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Top guns in town: The Standard guide to SF Fleet Week 2022

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

                Where to Watch Fleet Week On the Water

                  Restaurants & Bars with Good Views for Fleet Week 

                    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.