Fingers will point up as the Blue Angels take to the Bay Area skies. During this amazing air show, the jets fly as close as 18 inches from one another and at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour, leaving intricate paths of smoke overhead that will make your kids swoon with joy and excitement. But there’s more to the air show and to Fleet Week in general than the popular Blue Angels. The seven-day event includes a busy calendar of family-friendly activities centered around the US Navy ships and planes. Leave the toy planes and ships at home, it’s time to show your kids the real deal!
When to go: The Blue Angels begin rehearsing on Thursday, October 4, taking to the skies from the hours of 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm and 12:30 pm – 4:00 pm the next day, October 5. These are good days to take the kids out to the wharf before the big weekend crowds come in. The official air shows take place on Saturday and Sunday, with concerts and parades in between (various SF locations). Monday, October 8, is a good day to tour the Navy ships before they depart on Tuesday. Check out the fleet week website to find out where the ships will be docked for tours.
How to get there: Travel plans and times will vary depending on the day and event. The air shows are visible from all over the Bay Area, from Twin Peaks to Crissy Field to the Berkeley Marina to Crown Beach. Other scheduled events occur in San Francisco, such as the Marine Band performances at Union Square and Huntington Park, and various exhibitions at the Marina Green. Should you choose to drive, parking is tight, even at the Marina Green and Crissy Field. But taking BART to the Embarcadero exit and walking to the wharf is probably the best way to avoid traffic. MUNI can also help you and the kids navigate fleet week.
What to bring: Bring a lunch, snacks, and water to avoid getting overcharged for food on the pier.
How to dress: Layers and comfy shoes.
What to do: Aside from the air shows, Fleet Week outings for the family include viewing the Parade of Ships as they pass beneath the Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday, beginning at 11:00 am. The Italian Heritage Parade, an annual event for nearly a century-and-a-half, is a great opportunity to show the kids the marching bands and rows of men and women in uniform. The parade takes place on Sunday from 12:00 pm – 3:30 pm, going from North Beach to Washington Square. Ship tours on Monday at various piers take place all day until 5:00 pm. Catch the America’s Cup race on Sunday from 1:50 pm – 2:30 pm and cheer your favorite boats on towards victory.
Or you can brave the crowds of tourists at Pier 39 where free concerts, airbrush tattoos, and a meet-and-greet with the Blue Angels will keep the kiddos occupied in between tours of the naval ships and the aircraft flybys.
Where to Watch: While Crissy Field will be hopping, there are several other great places to catch the air show without the headache of having to deal with hordes of spectators. Fort Baker by the Children’s Discovery Museum is a good alternative for those who want to get relatively close to all the action. Inspiration Point in the Presidio offers a great view of the northern side of the city. Tank Hill and the top of Lyon Street steps are both much smaller locations, but equally great at providing a view of the marina.
Lunch spots: The entire Embarcadero waterfront will be busy for Fleet Week, with restaurants at the Ferry Building, Embarcadero Center, and Fisherman’s Wharf all showing potential. Vendors will be out in droves, as well, selling snacks and water bottles for more than they’re worth. The easiest choice is to pack your own lunches and find a cozy spot for the air show, whether it’s on a park lawn or a friend’s rooftop.
Cost of trip: Free! Just make sure to bring enough money for transportation and food.
Online: San Francisco Fleet Week
What are some can’t-miss Fleet Week events for your little ones? Do you have a favorite spot to catch all the air show action? Share it with us in a comment below!
— Renee Macalino Rutledge
photo credit: Sam Soneja, Gunther Hagleitner, & DVIDSHUB