Simply awe. That’s the only word I could summon when touring this massive aircraft carrier. Taking a mere 16 months to build, the USS Hornet has become one of the country’s most decorated ships — in 1991 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
For $20 you can explore the ship and enjoy several docent-led and self-guided audio tours (engine room, the tower are two favorites) by the friendly docents, many of whom actually served on the ship decades earlier.
I found myself on the USS Hornet for probably the most unlikely of reasons: my wife Loni Stark was there to draw. Given the expansive vistas (see photos below) and all manner of interesting designs, there’s plenty of creative inspiration. So why not? Loni attacked several canvases, and I took my trusty Panasonic GH5 and snapped photos across three levels of the ship.
There’s plenty to see. As you might expect there’s vintage planes and helicopters in the three hangar bays. And it’s truly impressive to study the massive freight elevator that’s used to transport them up to the flight deck.
But I especially enjoyed the Apollo exhibit.
In a small space on the second level (Hangar Deck), a 1960s living room has been faithfully recreated. Shag carpet. Cool old television in a wooden stand. Gnarly sofa. All coated in various shades of yellow and green, so reminiscent of the time period. Playing on the TV, of course, are clips of the Apollo recovery missions, and interviews with the crew. If you weren’t old enough to experience these historic moments in the country’s space program, well, here’s your chance. Continue beyond the living room, and you’ll find a classy re-telling, in photos and words, of both missions in the Apollo Splashdown Exhibit — the USS Hornet was recovered the Apollo 11 space capsule in 1969, and few months later Apollo 12 and its crew.
And about that awe?
Most of that has to do with scale. It was my first time aboard an aircraft carrier. After a few minutes you forget you’re on a ship, and the sheer size of everything can be overwhelming. Massive amounts of steel, the expanse of the flight deck (which has killer views of the San Francisco skyline), and the fact that the USS Hornet served in WWII and the Vietnam War, make for a truly memorable tour.
Like most here in Silicon Valley, I spend my days (and nights… and weekends) in front of a screen. Usually screens, as my main desktop computer has three of them for editing videos here on Stark Insider, but there’s a laptop, a tablet, a phone… and the internet is always there. You know the drill. So to spend a few hours on the weekend in a space that’s pretty much the anti-thesis to social media and email is a welcome respite.
Highly recommended. If you’re in the SF Bay Area or planning to visit consider heading over the shipyards in Alameda (next door to Oakland) to check out the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum. Our thanks to the volunteers who made our day an unforgettable celebration of the past.
In Photos: USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum
Dockside in Alameda
Apollo Splashdown Exhibit
Open Daily, 10 AM – 5pm
Recommended time for visit: 2 to 3 hours
Tickets: from $10
See & do: exhibits, flight simulator, collections, tours (guided and self-guided audio tours)