NASA Ames Research Center and Moffett Field are an off the beaten path location just south of San Francisco, located right next to Highway 101. I came here to collect another stamp in my “Visit NASA Passport” which I started last year while visiting the Kennedy Space Center. This would be my third stamp in my passport book besides the Kennedy Space Center and the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
The NASA Ames Exploration Center is located outside the main gate and is open to the public. Moffett Field Museum is open to the public as well but is located on the grounds of Moffett field and you have to pass the gate. Normally when you tell the guard you are going to the museum you shouldn’t have any problems passing but I heard of people who got turned away even so the museum was open. I drove Highway 101 so many times up and down and never knew about this hidden gems here. Of course, you can see the big skeleton of Hangar 1 from the freeway but I didn’t anticipate at all that you can walk right up to it. This is area is something cool to see and not everyone knows that it is actually here. There are no signs indicating the museum or visitor center on the freeway.
NASA Ames Exploration Center
The Exploration Center is better known as the NASA Ames Visitor Center. It is located right outside the gates of Moffett Field. The visitor center gives information about whats going on here at the Ames Research Center and basic information about NASA in general. It’s a small but cool little place, especially if you geek out about space exploration. This is more of an off the beaten pass location in the Bay Area, as many people don’t even know that there is a NASA installation in the Bay Area. There is an actual moon rock on display inside the Exploration Center. However, you can’t touch it compared to the Saturn V Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This place is worth a visit and don’t forget to collect your Visit NASA Passport Stamp at the information counter. The Ames Research Center is home to NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division, NASA Ames Intelligent Systems Division, one of the biggest wind tunnels in the world and much more.
If you have some more time to spare, visit the Moffett Field Historical Society Museum aka Moffett Field Museum.
Moffett Field Historical Society Museum
This museum is actually located on the Moffett Field grounds and you have to pass the gate to get on this base. Drive up to the guard house and tell the guard you are visiting the Moffett Field Museum. The guard will ask you for your driver license and you are good to go. Of course, they will only let you in during opening hours of the museum (see below). The guard will probably explain how to get to the museum but it is fairly easy. Drive straight ahead towards the gigantic hangar in front of you. Just before the gigantic metal skeleton of the hangar, you will see some airplanes fenced in. Make a right just before the fence and follow the one-way road. The building next to the planes is the museum.
Moffett Field Museum will tell you the story of Moffett Field and its history. They have many cool artifacts on display and also a lot of information about the gigantic hangar behind the museum. Hangar 1 was used to park zeppelins but at the end of 2014 nearby tech-company, Google signed a deal with NASA. Google will lease and operate Moffett Field including Hangar 1, 2, and 3 as well as the Golf Course for the next 60 years. Google also parks their private jets at this airfield as their base of operations Did you know that the president’s Air Force One lands at Moffett Field when he is visiting San Francisco?
The small area with the fenced-in planes is also part of the museum, however during my visit they were under-staffed and I was not able to get inside the fence. Usually, a museum staff member will escort you there.
There is a Lockheed P-3 Orion parked near the Moffett Field Flight Operations Tower just to the south of the museum. It is a short walk from the museum to the plane and it’s a great spot to take pictures of the plane with Hangar 1 in the background.
But what astounded me the most is the, unfortunately, hidden model railroad inside the museum.
Moffett Field Model HO Railroad
Located in the back room of the museum, near the restrooms is a room with an amazing model railroad. I discovered this place as I went to use the restrooms and saw the open door with the sign on it. Otherwise, I would have missed that fantastic place. A must for train buffs!
The model railroad was designed, build and operated by assigned naval personnel from 1983 until 1993 and is now maintained by Friends of Moffett Field Museum. It’s amazing how much love they put into this model railroad. If you look closely, you can find all kinds of hidden stories and easter eggs. This is what I love about places like this. John, a retired US Army Major, was operating the model railroad today and he pointed out some of the coolest spots. Make sure you swing by and enjoy this secret model railroad. There is no extra admission for the model railroad, its included with your Moffett Field Museum admission. Unfortunately, they are only open (most) Saturdays during the museum hours. So plan accordingly if you want to see the model railroad as well.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.