Fleet Week in San Francisco – A Trip Report

One of the October highlights in the Bay Area is the fleet week in San Francisco where the public get to sense the power of the US Navy on land and air. Every year, the main air-show happens on the weekend days with practice sessions on Thursday and Friday. The 2011 Dates were from October 6th through the 11th (Thursday through the following Tuesday). The ship tours are available free of charge on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (11 AM to 4 PM, Piers 27 and 30/32) limited to 20 people at a time.

The fleet week events are all free, but a reserved seating area at Marina Green is not – the options available were
  1. Fully-catered Flight Deck Club on Marina Green: Friday - $100, Saturday - $175 adults, $95 children 4-12, Sunday - $150 adults, $75 children 4-12 (Includes breakfast, lunch, beer, and wine),
  2. Reserved Seating on Marina Green: Saturday - $30, Sunday - $30,
  3.  Private Chalets - from 50 to 150 guests - fully catered - call 650-599-5057 or email info@fleetweek.us for details.
The Marina Green and the Pier 39 areas are the best locations to catch the air-show. The ships open for tours are moored along Piers 27 and 30/32. The air-show event times are 11:30-5:00 PM Saturday & 1:00-5:00 PM Sunday. The vessels can be viewed between 11 AM and 4 PM (Saturday, Sunday, & Monday).

The parade of the mighty ships on Saturday from 11:00AM officially kicks off the event – a tradition that started 100 years ago when 16 US Navy battleships flanked with dozens of escorts and 14,000 sailors entered San Francisco Bay. Those ships were part of the “Great White Fleet”’ (with the ships painted all white) that journeyed around the world. One of the objectives of fleet week then was to ensure Americans were aware of the reasons for having a strong and capable Navy and to provide an opportunity for them to experience it. The objective of the modern version of fleet week continues to be the same.

The air-show event (Saturday & Sunday - 12:30 to 4:00 PM) comprises of several teams that puts on a performance of some sort during the event. In 2010 (click for latest update), the team consisted of the following:
  1. US Navy’s Blue Angels.
  2. US Air Force’s F16.
  3. Canadian Forces Snowbirds.
  4. US Coast Guard’s HH65 Helicopter.
  5. Airshows America’s four jet L-39 Patriots team and the 2 jet Mig-17 team.
  6. Five single small-plane events from sponsors and other aerobatic performers.
Undoubtedly, the coveted part of the air-show belongs to the thunderous Blue Angels - six US-navy F/A-18 Hornets perform amazing synchronized aerobatics for a full hour starting at 3PM (Saturday & Sunday).

The fleet-week ships last year included (click for latest update):

  1. USS Pinckney (DDG 91)
  2. USS Bonhomme Richard
  3. CGC Bertholf
  4. SS Jeremiah O’Brien

Just across the Bay the show cannot be appreciated well from Alameda – the planes turn miniature and the diminished sound lags the sight. San Francisco is very crowded during this weekend and public transportation if available is the best option. For us, the most convenient option was the ferry that ran extra trips for the fleet week weekend and we reached Pier 41 at 2:45 PM. After a quick detour to Pier 39 we positioned ourselves on the return line for the ferry back at 4 PM. The reserved line area has the advantage of a terrific view and since it is a line that is blocked off by ferry personnel, that area is available at the last moment. Needless to say, the show was fantastic and the glorious feel of cheering with the crowd on a sunny day lingers on for a very long time…

Last Updated: 10/2011.

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