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.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., (October 9, 10 & 11 in 2020) 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, except the USAF F-35 Demo Team will be performing Saturday and Sunday only.
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. Here is last year's lineup:
The F-35 is a stealth fighter jet, and it's pilot, Captain Andrew Olson, will be doing 15 minutes worth of acrobatics above the bay. Watch for his loops, rolls, upside-down flying, and combat simulation.
The Patriot Jet Team joined SF's Fleet Week show three years ago, and we're lucky to have them back again this year.
The Patriots are a locally-based group of pilots who do extreme maneuvers as a group of six jets, in the L-39C Albatross, a light-attack fighter jet often used to train fighter pilots. Most of these guys are former fighter pilots, and one is a former Blue Angels pilot. They perform all over the country, but have a home airfield in Byron, California, about an hour and a half from SF.
Here's a brief promo video which gives a taste of what they do in their shows:
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.
When: the Friday of Fleet Week, October 9, 2020, from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 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.
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.
Some of the big Navy vessels will be open to the public Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Fleet Week, October 7 through 12, 2020.
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.
In past years, the tours have been held at Piers 15/17, 30/32, 35 and 50. Five different ships were available for exploring last year. This is likely going to be the set-up for 2020 as well, or something similar.
Piers 15/17 and Pier 35 are walking distance from Fisherman's Wharf; Piers 30/32 and 50 are not. Piers 30/32 are about a six block walk along the waterfront from the Ferry Building.
Tip: get there early. The lines can be long, hours long at times. Also, there's no shade while waiting, so plan accordingly.
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.
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 is a two and a half hour cruise that leaves from Pier 43 1/2 at Fisherman's Wharf at 1:30 pm, and returns at 4 pm, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The tickets are a bit expensive (last year at $90, kids 5-17 $68), but you can sometimes get them half price through www.goldstar.com. Your ticket includes a nice buffet of salads, sandwiches and fruit. See my photos of the ship buffet.
Last year (2019) they added one free drink (including wine and beer), plus there's a bar on board for purchasing additional beer, wine and soft drinks.
This cruise is cheaper and a little longer than the Blue & Gold Fleet Week Cruise below, plus they go out all three days.
There were a lot of people on board, but it didn't feel crowded. Highly recommended!
I got 50% off my tickets from goldstar.com when I went. Check with them first, at Goldstar. It's free to sign up, then see what they've got.
To book tickets (when they become available) directly with the Red and White Fleet, see Fleet Week Cruise.
The Blue and Gold Fleet has a two hour Blue Angels cruise during Fleet Week, (last year at $115, $70 kids 5-11), including buffet lunch and open bar. Saturday & Sunday, 2-4 pm, leaving from Pier 39. When the tickets become available, you can find them 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. $60-$100. Check out their availability at SF Sailing Co.
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.
Another way to get out on the water to see the Blue Angels, a bit more expensive at $106 (last year), but rather elegant, is the Air Show Lunch Cruise on the San Francisco Belle, one of ships in the Hornblower 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 a more extensive buffet with salads, entrees and desserts, during the two hour voyage.
This cruise goes out at 2:30 p.m. on Friday of Fleet Week, from Pier 3 (Hornblower Landing) close to the Ferry Building, for the Friday "practice" air show including the Blue Angels (which is just like the regular shows on Saturday and Sunday). $103 per person. The Saturday and Sunday Blue Angels lunch cruises are $106 per person.
They also have a 3-hour Premier Fleet Week Cruise with buffet lunch, free booze and live jazz for $132, leaving at 2:00 pm Sunday. See premier cruise.
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.
They have Fleet Week cruises on Saturday and Sunday, 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. Last year (2019) it was $150 adults, $90 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 normally parked at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf and available for a visit year-round.
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.
During Fleet Week there are Marine and Navy Band concerts at various locations around the city, plus lots of other things (see a complete list of events at Fleet Week schedule).
There's a band concert in Golden Gate Park on Monday of Fleet Week, October 12, 2020, 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, October 11, 2020, 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.
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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!