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This San Francisco Fourth of July light show could actually be improved by fog

Colorful lasers shine into the night sky at San Francisco's Sutro Tower as arts nonprofit Illuminate rehearses its Fourth of July light show on July 3. | Courtesy Illuminate

A nighttime laser light show is set to hit San Francisco’s iconic Sutro Tower tonight and deliver a treat to skygazers on Independence Day. 

And, this time, the city’s perennial fog may actually be a plus.

Starting on July 4, ​​arts nonprofit Illuminate plans to repurpose the 12 laser space cannons it used to shine rays of rainbow light down Market Street during Pride to create an hourglass of red, white and blue light at Sutro Tower, Ben Davis, the organization’s founder, said.

The light show—part of Illuminate’s “Summer of Awe” series—will run from sunset to midnight for five days to mark the five decades since the television and radio tower first began broadcasting on July 4, 1973.

Members of arts nonprofit Illuminate shine a "laser space cannon" into the night sky at Sutro Tower on July 3 to rehearse its Fourth of July laser light show. | Courtesy Illuminate

Even though it is expected to be foggy, that isn’t a problem for Illuminate.

“This laser light has super interesting physical properties. It just creates beams and they keep going really until they hit something—and, in San Francisco, that's typically Karl,” Davis said, using a popular nickname for the city’s fog.

For his part, Karl is expected to cover Mount Sutro every night through the end of the week, according to Drew Tuma, meteorologist for KGO-TV ABC7. “[It] will be interesting to see what kind of glow Karl will take as he covers Sutro at night,” Tuma told The Standard.

Not all of the shows have gone off without a hitch. Another Illuminate presenation, planned for July 14-16 at Coit Tower to celebrate the Telegraph Hill landmark’s 90th birthday, has become a subject of intense political wrangling at City Hall. It remains unclear whether that show will go forward.

But Davis said he has all the permits and permissions required for the patriotic display at Sutro Tower tonight. Even Karl appears to be on board—hinting in a tweet that the Illuminate show might the only Independence Day aerial light spectacle visible through, well, him.

Davis said the light show itself will be an “unprecedented opportunity” to light up a space in the center of a city.

“We don’t even know how dramatic it might be,” he said. It's absolutely changeable by the minute up there.

The display should be visible from points all over San Francisco, according to Illuminate. Spectators need only to look toward Sutro Tower between nightfall and midnight to see the show, Davis said.

“We really like this idea of the city tuning in together to one space and giving it energy,” Davis said.

Christina Campodonico can be reached at