Battleship IOWA: The Story of an LA Icon

Discover the history of "The Battleship of Presidents"

Battleship IOWA at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro
Battleship IOWA in San Pedro  |  Photo:  Yuri Hasegawa

The famed Battleship IOWA was ordered on July 1, 1939, commissioned on Feb. 22, 1943, and served our country for almost 50 years. She was designated the "World's Greatest Naval Ship" because of her big guns, heavy armor, fast speed, longevity and modernization flexibility, which allowed her to keep pace with technology.

Battleship IOWA FDR Churchill Stalin
L to R: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill | Photo: Battleship IOWA, Facebook

Also known as the “Battleship of Presidents,” Battleship IOWA was outfitted in World War II to be the flagship that carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the Atlantic in 1943 to the Tehran Conference for meetings with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. A bathtub was installed on the IOWA as a convenience for FDR, making it the only U.S. Navy warship with a bathtub built for a president.

Battleship IOWA was re-commissioned in 1984 by Vice President George H.W. Bush, who would later be the ship’s Commander-in-Chief from 1989 until she was decommissioned in 1990. In addition, the Battleship IOWA was the flagship for President Ronald Reagan for our nation's Celebration of Liberty in New York City on July 4, 1986.

Battle efficiency "E" Award won by Battleship IOWA
Crew members display the battle efficiency "E" Award won by Battleship IOWA | Photo: Battleship IOWA, Facebook

Battleship IOWA earned nine battle stars for WWII service and two for Korean War service. The ship was also awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and was the four-time recipient of the coveted Navy “E” Ribbon.

Property of Discover Los Angeles
Battleship IOWA makes its final journey along the L.A. Waterfront | Photo courtesy of Port of Los Angeles, Facebook

On July 7, 2012, the Battleship IOWA celebrated its grand opening as a floating museum, now permanently docked at Berth 87 in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. Veterans, their families, school children, local and international tourists alike can tour the IOWA and learn about life on board the ship and its legacy as one of the fastest and most powerful ships ever to sail the world’s oceans. IOWA tour guides help bring the ship to life as they share historical and technical information. Many guides are U.S. Navy veterans, and they fill the tour with amazing tales of life at sea.

Crew living areas on the tour show how officers and crew slept, ate, and relaxed when not on duty. Visitors can stroll the famous teak decks - unique to U.S. battleships - which are undergoing daily restoration and refurbishment.

The world-famous Captain’s Cabin was the actual living and sleeping quarters of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR and his war cabinet planned major WWII strategy at the cabin’s table in 1943. In this formal setting, IOWA’s commanding officers welcomed U.S. Presidents and world dignitaries.

Property of Discover Los Angeles
Nos. 1 and 2 Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber gun turrets are fired to starboard during a main battery firing exercise aboard Battleship IOWA| Photo courtesy of PHC Hilton, Facebook

IOWA’s big gun exhibits include videos and interpretive signs about her nine 16” guns, twelve 5” guns, Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles, and the radar-guided 3,000 round/minute Gatling guns. Thick steel walls and gun mounts throughout IOWA show why she was called the most heavily armored ship in the world.

At the restored Admiral’s Bridge, three of America’s five-star admirals observed IOWA’s underway operations. The tour concludes on the fantail, where seaplanes and helicopters were launched, and breakthrough drone technology was tested.

Battleship IOWA Cub Scouts
Photo: Brandi Jones - Battleship IOWA, Facebook

Battleship IOWA offers the whole family a day of history, education and fun. During the tour, kids get to touch, feel and play on the ultimate “jungle gym” at sea. “Victory the Dog Adventure” is a scavenger hunt for kids, who follow Victory (aka "Vicky," IOWA’s official mascot) on an adventure through the ship.

Fireworks at Battleship IOWA during LA Fleet Week in San Pedro
Fireworks at Battleship IOWA | Photo: Los Angeles Fleet Week, Facebook

LA Fleet Week (May 26-29, 2023)

LA Fleet Week® is an annual multi-day celebration of our nation’s Sea Services, held on the LA Waterfront at the Port of Los Angeles over Memorial Day Weekend.

As the site of the Main Expo Footprint, Battleship IOWA will be at the heart of the festivities, including aerial demonstrations, live entertainment and the ever-popular Galley Wars. For more info and the full schedule, visit the LA Fleet Week website.

A family tours the Battleship IOWA in San Pedro
Photo: Battleship IOWA


Numerous in-person and virtual tours of the Battleship IOWA are available. The General Access Pass is a self-guided tour that includes both interior and exterior access for up to seven decks along a one-directional route. Explore the ship at your own pace with the free, award-winning Battleship IOWA app. Plan on spending around 2 hours to view all exhibit spaces along the tour. NOTE: Transition between decks is via "ladders" (naval jargon for stairs). The IOWA does not have elevators or lifts available at this time.

Add a special guided tour experience to your General Access Pass. Engaging guides will wow you with their incredible knowledge of areas of the ship only recently opened to the public. Options include the Private Guided Tour, Private Guided President's Tour, and the weekend-only Private Guided Gun Tour and Private Guided Engineering Tour.

Take a virtual tour of the Battleship IOWA in full 360-degree imagery with videos, signage, and even Vicky the Dog in real (animated) life. Access to the online tour is available with an annual subscription of just $15. Live guided tours and private virtual sessions for groups over 10 people are also available.

Battleship IOWA is open daily at 10am except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tours are available from 10am to 4pm. The ship closes to the public after the last guided tour ends. For more info and to purchase tickets, visit the Battleship IOWA website.

Hot dogs by Vicky's Doghouse at Battleship IOWA
The lineup at Vicky's Doghouse | Photo: Battleship IOWA

Vicky's Doghouse

Located on the fantail of the Battleship IOWA, Vicky’s Doghouse Cafe is a gourmet hot dog kitchen that serves a variety of hot dogs, sides, salads, beers and wines.

Vicky's is named for the IOWA's legendary mascot, Victory, who belonged to the battleship's first commanding officer, Captain John L. McCrea. Vicky was aboard the IOWA during the ship's entire WWII service - he was beloved by the crew and kept morale up during the hard times of war. Vicky even kept FDR company on his journey to the Tehran Conference. Vicky would go on to see six years of Navy service and earn the rank of Mascot First Class.

Vicky’s Doghouse is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 5pm. Special Happy Hour pricing is offered from 1pm to close, including discounted food and beverages. Admission to the IOWA is not needed to dine at Vicky's.