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Fleet Week

More than 1 million people are expected to come to San Francisco for the annual Fleet Week celebration taking place along the city’s northern waterfront.  The iconic Blue Angels, the US Navy’s gravity-defying F/A-18 fighter jet team, will once again highlight the celebration with aerial stunts above the bay. Before you navigate the crowds on one of the busiest weekends of the year for San Francisco, the California Beat’s Fleet Week Guide should give you a preview of what to expect.

Insider’s Guide:

Schedule of Events

(Information compiled from fleetweek.us. Subject to change without notice.)

Thursday, October 6:

  • 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Air Show flying will begin with the United States Navy Blue Angels conducting their “Circle & Arrival” maneuvers

Friday, October 7:

  • 12:30 p.m. — 4 p.m. United States Navy Blue Angels Fleet Week Air Show Practice
  • 12 p.m. — 2 p.m. PIER 39 – Navy Band Southwest
  • 7:15 p.m. — 7:45 p.m. Meet & Greet The Blue Angels near Aquarium of the Bay

Saturday, October 8:

  • 11 a.m. Parade of Ships 1st ship under the Golden Gate Bridge with the USS Carl Vinson. All ships will berth along the northern San Francisco waterfront.
  • 8 a.m. -4 p.m. Ship Tours of the USS Bonhomme Richard at Piers 30/32.
  • 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Static displays along the Marina Green.
  • 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Fleet Week Air Show with the United States Navy Blue Angels
  • 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. The First Marine Division Band plays at Pier 39.
  • 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. The Marine Band Concert takes place at Huntington Park.

Sunday, October 9:

  • 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Static displays on Marina Green, Space exibit at Fort Mason
  • 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. San Francisco Fleet Week Ships open for tours at Pier 27, Pier 35 and Piers 30-32.
  • 12:30 p.m. Italian Heritage / Fleet Week Parade, 1st MarDiv Band Concert at Washington Square
  • 1 2: 30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Air Show with United States Navy Blue Angels performance.
  • Half-time band performance for the San Francisco 49ers football game by the Marines/ Navy.

Monday, October 10:

  • 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. All San Francisco Fleet Week Ships open for tours at Pier 27, Pier 30-32 and Pier 35.
  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Band Challenge at Music  Concourse at Golden Gate Park with local high schools band competing.

Tuesday, October 11:

  • All San Francisco Fleet Week Ships Depart

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Getting There & Around

Word to the wise: if you’re driving — don’t. It’s hard enough to drive in San Francisco on a regular day, but throw in an event that draws an estimated crowd of 1.2 million people, few places to park and tons of congestion, it’ll be a recipe for aggravation behind the wheel.

Public transportation is your next safest alternative to get to where you need to go with the hassle of feeding meters, paying exorbitant parking lot rates and fighting gridlock along the waterfront.

BART, the Bay Area’s regional rail system, will operate longer trains on Saturday, October 9 and Sunday, October 10 to accommodate people attending the Fleet Week celebration.

MUNI, San Francisco’s public transportation system, is expected to operate additional service along the waterfront to bring passengers from Downtown to prime viewing areas for the Parade of Ships and the Blue Angels near Pier 39.

Be forewarned: expect crowds and longer than average wait times (especially on MUNI’s F-Market streetcar/ bus service on the waterfront).

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Best Places to Watch

For an air show, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, but some seats are better than others.

Official seating from Fleet Week is available for purchase.

There are also other options to enjoy the airshow and the Parade of Ships. This year, the pavilion at Aquatic Park (map) has reopened in time to provide public seating for both events. It had been closed for the previous two Fleet Week shows for construction.

Here are some other spots to consider:

The Marina Green (map)

The Marina Green will be the nexus of where all the action is to take place: vendors will be selling food and military-related trinkets, recruiters will be out in force offering to doll the youngsters up in camouflage face paint, and the parking lot for Fort Mason will be transformed into a hub of activity for event organizers. There’s a huge spacious lawn to bring a blanket and a picnic basket to view the airshow, but come early and stake out a spot on the lawn – it’s a popular spot that always gets crowded. For spectators of the Team Oracle air show, this is definitely the place to be.

Pier 41 (map)

It’s a public pier that juts out into the middle of the northern waterfront, so you’ll get a good view of the Blue Angels overhead and the ships sailing in. It’s also directly between Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf which has its pluses and minuses.

Respectively: lots of places to grab some scrumptious fresh seafood and tons and tons of people who want just as great a shot of the Angels as you do.

You’ll have a hard time viewing the Team Oracle airshow from here – all of the stunts will be performed west of Fort Mason (near the Marina Green). But if you’re looking for Blue Angels and other stunt planes, you will be fine.

From the Middle of the Bay

This does not qualify as a free option, but several of the major bay cruise operators in town offer Fleet Week cruises where you can pay to get on a fancy boat, sail out to the middle of the bay and sip cocktails while the Blue Angels whiz over your heads.

Hornblower Cruises offers such a cruise, Red and White Fleet does it too, and you can also hop on-board the WWII Liberty Ship, the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien for a Fleet Week cruise. The O’Brien is also scheduled to participate in the Parade of Ships. Click on the links for more information on what these operators offer this weekend. Read more about the O’Brien’s history here.

Smaller, private commercial boating outfits in the Pier 39 area may also offer Fleet Week excursions – so you may get many propositions from a quick jog down Jefferson Street near Fisherman’s Wharf.

