An Aviation Geek’s Happy Place: A Museum of Airplanes
By Mary Charlebois
Just out of reach above your head, over 50 aircraft immortalize man’s dream of flight. On the floor and from the ceiling, it seems like pause has been pressed at a tangled airport.
You’re standing in a hanger. It’s a time machine portal with aircraft of all styles and ages, including the future. Some are paused for takeoff, others for landing. There’s even a crash.
Hiller Aviation Museum
Located in in San Carlos California, it is an AvGeek’s Nirvana. Beautifully curated exhibits show the past, present, and future of flight. Aircraft are beautifully restored and displayed with exciting angles and exceptional lighting.
More aviation than looking at planes
Take a flight in a full-motion flight simulator like those used in flight school. Learn to fly at a computer-based flight simulator.
Take a winged tour across San Francisco Bay or any place on earth with Sky Portal, a 12-ft flight simulator screen where you stand at the controls.
Kids can team-build large structures from giant building blocks. Older kids can use tools, aerodynamics, engineering, and assembly in workshops.
This exciting, entertaining, and informative museum has a full schedule of classes, workshops, and events for all ages and abilities.
Look for Drone Building Workshops, Starlab Sky Shows, Aviation Camp, After School Programs, and a library with over 5,400 aviation-related published books.
Stanley Hiller, Jr. (1924—2006) is the museum’s founder. His lifetime hobby of acquiring historic and eclectic aircraft became the museum’s first exhibits.
No doubt, Hiller was a genius. He was admitted to UCSF Berkeley at age 15. Hiller spent his entire life in aviation. At 15, he designed and produced the world’s first working coaxial helicopter.
At 17, he gave his design for the ‘Hiller-Copter’ to the US Army, then opened a helicopter factory in Berkeley California, to build them for WWII.
Hiller was an aviation leader in design and business. He had a successful career as a company turnaround specialist and served on Boeing’s board of directors for 22-years.
Hiller Aviation Museum has several of his aircraft designs and prototypes on display. website
Aviation’s first home in the area
Next door to Hiller is SQL, San Carlos Airport. Should the need arise, this airfield can be used for overflow from San Francisco International.
Home to over 500 aircraft and 25 aviation-related businesses, it’s a busy place. Flight schools, private planes, tour operators, mechanics, fuel, and more can be found at SQL.
Check the website to learn about community events and aviation fairs. website
Take a flying tour
A 3-minute walk from Hiller is Fly Bay Area. You can rent a plane and pilot your own trip or take one of their escorted excursions in sunlight, sunset, or San Francisco city lights. website
Food with a view
Watch the runway traffic while eating your breakfast or lunch. Sky Kitchen Restaurant is steps from Hiller at San Carlos Airport. They serve 50 kinds of omelets, house-made soups, salads, and sandwiches. Beer and wine are available. website
Hiller Food Truck Wednesdays
Hiller’s parking lot becomes a food court every Wednesday. Several food trucks serve their fresh eats at this gourmet event.
The trucks rotate weekly. Come for your favorite truck or try something new!
The event is rain or shine 11 AM—1:30 PM. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. Check here for participating trucks.
Flying Suitcase Wines is six miles from Hiller. Flying is part of a collection of family-run, artisanal wine community known as the Mid-Peninsula Wine Trail. Several wineries and breweries are within walking distance. My favorite is Flying Suitcase. website
I could live in this hotel forever. Five minutes from Hiller Aviation Museum, Residence Inn Redwood City/San Carlos is right across the freeway.
This brand-new hotel is designed for working trips or weekend getaways. It has fully furnished apartments ranging from studios—2-bedrooms. All are ingeniously laid out with a kitchen/dining space, living/work area, bedroom, and spa-like bathrooms.
The kitchen has everything needed for preparing and serving meals. The full-sized fridge even has an icemaker, my favorite luxury.
Amenities include – daily hot breakfast, evening happy hour, pool, gym, fire pit, guest BBQ grills, patio, grocery delivery, and in-house market.
The new all-suites hotel offers free shuttle service to nearby Facebook, Oracle, and train service connecting to downtown San Francisco. website
Hiller Aviation Museum is easy to get to by auto, off Hwy 101, about 20-minutes south of San Francisco International (SFO). From the airport come by car, BART, or bus.
To learn more about where to eat, sleep, and play in San Carlos while visiting Hiller Aviation Museum, go to Visit San Mateo County.
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Mary Charlebois is a freelance journalist and photographer. Her home base is on California’s Mendocino Coast. She travels by train, plane, bus, boat, shoe sole, and auto. She digs into the culture, people, and history wherever she goes and isn’t opposed to a little adventure along the way.