Updated October 4, 2023.
With the roar of the Blue Angels over the city, we know Fleet Week San Francisco is here!
Here are some tips from a local on what to see and how to enjoy it with the least stress!
Every year around Columbus Day in October, San Francisco hosts a series of events that celebrate our naval forces.
San Francisco's Fleet Week is enormously popular and draws huge crowds to the city's waterfront.
Fleet Week San Francisco was canceled for 2020 due to COVID, but Fleet Week returned for 2021 and will be here again in 2023.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 12:00 to 4:00, an air show takes place on San Francisco Bay, visible all along the waterfront from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge.
A series of stunt planes swoop and loop above the water, warming the crowd up for the main event, the Blue Angels at 3 pm.
From 12:00 to 3:00 pm each day (Fri, Sat, Sun), there are performances by the other aircraft.
The show is the same each day.
At 3:00 pm, the Blue Angels begin their performance, which lasts about 40 minutes.
The Blue Angels usually do a practice show on Thursday at 3 pm, which is pretty much the same routine they will do for the other three days.
Many of the participants are the same each year, and of course, the Blue Angels are always here.
A team of active duty Navy Seals will be doing parachute jumps.
At 3:00 p.m. each day, the Blue Angels roar in over the Golden Gate Bridge; such a cool sight!
Six navy fighter planes perform frighteningly daring stunts over San Francisco Bay. Precision flying at its most breathtaking. Don't miss this! This is what most of the crowds have come to see.
The Blue Angels fly from 3-4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and usually on Thursday as well (a practice day). For lots more information on the Blue Angels, including the best places to watch the show, see the Blue Angels San Francisco.
It's really cool to see the actual pilots up close. If you're willing to hang around Fisherman's Wharf until evening on Saturday, the pilots are usually signing autographs at the entrance to Pier 39, from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.
Have an early dinner at the wharf, then see them in person. In the past, the wait hasn't been very long.
There are a number of options for doing a Fleet Week cruise. All these cruises take you out on the bay and stay out there for part of the air show, including the Blue Angels performance at 3 pm.
They tend to book up so get your tickets early if you want to go.
These cruises no longer require masks or Covid vaccinations.
The Red and White Fleet offers a bay cruise to watch the Blue Angels show from the water. The view from the ship is excellent and the scenery is spectacular.
They keep the boat in one spot for the show, a little ways offshore and directly across from Alcatraz so you can see the planes easily with no obstructions.
I went on this one a few years ago and it was a great way to see the air show.
This has been a two hour cruise that leaves from Pier 43 1/2 at Fisherman's Wharf at 1:45 pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The tickets are a bit expensive, $99 for adults 21+, $65 for ages 5-20, but you can sometimes get them half price through goldstar.com. The adult tickets include two drinks.
You can purchase snacks and additional drinks on board. No buffet this year like years past (see my photos of the ship buffet) but hopefully that will return at some point.
This cruise is cheaper for ages 13 to 20 than the Blue & Gold Fleet Week Cruise below, plus they go out all three days, but the Blue & Gold is a half hour longer. Otherwise the cruises are very similar.
There were a lot of people on board, but it didn't feel crowded. Highly recommended!
To book tickets with the Red and White Fleet, see Fleet Week Cruise.
The Blue and Gold Fleet has a two and ½ hour Blue Angels cruise during Fleet Week, $99 adults, seniors & military $85, $65 kids 5-12), including a box lunch from the Boudin Bakery.
Alcohol and soft drinks are available for purchase. Saturday & Sunday, 1:30-4 pm, leaving from Pier 39.
You can get the tickets at www.blueandgoldfleet.com
The San Francisco Sailing Company sometimes has Fleet Week cruises set up for the Thursday through Sunday air shows on their sailboats. See sailsf.com for info.
I went on one of their 90-minute bay cruises and had a great time. For what their regular sailboat cruise is like, and pictures of the boat, see my page on the Privateer cruise.
City Experiences cruise:
Another way to get out on the water to see the Blue Angels, a bit more expensive at $125, but rather elegant, is the Air Show Lunch Cruise on the San Francisco Belle, one of ships in the City Experiences fleet.
The Belle is a charming recreation of an old-time, Mississippi riverboat, complete with paddle wheel and three levels of decks.
The champagne flows freely and you are treated to an extensive buffet with salads, entrees and desserts, during the two hour voyage.
This cruise goes out at 2:30 p.m. and returns at 4:30 pm on Friday, Oct 6, and Saturday, Oct 7, and Sunday, Oct 8, 2023, of Fleet Week, from Pier 3 (Hornblower Landing) close to the Ferry Building.
The boat leaves from Pier 3, near the Ferry Building. Their parking lot at Pier 3 will be closed during Fleet Week, unfortunately.
If you're up for a longer cruise on a historic war ship, you might consider the USS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of the few remaining liberty ships used to transport troops during WW2.
For 2023, they have Fleet Week cruises on Saturday, October 7, and Sunday, October 8, 2023, from 10 to 5 (boarding at 9), that sail around the bay, under the Bay Bridge, and give you a great view of the air show. $165 adults, $100 kids 5-16.
See Jeremiah O'Brien for details. Food, drinks and music included. It's an interesting ship to explore (the Titanic's boiler-room scene was filmed on it).
This is the same ship that's used to be parked at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf but has now moved to Pier 35, and is still available for a visit year-round.
Newer addition: a full day of sailing on the bay, with lunch and mimosas. This sailboat tour was added in 2021 and it was back for 2022. Check their site closer to the event to see if they are doing it for 2023. See Lintika's Fleet Week Cruise. Sails from Sausalito, 10 am - 5 pm.