From Treasure Island (map)

The likelihood of scoring a parking spot is much greater if you choose to head out to Treasure Island to do the Fleet Week viewing. From the Avenue of the Palms of the western edge of the island, you’ll be able to see the Parade of Ships sail past the downtown skyline and catch the Blue Angels dodge San Francisco’s skyscrapers. Keep in mind, seating is scarce to non-existent on Treasure Island, and you won’t have the vendors, food, and other festivities that your viewing counterparts get on the mainland.

If you’re looking for a quick jog to check out the ships and the Blue Angels only, heading to Treasure Island is a great way to catch the war machines but not the crowds.

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Online Resources

You can follow us on Twitter @californiabeat for the latest Fleet Week news and information. We’ll be live-tweeting from the events all week long. Share your photos and video of the Fleet Week sights and sounds by e-mailing them to our Metro Desk at news@californiabeat.org.

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[By California Beat | 8 Oct 2010 | 3 Comments]

SAN FRANCISCO — The United States Navy’s Blue Angels flight team rattled windows and frazzled nerves throughout the Bay Area Thursday afternoon when it took to the skies for Fleet Week practice flights.

The iconic blue and gold F/A-18 jets could be heard from every part of the city and throughout much of the Bay Area.

[By Beat News Service | 6 Oct 2010 | 2 Comments]

SAN FRANCISCO — This year’s Fleet Week celebration, an annual event that celebrates the city’s rich contribution to the United States armed forces, will be the largest one held in 20 years, organizers and city officials said Wednesday.

Ten ships, eight of them active military vessels, will take part in this year’s event, scheduled to kick off today and run through Monday. The eight active military ships — including two from the Canadian naval fleet — will bring nearly 1,000 sailors into San Francisco, according to Fleet Week organizers.

[By California Beat | 4 Oct 2010 | One Comment]

SAN FRANCISCO — With a thunderous roar, the United States Navy’s Blue Angels landed at San Francisco International Airport Monday afternoon to prepare for this weekend’s annual Fleet Week celebration.

The annual salute to the city’s rich military history will commence on Thursday when the Blue Angels perform practice flights over the Bay Area.

[By California Beat | 10 Oct 2009 | 2 Comments]

ALL PHOTOS by A.W. Leonard

Beat Photographer

Heavy fog disappointed hundreds of thousands of Fleet Week revelers in San Francisco Saturday afternoon after the the main act — the US Navy’s Blue Angels — were grounded because of visibility and safety concerns.

The jets took off at around 3:00 p.m. for the show, but quickly returned to San Francisco International Airport after low lying fog blanketed much of the airspace. The jets perform gravity-defying stunts thousands of feet in the air at high-speeds and within feet of each other.


[By California Beat | 8 Oct 2009 | One Comment]

Was that a fighter jet that just flew over my head?

Why yes, San Francisco. It was.

And they’ll do it again tomorrow. And the next day, and the day after that.


[By California Beat | 2 Oct 2009 | 2 Comments]

For anyone planning to drive into San Francisco during this year’s Fleet Week celebration, just take one look at the sign we snapped during last year’s event and we’re sure you’re having second doubts about doing that right about now.

You see, special events like Fleet Week which draws large crowds into town give parking lot operators along the city’s waterfront another reason to raise parking rates to moon-scraping rates.

[By California Beat | 1 Oct 2009 | No Comments]

After last year’s Parade of Ships was canceled, Fleet Week organizers are crossing their fingers that the rough seas will calm a bit this year so that three vessels sailing in from across the globe can make it under the Golden Gate on-time.

There will be a total of four ships participating in this year’s Parade of Ships during Fleet Week festivities. Among them: a Canadian Naval ship, the HMCS Edmonton, two American military ships, the USS Green Bay and a Coast Guard cutter, the CGC Boutwell, and an old merchant marine ship, the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien that’s actually moored in San Francisco.

In August 2008, The California Beat’s Military Historian Roy Morlidge went on board the ship and discovered why it plays such an important role in connecting the present with the wartime past.

[By California Beat | 28 Sep 2009 | 3 Comments]

Face it: you and everyone else who plans on going to this year’s Fleet Week 2009 event in San Francisco Oct. 8-13 will be jockeying — in some cases — fighting for the perfect spot to watch the Blue Angels zip through the skies of the Bay Area.

BLUE ANGELS: They fly from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday Oct. 9-11. Survey flights will take place on Thurs. Oct. 8 starting at noon. Full schedule of events.

FLEET WEEK TWITTER UPDATES: Follow @californiabeat for the latest information on Fleet Week 2009.

In reality, there really isn’t a bad spot in the city to catch a glimpse of the jets. Just look up from where ever you are. But there are some places that are better than others to hunker down with a picnic lunch or the camera with the telephoto lens for an annual acrobatic airshow.

[By California Beat | 14 Oct 2008 | No Comments]

There were death-defying stunts thousands of feet up in the air, consistent rattling of windows and teeth for days, and tens of thousands of spectators eager for more of it!

In a nutshell, that’s the summary of what did and did not transpire for the past few days along San Francisco’s northern waterfront during the city’s 29th annual Fleet Week celebration.

The Blue Angels airshow highlighted much of the weekend’s activities – especially after organizers announced that the Parade of Ships that was slated to take place at 11:30 a.m. Saturday would be canceled after two of the four participating vessels wouldn’t make it on time because of rough seas.

[By California Beat | 14 Oct 2008 | One Comment]

These tough times are forcing private parking lot operators in San Francisco to gouge spectators a bit more.

The cheapest parking rate that we saw hovered around $20 for all-day Fleet Week parking in the private lots. Even that didn’t last long after the operator saw he could charge what everyone else was charging for a spot.

We warned you!