Military-Historical Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California
A lot of modelers not only build models but also enjoy the history associated with these models. I’ve attempted to put together a guide for people local and otherwise who want to visit the various military museums and military-historical points of interest within an easy day trip range of San Francisco. This is by no means a complete guide but I’ve attempted to arrange the information available on the internet and from my personal travels. I’ll update the page as I find new places of interest. I’ve concentrated on the places where you can actually see military hardware rather than just places where the something happened. All times are given as approximate driving times from downtown San Francisco.
If you have any other suggestions as to other interesting military related sites please email me about them and I’ll add them to the list.
Naval Museums and Points of Interest
- USS Pampanito SS-383 – US WWII Balao-class submarine. Located at the San Francisco waterfront on the pier 45.
USS Pampanito in the SVSM Gallery
- SS Jeremiah O’Brien – US WWII Liberty ship – Located at the San Francisco waterfront on the pier 45.
Jeremiah O’Brien in the SVSM Gallery
- USS Hornet CV-12 – US WWII Essex-class carrier (in addition several MSC cargo ships are berthed there as well) – Located in the former Alameda Naval Station in Alameda, Alameda Naval Air Museum is located nearby. – (~20 minutes).
USS Hornet in the SVSM Gallery
- SS Red Oak Victory AK-235 – US WWII Victory ship – Located in the port of Richmond. Part of the WWII Home Front Museum. – (~25 minutes).
SS Red Oak Victory AK-235 in the SVSM Gallery
- USS Potomac – President Roosevelt’s yacht that was built as a coast guard cutter and then converted to a yacht in 1936 and used until 1945 in that capacity. Currently closed to visitors since the pandemic, but check their website for possible tours. Located near Oakland’s Jack London Square. – (~15 minutes)
- Lightship WLV-605 Relief – Lightship built in the 1950s. Currently closed to visitors since the pandemic, but check their website for possible tours. Located near Oakland’s Jack London Square. – (~15 minutes)
- Mare Island Shipyard – Vietnam era PBR MkII patrol boat and USS LCS(L)-102 are the main attractions, as well as various old guns and missiles. The shipyard building slips, dry docks, cranes and buildings are visible. Located in Vallejo – (~40 minutes).
Mare Island in the SVSM Gallery
- San Francisco Maritime Museum – Not a military museum, but still interesting to naval enthusiast, it has a collection of several 19th century ships – a ferry, a sailing ship and several tug boats – Located at the San Francisco waterfront on the Hyde Street Pier.
San Francisco Maritime Museum in the SVSM Gallery
- A fairly complete and up-to date list of American Maritime Museums.
Military Aviation Museums
- Hiller Air Museum – A small in size but not in content, a very interesting aviation museum created by the owners of the Hiller Aircraft Corporation and containing mostly helicopters of that firm, contains about 40 aircraft – Located in San Carlos – (~25 minutes).
Hiller Air Museum in the SVSM Gallery
- Oakland Aviation Museum – Nice, small museum, through somewhat rundown due to the lack of funds, contains ~20 aircraft – Located near Oakland Airport – (~20 minutes).
Western Aerospace Museum in the SVSM Gallery
- Pacific Coast Air Museum – Small but interesting and well maintained museum with ~20 aircraft – Located in Santa Rosa – (~45 minutes).
Pacific Coast Air Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Travis Heritage Center – Interesting medium sized museum with about 35 aircraft on display with cold war era US combat aircraft and WWII and cold war transports – Located on the Travis Air Force Base (due to various post 9/11 restrictions, contact the museum to make sure you can visit before going) – (~1 hour).
Travis Air Force Base Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Aerospace Museum of California – Large museum with a large number (~35 aircraft) of the US Cold War era aircraft – Located on near Sacramento on the former McClellan Air Force Base – (~1.5 hours).
Aerospace Museum of California in SVSM Gallery
- Castle Air Force Base Museum – A Large museum with a large number (~35 aircraft) of the US Cold War era aircraft, concentrating on the US bombers, with one of the best bomber collections around – Located in Atwater on the former Castle Air Force Base – (~2 hours).
Castle Air Force Base Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Estrella Warbirds Museum – A medium sized museum with a number (~30 aircraft) of the aircraft, military vehicles and cars on display – Located in Paso Robles – (~3 hours).
Estrella Warbirds Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Alameda Naval Air Museum – A small museum, with no real aircraft on display, but a good collection of models, photographs and other artifacts, including a 1/72 scale model of IJN Yamato. There are two gate-guard aircraft in close proximity to the museum. Located on the territory of the former Alameda Naval Air Station. – (~20 minutes).
Alameda Naval Air Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Moffett Field Museum – A small but growing museum located at the former NAS (now federal airfield) Moffett. The museum is located next to the famous Hangar One and features a large exhibit dedicated to the airships. Since the airfield still belongs to the Federal government make sure to bring your ID when you visit. – (~35 minutes).
