Fireworks are the highlight of the 4th of July, but to a young child, the crowds at popular viewing spots can be noisier than the fireworks. Keeping your cranky little firecrackers up past their bedtime is challenging enough without having to sit in a sea of rowdy strangers. But don’t let the prospect of fighting the crowds keep you from enjoying some of the most spectacular displays in the country—these lesser-known locations offer all of the fireworks spectacle without the swam of people.

photo: skeeze via pixabay

San Francisco

San Francisco Art Institute
Head back to school to watch fireworks from the roof terrace of The San Francisco Art Institute. The private art college has an outdoor courtyard at its campus on Chestnut between Jones and Leavenworth. Visitors are welcome to roam the halls and enjoy the Diego Rivera murals and come July 4th, those in the know can take in the fireworks in elevated style.

800 Chestnut Street (between Jones and Leavenworth)
San Francisco, CA

Alta Plaza Park
This is the perfect pick for the playground-age set. This quiet neighborhood park is perched atop Jackson and Steiner streets. There’s plenty of grass to sit on, a handful of benches, a colorful play structure and even decent bathrooms. The northern staircase at Pierce and Jackson is the easiest route to the top and the place where you’ll get the best view with a glimpse of the water.


Jackson & Steiner
San Francisco, CA

You should be able to catch some of the light show at Inspiration Point, not far from the Presidio Golf Course and overlooking the Bay. The small parking lot there is usually closed so you’ll have to park outside the Presidio near the Arguello Gate and head in on foot. Across the road is The Spire and a short walk along Bay View Trail affords a decent vantage point for the fireworks but be sure to look out for signs about coyotes and other wildlife. The best bet is to enter the Presidio near the Lyon Street steps at Broadway. You’ll get a staggering view from this part of Mountain Lake Trail, if the fog behaves.  Make sure you have some extra layers, the Presidio gets chilly after dark.

Inspiration Point
Arguello Boulevard above Ecology Trail
San Francisco, CA

Lyon Street Steps
2460 Lyon Street
San Francisco, CA

photo: momentsgrpaher via flickr

Coit Tower
Follow a big pasta dinner in North Beach with a hike up to Coit Tower. This spot has a small parking lot, so driving to the top is an option. The area is well lit, there’s a public bathroom and if you get there early you can claim a seat along the retaining wall surrounding the lot. You might even be able to see the fireworks reflected in the Bay.

1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.
San Francisco, CA

Lincoln Park
Trade wild crowds for wild grasses, trees and shrubs (and maybe a few critters) by spending the evening at the eastern end of the Land’s End Trail at Lincoln Park. Parking is available at the Legion of Honor and you can follow the trail towards Sea Cliff. Pretty much anywhere along that stretch will afford you an unobstructed view of the Bay and its memorable lightshow. Bring blankets and a flashlight.

300 34th Ave
San Francisco, CA

Tank Hill
Even without fireworks, views from Tank Hill will give you all the sparkle of the city. This park is so small it doesn’t even appear on some city maps, but it’s easy enough to find at the intersection of Clarendon and Twin Peaks Boulevard and parking in the surrounding neighborhood shouldn’t be a problem. The hill was named for a water tank that was removed two decades ago. All that remains is a concrete cylinder on the hill’s peak—the perfect platform for setting up camp chairs, snuggling up with a thermos full of hot chocolate and watching the show.

Clarendon & Twin Peaks
San Francisco, CA

Bernal Heights Park
Make the little ones work for their entertainment by tackling the long, slow grade up to the top of Bernal Hill. Just take Folsom Street to its southern end and you’ll be at the base of the hill. The crowds, made up of mostly locals, have grown over the years and the single bench is usually claimed as early as 5:30 p.m., but the site is still tamer than Twin Peaks. The show won’t be close-up but if the fog stays away, you’ll see three or four firework shows from this spot.  Some say the noise is muffled enough that even dogs and skittish tots can enjoy the spectacle without tears. Bring blankets or camp chairs and a flashlight.

Bernal Heights Blvd.
San Francisco, CA

photo: Anthony Alvernez via Flickr

Treasure Island
Smack in the center of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island offers a panoramic alternative to the madness at Fisherman’s Wharf. The bridge traffic will still be an epic battle, so leave early and spend some time exploring the old military barracks and staking out a spot on the Great Lawn. Bring a picnic dinner but leave the grilling gear at home, because no public barbecue facilities are available. Or better yet, grab a bite and a root beer float at MerSea before the light show!