Tip: the Fleet Week cruises are very popular and tend to sell out, so it's good to book early if you plan on going.
When: the Friday of Fleet Week, October 6, 2023, from 11:00 a.m-12 p.m.
A variety of U. S. Navy (and one Canadian Navy) ships sail under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay, usually including destroyers, missile cruisers and amphibious assault transports.
Some of these ships will be available to explore during the ship tours at the piers.
The "parade" lasts for about one to two hours; you can watch it from anywhere along the waterfront, though try to be where you can see them come under the bridge.
It's such a great setting to watch the ships come in.
Their policy (for security reasons) is to wait to announce the locations of the specific ships until after they are placed at the dock.
Ship tour schedule for 2023...
Wednesday, Oct. 4: 10-2, Pier 30/32.
Thursday, Oct. 5:10-4, Pier 30/32.
Friday, Oct. 6: No ship tours.
Saturday, Oct. 7: 10-4, Piers 30/32 & 35.
Sunday, Oct. 8: 10-4, Piers 30/32 & 35.
Monday, Oct. 9: 9-12, Piers 30/32 & 35.
All the ship tours are free.
If you've ever been curious about what it's like to be on a war ship, this is your chance to explore some of them. They will be moored at some of the piers along the San Francisco waterfront.
The tours for the U.S. Navy ships will be held at Pier 30/32 and Pier 35. Two different ships will be at each pier.
The Coast Guard ship will be at Pier 19.
Pier 35 is walking distance from Fisherman's Wharf; Piers 30/32 are not. Piers 30/32 are about a six block walk along the waterfront from the Ferry Building, past the base of the golden Gate Bridge.
Pier 19 is halfway to the Ferry Building from Fisherman's Wharf, a longer walk but doable.
See my page on where the piers are, with maps of the odd and even piers.
Tip: get there early. The lines can be long, hours long at times. Also, there's no shade while waiting, so plan accordingly.
Bring a wrap, even if it's a warm sunny day. It can be cool and breezy near the water.
It can get hot, too, because it's held in October. Layers! I should have brought a hat.
There's a Marine and Navy Band concert in Herbst Theater on Thursday, October 5, at 6 pm. The concert is free. See Honor Our Fallen Concert for current info.
There's an extensive series of free concerts at public locations over Fleet Week performed by Navy and Marine Corps bands, starting Monday, October 2 and running through Monday, October 9, 2023. See concert schedule for list.
There's a band concert in Golden Gate Park on Monday, October 9, 2023, from 10 to 3. The US Marine Corps Band performs, then there's a competition among local high school bands. It's on the Music Concourse, at the bandshell, between the Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum.
A long-time, San Francisco tradition, the Italian Heritage Parade, formerly known as the Columbus Day Parade, starts at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday of Fleet Week, at Jefferson and Powell Streets, goes along Jefferson Street in Fisherman's Wharf, then down Columbus Avenue to Washington Square in North Beach (see parade).
There is also a festival at the Marina Green, with food, information booths, etc, from 10 to 5, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including exhibits about disaster preparedness.
Pier 39 has some Fleet Week activities, as well. Check out Pier 39 for scheduled activities.
Around 1 million people come to watch the Blue Angels. The sheer size of the crowds for Fleet Week in San Francisco is pretty scary, so a hefty dose of patience is required for taking Bart or Muni.
Coming into the City on Bart, or taking Muni:
Get off Bart (or Muni) at Embarcadero station, then go upstairs to Market Street where you can catch the F-line trolley in the direction of the Ferry Building. Or walk to Fisherman's Wharf, about 35 minutes along the Embarcadero.
The F-Line Trolley runs along the Embarcadero (the street along the waterfront where all the piers are) to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. You can use your Muni (but not BART) transfer for the trolley. Muni buses and streetcars are now $3.00 for adults, $1.50 for seniors 65+ and youth 5-18. 0-4 yrs, free. Exact change required (or use the MuniMobile app on a mobile phone, or a Clipper Card, to pay, and get a slight discount.).
If you're going to the Navy ship open houses, get off at the pier(s) listed on the ship tours schedule (see info on ship tours and map). Piers 30/32 are not on the F-line; they are about six blocks south of the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. For the Blue Angels show, get off at Fisherman's Wharf (the end of the F-line).
Driving to Fleet Week in San Francisco sounds like something only an insane person would do, but it's surprisingly easy! At least where parking is concerned.
There are a number of parking areas among the piers along the Embarcadero, within walking distance to Fisherman's Wharf; see my page on Embarcadero parking for maps and details.
The catch is that it can be double the usual price for special events like Fleet Week. Pier 23 is about a 15 minute walk to Fisherman's Wharf.
Note: I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the link below, at no extra cost to you. This helps me provide all the free information I post on this website.
Something you may want to consider is reserving a parking space using the Spot Hero parking app. You can compare the parking garages and lots in the area and book one that works for you ahead of time.
I've done it both ways during Fleet Week, and driving and parking at the piers was vastly less stressful and frustrating than waiting in the long lines for the trains and trolleys, and being packed in with the crowds. I live in the city, but if you're coming over the Bay Bridge, the traffic might be as bad as the crowds on Bart!
If you hit the evening rush hour on Bart or Muni, or a Giants game, or both like I did, you have my sympathy! It's a trade-off: expense vs. inconvenience. But it's all worth it to see the Blue Angels come roaring in over the Golden Gate Bridge!