A Visit to Alameda's Historic USS Hornet Museum
August 20, 2011Posted by andrew |
Explore a piece of America's naval and space exploration history when you visit the the historic aircraft carrier USS Hornet in the East Bay city of Alameda. Launched in 1943 and originally based in Alameda, the USS Hornet (CV-12) served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and played a pivotal role in the Apollo space program, recovering both the Apollo 11 space capsule and its astronauts after their voyage to the Moon in 1969.
On board the restored Hornet you'll find a variety of fascinating exhibits, including several aircraft of the types that could have served on board the carrier, including a World War II TBM Avenger, an FJ-2 Fury (the naval version of the famous F-86 Sabre), an F8U-1 Crusader, and more. You can also check out objects related to the Apollo space program, including an Apollo space capsule, the mobile quarantine facility from the Apollo 14 mission, and the SH-3H Sea King helicopter used in the movie Apollo 13 and the same type of helicopter that recovered the Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts to the Hornet.
Of course the ship itself is fascinating, too. Wander around the flight deck, with its panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, the expansive hangar deck, home to many of the ship's exhibits, and head below to the second deck, where you can visit staterooms, crew quarters, sick bay, the chapel, the torpedo shop, the pilots' ready rooms, and other places.
If you really want to get the full USS Hornet experience, the docent-led tours are highly recommended. Not only do you gain insight into the ship's history by a knowledgable tour guide (many of whom are navy veterans who served on Hornet or other aircraft carriers), but you can tour spaces off limits to regular visitors, like the ships third and fourth decks—home to the engine room, brig, special weapons storage, and crew's mess and galley—as well as the island structure housing the bridge, chart room, captain's at-sea cabin, and flight control room, and the gallery deck with the admiral's and captain's in-port cabins and the combat information center.
Our tour was led by Vietnam-era navy carrier veteran Ken, who was a storehouse of fascinating information about live on board a vessel like Hornet our tour led through twisting passageways down countless ladders deep into the heart of the ship, as well as through Hornet's island nerve center.
We took our tour as part of the museum's overnight program, which is a favorite outing for schools, families, scouts, and youth groups. Exploring the ship's passageways at night was an unforgettable experience. Overnight participants also helped serve dinner and breakfast in the ship's mess, ride the flight simulator, and sleep in the crew's berths (or racks, as they're known in naval parlance).
We also gathered in the ship's fo'c'sle right before bedtime to listen to stories of ghostly encounters on board the ship—Hornet is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in America and is a hot spot for paranormal investigation groups. No, we didn't see any ghosts or wayward spirits while we were on board, but those of us who had to stay up for 1 am fire watch heard some spooky unexplained noises, but that's a story for another time…
If you're really serious about tracking down a ghost on board Hornet, they offer a three-hour "History Mystery" after-hours tour where the ship is lit only by its red battle lights and you'll hear stories about her legendary hauntings. Also offered is a three-hour behind-the-scenes flashlight tour that explores parts of the ship that have not yet been opened to the public.
The USS Hornet also hosts living ship days where you can experience an aircraft carrier in action. Watch simulated flight operations, ride in one of the ship's aircraft elevators, sight in a fighter jet's cockpit, meet former crew, and more.
If you go
The USS Hornet is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm; last entry at 4 pm. It's closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors 65+, military, and students (with ID); $6 for youth 5–17; and free for children 4 and under and museum members. Special group rates, for 15 or more people, are available.
Special flashlight and "History Mystery" tours must be booked in advance and cost $35 per person; for safety reasons, these tours are limited to ages 12 and up. Call the ticket office at (510) 521-8448 x224.
The museum suggests allowing two hours or more for your visit. Try to arrive no later than 2 pm to sign up for docent-led tours. Self-guided tour maps are available at the admission desk, and docents and volunteers on board are happy to answer your questions.
While a visit to the USS Hornet is a family friendly experience, keep in mind that it's a real warship and wasn't designed with safety and comfort in mind. Wear comfortable sturdy shoes and dress in layers. No backpacks, large bags, or baby-carrier backpacks are allowed on board. Wheelchair and stroller access is limited, too. Be careful climbing ladders and watch out for low overheads and door threshholds. It's also easy to get lost in the ship's narrow twisting passageways. Children must be with adults at all times.
There's a concession stand at the ship on weekends, and vending machines are available for snacks and drinks.
The USS Hornet Museum is located at 707 West Hornet Avenue, Pier 3 in Alameda. To get there from Marin, take Highway 101 to 580 east across the Richmond Bridge. Follow 580 to I-80. In Oakland, take I-880 (Nimitz Freeway) south. Take the Broadway/Alameda/Jack London Square exit (exit 42). Turn right on 5th Street and follow it south. Stay in your left lane and be prepared to bear left after Broadway onto the Alameda onramp (look for the signs to Alameda). Follow the onramp onto Webster Street and through the Webster Street Tube into Alameda. Turn right onto Pacific Avenue and follow it to Skyhawk Street, where you'll turn left. Go three blocks, then turn right onto West Hornet Avenue and follow it to the pier and USS Hornet Museum.
Plenty of free parking is available across the street from the pier. For more information, call (510) 521-8448 or visit www.uss-hornet.org. Make sure you check their online calendar for tours and special events, including their Halloween Monster Bash and Fourth of July celebration.