Avenue of the Palms
Treasure Island,
San Francisco, CA

Angel Island
Escape the mainland crowds and head out to Angel Island for a unique view of San Francisco’s 4th of July fireworks display. Angel Island State Park will stay open for fireworks viewing; this is a ticketed event which should keep numbers manageable. Ticket price includes round-trip ferry from either SF or Tiburon and live music, plus the option of a fried chicken dinner ($20) and a tram tour of the island. Bring picnic blankets, chairs and flashlights, as well as jackets to keep the chill away. Grab your tickets here.

Angel Island
San Francisco, CA

photo: USS Hornet

East Bay

Indian Rock Park
Sure-footed scouts will feel like they scaled a mini Mt. Everest when they climb to the top of Indian Rock, an 11-million-year old volcanic formation within the Berkeley public park of the same name. The perch offers an unobstructed view of all three bridges, so if the night is clear, multiple fireworks shows will be visible. This option is best for bigger kids—not for new walkers or little flight risks. While there are steps carved into the rock that will take you safely up and down, the steeper faces are used by serious rock climbers as practice, so bring a flashlight or headlamp for the descent and stay alert.

950 Indian Rock Ave. at Shattuck Ave.
Northeast Berkeley, CA

USS Hornet
Take your troops to watch the show aboard the USS Hornet. This ticketed event features all-day activities, games and live music plus front-row seats for the San Francisco fireworks, viewed from the flight deck and accompanied by music. The aircraft carrier is permanently moored at Alameda, so no need to worry about seasickness. Don’t forget to spend some time touring the ship and exploring its history. USS Hornet Museum members and kids 5 and under are free.

707 West Hornet Ave.
Alameda, CA

Bay Farm Island
Some say this is one of the best places in the Bay to watch the sky light up. From the ferry terminal, look across the bay to see sweeping views from the San Francisco skyline to San Bruno Mountain. The island is home to the country’s only bicycle drawbridge, 1000-foot long, across the estuary to Alameda. Take your place on the bridge and watch the show from here. If it’s a clear night, you’ll catch a glimpse of some seriously magnificent fireworks.

Bay Farm Island
Alameda, CA

photo: Brandon Patoc

Peninsula/South Bay

Shoreline Amphitheater
Celebrate the Fourth of July with a festive outdoor performance perfect for summer! Led by conductor Edwin Outwater at Shoreline Amphitheater, the SF Symphony fills the night air with the exhilarating music of Star Wars, chart-topping pop performed by renowned Broadway vocalist Capathia Jenkins and American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis, selections from famous film scores, a salute to our Armed Forces and more—culminating in a grand finale of amazing fireworks.

Shoreline Amphitheater
1 Amphitheater Pkwy.
Mountain View, CA

Island Drive
Foster City is known to have one of the best firework displays in the Peninsula but as you’d expect it draws big crowds. There’s a full day of events planned with pancakes, a band and parades. If the little ones are tiring and you’re looking for less people, one option is to head for neighboring Redwood Shores. Take Island Drive off Marine Parkway and head out to it’s most northern point. Another option is to take the Veteran’s Boulevard Exit and park beside IHOP or Good Nite Inn. There’s a small clearing beside the Inn that offers unobstructed views across the highway and over the Bay. You might not get the full “ooh-ahh” effect but you’ll get the best of the lightshow without the crowds.

Island Drive
Redwood Shores, CA

Shoreline Lake
If you prefer to listen to your own playlist while watching fireworks, you can still catch the Shoreline Amphitheater fireworks by staking out a spot on the banks of Shoreline Lake. Better yet, get away from the landlubbers and take a pedalboat, rowboat, canoe, or kayak out onto the lake for a unique view of the fireworks. Shoreline Lake is offering extended hours and advance reservations for kayak, canoe, pedalboat and rowboat rentals. You can even add on a wine and cheese platter or the hot cocoa option.

Shoreline Lake
3160 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA


North Bay

Marin Headlands
Head over the Golden Gate Bridge early and spend the afternoon romping on the beach and tending the barbeque. Head up to the top of the hill for sunset, and if the fog stays away, enjoy the fireworks shows from San Francisco, Alameda, Richmond and beyond. There are pull outs on the road for you to stop and take in the view. Plan on being there early with some snacks as there are no food vendors in the Headlands.

Conzelman Road (above Kirby Cove)
Sausalito, CA

Point Tiburon
Blackie’s Pasture on Paradise Drive gives sea-level views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a good view of the Richardson Bay.  Try out this viewing spot or drive all the way down Paradise Drive to Point Tiburon, where the show goes on, minus the masses.

Paradise Dr.
Tiburon, CA

—Kate Loweth, Ana Picazo and Erin Feher



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