Where You Need to Watch the Blue Angels Fly Over San Francisco During Fleet Week
In San Francisco, our gate is open—and that means that Fleet Week is returning, Oct. 3-11, 2021. This annual celebration of the brave men and women who have served our country includes a parade of ships, live music, and a breathtaking air show that features the most famous aerial acrobats in the nation, the Blue Angels. Read on for more about Fleet Week and how to best experience its signature event.
History of Fleet Week
The Fleet Week celebration began as a natural extension of the annual arrival of U.S. Navy ships that would dock in San Francisco each October. In 1981, by order of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, it became an official event. Today, more than one million people attend Fleet Week each year.
What's New This Year?
In addition to some returning favorites, the 2021 Air Show will feature a search and rescue demonstration from the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the U.S. Air Force's F-16 Viper Demo Team. The U.S. Navy Parachute Team and the Red Bull Wingsuit Skydivers will add an extra thrill to the day.
The Blue Angels themselves will be showing off something new this year: their new F-18 Super Hornets, state-of-the-art aircraft that are 25% larger than their prior planes, making them a lot easier for spectators to see. Fleet Week also marks the Angels' 75th anniversary.
Not new but nevertheless unique will be the presence of United's 777 passenger plane. San Francisco's Fleet Week Air Show is the only such event in the nation to feature a commercial airliner.
What Are the Blue Angels?
The Blue Angels are the longest-running flight demonstration squadron in the United States and the second-oldest in the world. The Blue Angels were first formed in 1946 and consist of some of the most elite pilots from the Navy and the Marines. They typically perform about 70 shows per year and are seen by millions of people.
Best Time of Day to View the Blue Angels
The 2021 Air Show will be held over three days, Oct. 8-10. The show runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8 and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the other two days. Historically, the Blue Angels have flown toward the end of the show, but that may not be the case each day. Even if you aren't in your preferred viewing spot by the afternoon, there's a good chance you'll see them flying over the city earlier in the day and in the days before, practicing their incredible maneuvers.
Best Place to View the Blue Angels
There are a number of places in San Francisco where you can score a great view.
PIER 39 is located far enough east of the air show that you'll be able to see most of the flying formations. It is also home to a large number of dining and entertainment options. You can get to PIER 39 directly on the F Line streetcar.
What better way to see the fireworks show then right on the bay? Book a bay cruise during Fleet Week and watch the airshow from a unique perspective.
If you'd rather be a little farther away from the main action of Fleet Week but still want to see the Blue Angels do their thing, Marina Green is a great option. To get to Marina Green, take the 22 Muni bus to its last stop at Fillmore and Bay Streets.
To be right in the heart of Fleet Week and to watch the Blue Angels fly directly overhead, Crissy Field is the place to go. Make sure to get there early, since most people arrive well before the performance begins. The 30 Muni bus terminates at Crissy Field, making for an easy ride.
The Marin Headlands is a hilly peninsula on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. You'll encounter smaller crowds here, but you can still expect an excellent view of the Blue Angels. To get to the Marin Headlands, you'll have to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Located near Ghirardelli Square, Aquatic Park has grassy fields where spectators can gather. The elevated terrain makes it easy to see the planes in the air. To get there, take the Powell-Hyde cable car to its final stop between Beach and Jefferson Streets.
Top of the Mark
Top of the Mark is a rooftop bar at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. It offers an elevated view that puts you almost parallel with the Blue Angels themselves. Take the 1 Muni bus line or the California Street cable car to get there. Note: Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and face masks are required, since Top of the Mark is an indoor establishment.
Treasure Island offers an interesting perspective. Although it is farther away than most other locations, it provides an unobstructed view of the bay. To get to Treasure Island, take the 25 Muni bus.
Coit Tower not only offers a wonderful view of the Blue Angels, but it also provides an impressive view of the city below. To get to Coit Tower, you can take the 39 Muni bus—or, if you're feeling brave, take the stairs.
Twin Peaks puts you 1,000 feet above sea level, giving you a full view of the Blue Angels, as well as the entire city. Arrive at Twin Peaks by taking the 33 or 37 Muni bus lines.
The Blue Angels put on a show you should not miss. Finding the best vantage point will ensure you create an indelible memory at Fleet Week.
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Photo by Louis Raphael