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Top Guns in Town: The Standard Guide to SF Fleet Week 2022

Written by Maryann Jones Thompson and Shelley D. FargoPublished Oct. 03, 2022 • 9:37am
The US Navy Blue Angels fly over San Francisco, California as part of a practice run for Fleet Week on October 4, 2018. | Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

It’s coming: that first whooshing, thundering crash that cracks the blue sky of a San Francisco October afternoon. 

Yes, Fleet Week returns this week. And few folks are happier than Shannon Rice, a self-proclaimed “Fleet Week fanatic" who hasn’t missed a show in the 30-plus years that she’s lived in the city.

“It is my favorite event of the year, hands down,” Rice said. “Don’t ask me why. I’m such a tree-hugging hippie… Everyone I know is so surprised that I love Fleet Week.”

Banners around SF announce Fleet Week 2022. | Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

It’s a sentiment that many San Franciscans share: How to reconcile a love for the military show in a peace-and-love city. And the ear-splitting noise of the Blue Angels jets further divides residents for its rattling of pets and nerves. But Rice speaks for many city dwellers who look forward to the spectacle.

“I love how loud it is. I’m out there screaming, ‘Louder!’” Rice said. “I’m not big on the military—I mean I support the troops, for sure—but there’s something incredible about what it takes to fly these machines and the expertise involved. It’s mind-boggling." 

The annual air show and parade of ships began in 1981 when SF Mayor Dianne Feinstein created the event to honor the nation's sea-based branches of the military. Now seen as a model for other events around the country, the SF Fleet Week brings in an estimated $10 million in revenue to the city annually according to organizers. 

For years, Rice lived right beneath the action in Russian Hill but now she heads to the waterfront from her home in the Sunset. And she’s got some tips for others who want to feel the wind of a fighter jet in their hair.

“Don’t drive there. It’s a no-brainer, but don’t,” said Rice, insisting that a bus is the best way to get anywhere near the bay for Fleet Week.

The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, fly over San Francisco during the 2019 San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show.| U.S. Navy photo courtesy Fleet Week 2022

And though the official grandstands are set up on Marina Green, Rice said it’s not the best place to watch.

“Aquatic Park is really the center of the show,” Rice explained. She tries to get there by noon and brings a waterproof blanket to sit on the soggy grass but not much else because porta-potties and food options are nearby. “There are always a lot of people there but there’s plenty of room for everyone.”

By bay, Rice recommends booking a ticket for a Fleet Week bay cruise. She rode on the Red and White Fleet for the past few years and liked it, but cautions that the boat is continually moving so is not necessarily able to sit still right underneath under the action.

“But one year I got some video where you could actually see the afterburn,” Rice said. “It was amazing!”

Check out the Standard Guide to Fleet Week below, with a complete list of official Fleet Week events, places you can reserve a seat or table on land and sea, and a map of the best places near SF to watch for free.

Courtesy Fleet Week 2022

A Complete Guide to the Official Fleet Week 2022 Events 

The official events run from Monday, Oct. 3 to Monday, Oct. 10, but most of the action takes place from Wednesday to Sunday. Click here for the full calendar of official events and read on for more places to watch.

Fleet Week on Wednesday

Fleet Week on Thursday

Fleet Week on Friday

Fleet Week on Saturday

Fleet Week on Sunday

Crew member Jason Graham (right) explains the operations inside the hangar bay to a pair of visitors on a public tour of the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Essex during Fleet Week in San Francisco on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. | Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Reserve a Seat at a Fleet Week Watch Party

If you’re not content to just see the occasional Blue Angel fly over and don’t feel like fighting for a spot, consider reserving your seat at one of these watch parties in the city or on the bay. Most of these events still have tickets available.

Where to Watch Fleet Week on Land

  • Marina Green Official Grandstand Seats Friday, Oct. 7-Sunday, Oct. 9.
  • Post-Flight Party at Westwood Fri. Oct. 7, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Spinsters of San Francisco hosts a fundraiser that to benefit Compass Family Services, which is focused on ending family homelessness in San Francisco. Tickets are $45 and include an open bar from a special menu for the first hour of the event, drink deals throughout the night, a DJ, a photo booth and a $20 ride credit to or from the event from Alto. 
  • KAIYŌ Rooftop SoMa Sat. Oct. 8 and Sun. Oct. 9. Seatings at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Themed cocktails and a $55 2-course lunch menu and an afternoon of live classic-rock music by Nathan Moody x Trio. Guests can choose from a GA ticket ($25), which includes one complimentary Fleet Week-themed cocktail and access to KAIYŌ Rooftop. This does not include a table or a reservation. 
  • KAIYŌ Cow Hollow The red, white and blue themed cocktails and 2-course lunch menu will also be available. 
  • Aquarium of the Bay Fleet Week Watch Party Sat. Oct. 8, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. At Aquarium of the Bay, enjoy panoramic waterfront views of the San Francisco Bay from the terrace. It's an ideal spot for viewing and photographing the planes. Your $165 ticket includes VIP terrace access, a catered buffet and 3 complimentary drink tickets for beer and wine.

Where to Watch Fleet Week On the Water

  • Golden Gate Ferry Friday, Oct. 7, Saturday, Oct. 8 and Sunday, Oct. 9.
  • SF Belle Lunch Cruise Friday, Oct. 7, Saturday, Oct. 8 and Sunday, Oct. 9,
  • 2:30 until 4:30 p.m. (boarding at 1:30 p.m.).
  • Red and White Fleet Friday, Oct. 7, Saturday, Oct. 8, and Sunday, Oct. 9, 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. departures.
  • Blue and Gold Cruise Saturday, Oct. 8 and Sunday, Oct. 9, 1:30 until 4 p.m. (boarding at 1:15 p.m., arrive 45 min. early).
  • SS Jeremiah O'Brien Cruise  Sunday, Oct. 9, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (boarding at 9 a.m.). Departs Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf at 10 a.m. (boarding at 9 a.m.). 
  • Caviar Cruise  Sunday, Oct. 9, 1:30 until 4 p.m. The deluxe cruise will sail the bay on the Tideline Peregrine. Indulge in caviar, bubbly and hors d’oeuvres. 

Restaurants & Bars with Good Views for Fleet Week 

  • Hog Island Oysters Indoor and outdoor dining on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Señor Sisig’s Outdoor seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Fri. 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m until 6 p.m.
  • Rooftop 25  Great views for Fleet Week air show Oct. 7-9. Reservations for 5-8 guests, otherwise seating on a first come, first served basis for smaller parties.
  • Pier 23 Open Wednesday through Sunday. Enjoy a front and center view of the airshow. Walk-ins are only for groups under six people. Will take reservations for over six people, so book ahead.
  • Scoma’s Amazing but limited bay view seating (5 tables). Available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Eagle Cafe Pier 39 No reservations. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Snag a spot on the balcony for a prime view of the air show.
  • La Mar Patio seating reservations are available. Seating time is for 1.5 hours, so time your booking accordingly.

Best Places to Get Free Views of Fleet Week

To be sure, the Fleet Week air show is visible from the entire city and many parts of the Bay Area. But if you’re aiming for the best views possible, head to one of these popular viewing spots. New spots like Tunnel Tops, Battery Bluff and Francisco Park will deliver prime views.

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