence Today

There is a strong military presence today in the San Diego area with multiple military bases scattered throughout the area. Much of the military personnel is part of the US Navy but the largest collection of troops is stationed at a Marine Corp. base just north of Oceanside in the north part of San Diego.

Camp Pendleton

Camp Pendleton is a sprawling Marine Corps base in San Diego. It is currently operational, and each year thousands of new recruits complete their training there.

The Camp Pendleton population is much higher than just the new recruits. There are over 35,000 military families who live on the complex, making the base’s community over 70,000 military and civilian residents. It is a huge part of San Diego and the surrounding Southern California area.

On top of its training services, the base also provides many on-complex resources to create a stable, largely self-sufficient community. Camp Pendleton’s vision is to support today’s fight and prepare for tomorrow’s future, which they accomplish by investing in support and base infrastructure for all troops and their families living at the base.

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Museums and Historic Places of Interest

San Diego is full of great places to visit to learn more about its military history. With such a strong connection to the Navy, it is one of the best towns for discovering the exploits and daring missions of the Navy.

Military history is especially strong along the Embarcadero, which stretches along the eastern waterfront, directly adjacent to the city center, alongside the San Diego Bay. This area has long been used as a military base for the US Navy, and it’s where many of the museums and educational tours that cover military history are held.

The USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum

The USS Midway aircraft carrier served the US Navy from 1945 all the way to 1992, making it the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the century. During this time, it was involved in Cold War missile trial launches, combat during the Vietnam War, and key roles in the Gulf War. After its decommissioning in 1992, it was renovated in 2004 and reopened to the public as a museum.

The USS Midway Museum gives visitors the opportunity to set foot inside a real aircraft carrier and learn about the historic battles it took part in. You can also check out models of the aircraft that would have landed on the ship when it was in use, read about the Battle of Midway that gave the aircraft carrier its name, and listen to informative lectures by pilots who have landed planes on the ship.

If you’re looking for discounted admission to the USS Midway Museum, consider purchasing Go San Diego passes in advance of your trip for your entire family. Not only will you skip the line to purchase tickets but will also get the cheapest admission price available when you combine their already discounted rates with our exclusive additional discount!

Combine with other popular San Diego area attractions like the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld in Mission Bay to save even more!

San Diego Air and Space Museum

If you’re interested in military aircraft, the San Diego Air and Space Museum is another can’t-miss attraction. Here, you can check out different planes, helicopters, and jets that were used in various military missions in San Diego’s history, as well as more information about the daring exploits of each of these missions.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum also has a huge collection of historic military artifacts. There are manuscripts and logbooks from Naval commanders, Civil Air Transport posters, images and films, and much more.

Veterans Museum and Memorial Center

The Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park showcases some of the greatest military achievements made possible thanks to San Diego’s contributions. Exhibits cover the beginnings of Balboa Park’s relationship with the Army and Navy with the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, the efforts made to support the troops during World War II, and the construction of the San Diego Naval Hospital in 1988.

Important battles waged in and around San Diego that are included in the museum are the Battle for Outpost Harry at the end of the Korean War, the rescue of Pearl Harbor survivors, and conflicts in the Vietnam War. There’s also an exhibit detailing women’s history in the military.

The Greatest Generation Collection

The Greatest Generation Collection is a collection of military heritage art, photography, and memorial statues along the Embarcadero in Tuna Harbor Park. The artwork on display shows military events in San Diego’s history from World War II to the modern day.

Notable art pieces include the Unconditional Surrender statue, the Aircraft Carrier Memorial, and the USS San Diego memorial.

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The World Famous San Diego Zoo
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Military History Trivia

There’s a lot to learn about San Diego’s history with the military, including some truly astounding and impressive facts!

Military Bases

There are seven different military bases in San Diego alone. They include Camp Pendleton, Coronado, Point Loma, the Miramar Air Station, Naval Base San Diego, and US Coast Guard Station San Diego.

Navy Employment

With thousands of active military personnel living at Camp Pendleton and other Navy bases, the US Navy is the number one employer in San Diego.

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