Moffett Field Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Wings of History Air Museum – A small museum dedicated mostly to civilian aircraft with several on display. Located in San Martin. – (~1.5 hours).
- A fairly complete and up-to date list of various aircraft on display in California.
Military Vehicle and Military Museums
- Presidio Army Museum – the museum is permanently closed, however there are a number of interesting artillery pieces still on display around it and on the Presidio parade grounds. Located in San Francisco’s Presidio.
- American Armory Museum – A recently opened military vehicle museum. Has a number of former Littlefield Collection vehicles, as well as other vehicles. Located in the Fairfield, CA (~1 hour).
American Armory Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Eagle Field Foundation – Another new military vehicle museum. Has a number of rare vehicles. Located in the Dos Palos, CA (~3 hours)
- Camp Roberts Historical Museum – Military museum is the largest Army museum in California, and is located on Camp Roberts, CA . (~3 hours).
- A fairly complete website that lists all of the AFVs in private hands and on display in US and the rest of the world, here you can see various museum collections and single tanks that are scattered all over California and US.
- Fort Point -A large Third System era fort located underneath the Gold Gate Bridge. Has a number of Civil War era artillery pieces on display.
Fort Point in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Winfield Scott – A series of coast defense batteries of the Endicott/Taft era (1890s-1900s) located along the coast in San Francisco seaward from Golden Gate Bridge in Presidio Area. Battery Chamberlin belonging to this fort has the only 20th century gun left in all of the San Francisco batteries, along with a mini-museum in one of the casemates.
Fort Winfield Scott in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Miley – A series of coast defense batteries of the Endicott/Taft era (1890s-1900s) to the south of Fort Winfield Scott in San Francisco’s Richmond District.
Fort Miley in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Mason – Several coast defense batteries from 1870s and Endicott/Taft era (1890s-1900s) to the east of Presidio in San Francisco’s Marina District.
Fort Mason in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Funston – Has only one battery that survived to this day, but it is one of two large 16″ batteries that protected San Francisco. Located near Lake Merced south of San Francisco.
Fort Funston in SVSM Gallery
- Fort McDowell – A series of coast defense batteries of the Endicott/Taft era (1890s-1900s) located on the Angel Island to the north of San Francisco. Angel Island also has the restored immigration station similar to NY’s Ellis Island. There is also has a relatively intact Nike Missile launch site on the island as well as ruins of the military barracks. (~30 minutes by ferry).
Fort McDowell in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Baker – A series of coast defense batteries of the post-Civil War era (1870s) and Endicott/Taft era (1890s-1900s) at the north end of Golden Gate Bridge. Has the only surviving earthen batteries from 1870s in Bay Area.
Fort Baker in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Barry – A series of coast defense batteries from the mixture of eras, has some Endicott/Taft era (1890s-1900s), WWI and WWII era batteries. It is located in the Marine Headlands to the northwest of Golden Gate Bridge. Also has a somewhat intact Nike Radar site SF-87C located just above Construction 129. (~20 minutes).
Fort Barry in SVSM Gallery
- Fort Cronkhite – The other 16″ battery that protected San Francisco. The northernmost fort. In addition to the main battery there are a lot of various bunkers and gun positions in the surrounding hills. The 16″ Battery Townsley has been turned into a museum and is open to the public on certain weekends. Located to the north of the Fort Barry. (~30 minutes).
Fort Cronkhite in SVSM Gallery
- This site gives a good overview of the San Francisco Coast defenses.
- SF-88L – A Nike missile Launch site that has been turned into a museum. Located on the territory of Fort Barry. (~30 minutes).
SF-88L Site in SVSM Gallery
- SF-88C – An abandoned Nike radar site, that has not been converted to other uses, it is in a pretty bad shape, but interesting by the fact that it is intact. Located in the hills above Fort Cronkhite. (~30 minute drive and 2 hour strenuous hike).
SF-88C Site in SVSM Gallery
- There were a total of 24 Nike sites around Bay Area. Most of them have been destroyed or converted to other uses, but some can still be seen. There is a good site that shows the location and the current status of these sites.
Military Related Museums
- Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front Museum – A series of buildings and monuments on the territory of the Richmond Shipyard. The museums is currently being setup but parts of it are open to visit. SS Red Oak Victory is part of the Museum Complex. (~20 minutes).
- Blackhawk Museum– A large and very well maintained museum with a large collection of classic cars. Located in Danville (~30 minutes).
Blackhawk Museum in SVSM Gallery
- California Automobile Museum –A large collection of the various classic cars. Located in Sacramento (~2 hours).
California Automobile Museum in SVSM Gallery
- California State Railroad Museum – An excellent museum with a large number of exhibits both real and models, with extremely well done scenes around every train and car. Highly recommend visiting. Located in Old Sacramento historical district. (~2 hours).
California State Railroad Museum in SVSM Gallery
- Niles Canyon Rail Road – not a classical museum, but rather a functioning historical rail road, where you can ride a train almost every weekend. (~45 minutes)