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U.S.S. Hornet and a View of the Estuary

This storied Aircraft Carrier currently sits at what used to be part of the Alameda Naval Air Station. It also happens to be surrounded by several other old Navy ships, some of which are undergoing renovation. Three of the Hornet's closest neighbors are Crane Ships that still operate when needed. They are the: Gem State, Grand Canyon State, and the Keystone State. The ships are part of the Ready Reserve Fleet (RRF) and one of them was being loaded with containers when I was there.

After paying $16 for one adult admission, I watched a short video that highlighted the ship’s history (there are discounts, so check It was short, free, and informative and as soon as it ended, I was off on a tour with about 10 other people. We were led by an old guy that clearly knew his history and way around the ship. I eventually realized that the tour was not mandatory, but since some areas - including the island and engine room - can only be seen with a docent, it might be a good idea to stick with the tour if you want to see these areas.

I stayed with the group for about half an hour and as soon as the island tour was over, went off to wander the maze of hallways below the hangar bays on my own. It was interesting to note that during my time with the group, the docent changed 3 times. Maybe this was for rest after the many narrow stairways, such as the 5-story climb to get to the top of the island, or maybe it was because each docent has their own area of expertise. Regardless, they provided interesting information and be ready for many flights of steep and narrow stairs. There were several families on the boat and the kids I saw all seemed to do well with the stairs and narrow hallways. They also appeared to be having a good time with all the different rooms and exhibits spread around the ship.

As far as what you can expect to see on the ship, the Hornet's website has many cool 360 degree photos of different rooms/areas onboard. I have included some photos here, most of which are may favorites for the day. On the clear morning I was there, the views of San Francisco and the South Bay were spectacular from the flight deck. Those views in the background with aircraft in the foreground made for some great shots. .

Regarding photography, I used a full-frame DSLR (Canon 6D) with a 24 – 105mm f/4 lens and no flash. This worked well, but there is no doubt that the full-frame sensor and its low noise at higher ISOs made a lot of the shots deep in the bowels of the ship possible. For all of the tight hallways and rooms, a wider-angle lens, such as an 18mm, would have been beneficial. Nobody in our group had a tripod and I never saw any signs discouraging a flash.

After I left the Hornet, I drove over to the Estuary where I found a parking lot with a great view of the Port of Oakland (the end of Main Street to be exact). There were three large container ships at the Port and the APL Thailand was directly across the Estuary being loaded with containers. It was low tide and a small rocky beach with tons of fill were visible. Although there was broken glass everywhere, it was a nice place to walk and watch the ships go by. Several sailboats, a ferry, and a Coast Guard boat passed by when I was there. Someday, I hope to get back here at night for some long-exposure photography of the Port at night.

Before leaving the base, I had a quick drive around the mostly empty streets. I passed through the gates that have not been used in years, and stopped to photograph the old hangars with their huge, sliding doors. Although many buildings were empty, there were several businesses, such as St. George Spirits, Rock Well Wine Company, and General Graphics. I hear that St. George makes a great Absinthe.

Overall, this was a great half-day photography excursion, especially if you like World War II naval history and large ships. Please feel free to add any comments, information, or photos of your own on this page. As always, you can send them to me if you don’t have the time and I can get your experiences online for all to see. Contact me at

By Michael Morris

Half-Day Trips Around the S.F. Bay Area that Provide Good Views for Photography - Trip 2

The U.S.S. Hornet as seen from a parking lot near the ship in Alameda, CA.

U.S.S. Hornet on the left with 3 Crane Ships on the right
These 3 ships are the S.S. Gem State, S.S. Grand Canyon State, and the S.S. Keystone State. Click on any of the images for a high-resolution version.

An F-4J Phantom on the Flight Deck of the U.S.S. Hornet with a great view of San Francisco in the background.

Another view from the flight deck
If you happen to have a clear day, it is hard to beat the flight-deck for good photographs of the City.

View of Downtown Oakland with Shnitzer Steel in the foreground.

The F-14A Tomcat on the Hornet's flight deck
This was one of the many aircraft scattered around the Flight Deck and the Hangar Bay.

The Island on the U.S.S. Hornet in Alameda, California.

The Island on the Hornet
It was a 5-story climb from the deck to the top and was only accessible with a docent-led tour.

Several cranes extend into the air on the Gem State, Grand Canyon State, and the Keystone State ships in Alameda. Three boats at the old Alameda Naval Air Station: the Gem State, Grand Canyon State, and the Keystone State. Crane Ships ready for deployment at the old Alameda Naval Air Station. A view of San Francisco from the Flight Deck of the U.S.S. Hornet on a clear day. An F-14A Tomcat in front of the Island on the U.S.S. Hornet. The Torpedo Room in the U.S.S. Hornet. The ferry from San Francisco to Oakland passes in front of the APL Thailand in the Oakland Estuary.

The Torpedo Room on the Hornet

F-4J Phantom II on the flight deck
San Francisco's skyline fit nicely on the F-4's wing.

Cranes on the ships berthed next to the Hornet
The ships are part of the Ready Reserve Fleet (RRF).

Another view of the 3 Crane Ships next to the Hornet
As far as I could tell, they were all identical and made for interesting photography.

Another view of the Crane Ships
Containers were being loaded onto one of the ships on the day I was there.

Downtown Oakland with Schnitzer Steel in the foreground
Schnitzer always seems to be loading a ship with Steel when I'm at the Estuary.

APL Thailand and the ferry Pisces at the Port of Oakland
Some of the world's largest container ships can be photographed at the parking lot at the end of Main Street in Alameda. Even better views can be found on the ferry from Jack London Square to San Francisco.

Spacious bunks and a sink on one of the lower decks of the U.S.S. Hornet. Bunks and lockers in one of the sleeping areas of the U.S.S. Hornet in Alameda.

Bunks and a sink
These were some of the more "deluxe" accommodations.

Bunks and lockers
This room contained some of the more cramped bunks. However, there were some that appeared to be even closer together in one of the next rooms.

Hangar 10 at Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS). The Cape Orlando berthed at Alameda NAS.

An old hangar at the Air Station
There were smaller ones and larger ones spread around the old base.

Cape Orlando with the San Francisco skyline in the Background
Another ship in the RRF

Click on any image for a 1600 x 1067 version


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