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Fleet Week – Blue Angels Soar Above San Francisco

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Fleet Week – Blue Angels Soar Above San Francisco

U.S. Navy Blue Angels buzz over the Golden Gate Bridge during a Fleet Week practice session.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Blue Angels Thrill San Francisco During Fleet Week:

Although Fleet Week is a celebration of military muscle, even liberal, pacifist San Francisco looks forward to the week’s signature event, the Blue Angels air shows. Fleet Week is scheduled around Columbus Day every year; this year, it is October 4-8, 2012. Aircraft carriers and other gigantic ships arrive and invite the public aboard, the sailors and soldiers disembark for some R&R (and those in military bands perform concerts around the Bay Area), and San Francisco flocks to the Marina to watch the daredevil U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

This year, Blue Angels fans will be jammed together with sailing aficionados: Fleet Week coincides with America's Cup World Series racing, happening just off of Marina Green.

Tour the Fleet of the Week:

You know it's Fleet Week in San Francisco when you see gangs of crisply groomed and uniformed men and women around Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina and a few strolling on Market Street. But not all of them are in navy garb. Naval aviation, which is responsible for dispatching air power to points all over the globe, employs not only the U.S. Navy but also the Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard--so that’s why you'll see different kinds of uniforms on the street.

For this year's week, the visiting fleet consists of vessels from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Canada’s navy, including destroyers and the USS Makin Island amphibious assault carrier. They and the historic World War II boat S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien will parade under the Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday morning, Oct. 6, and berth at San Francisco piers. Several ships will be open for public tours on Friday, the weekend and Monday.

Check the navy ship tour protocol before you go. There are many rules you might not think of--such as no skirts, no backpacks and no visitors under age 8.

Activities on Land:

On land, the armed services folks and San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management will team up for a mock disaster and exercise in handling injured "victims" on Wednesday. Working military dogs will show off their skills and services on Sunday morning. Other Fleet Week events include several free concerts by military bands, Saturday night fireworks, a high school band competition, and a brief meet-and-greet session Friday evening with the Blue Angels.

Action in the Air - The Blue Angels:

The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels are the undisputed stars of Fleet Week, with their precision formations and jaw-dropping stunts in air shows on Saturday and Sunday. At times their jets whiz so close to each other that it looks as if they’re going to collide. Leave the pets at home, take an occasional 360-degree look to catch the Angels’ stealthy approaches, and bring ear plugs.

To avoid the weekend crowds, catch the Blue Angels' air show rehearsals, scheduled for Thursday at 4-5 pm and Friday at 3-4 pm. All flight times are subject to change, though, typically due to fog and other weather conditions.

Other Air Show Action:

Though the Blue Angels’ hour-long performance concludes and generally steals the show, preceding it is a couple of hours of aerial aerobics that feature Coast Guard choppers demonstrating a rescue, a Boeing 747, vintage planes and the Canadian version of the Blue Angels. The stunt fliers include solo pilot Sean Tucker, who flies backwards, straight-down and tail-first.

FLEET WEEK ESSENTIALS:

WHERE TO WATCH THE BLUE ANGELS
ON LAND

  • The Marina (preferably on a roof) is ideal. Or a Cow Hollow or Pacific Heights roof. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, reserved waterfront seats at Marina Green cost $15-40. Table seating with a buffet lunch and wine and beer costs $120-195.
  • Telegraph Hill: Top of the Filbert or Greenwich street stairs
  • Treasure Island: Avenue of the Palms
  • Fort Baker
  • Hyde Street Pier (but expect tourist crowds)

ON THE WATER

  • S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien: A great view, breakfast and lunch, live music and a tour of the engine room are all aboard this 441-foot-long National Historic Landmark, which battled in the Normandy invasion. Saturday tickets sell out well in advance. Sunday tickets are $75-325.
  • Hornblower Cruises: Various cruises on Friday and the weekend, with options for meals, dancing and watching fireworks. Prices vary.
  • Red & White Fleet: Cruises are timed for the aerial rehearsals and air shows (Thursday through Sunday afternoons) and Saturday morning's ship parade. Prices vary.

FLEET WEEK HIGHLIGHTS
* Free ship tours are offered Friday through Monday *

THURSDAY, OCT. 4

  • 1-3 pm: Blue Angels arrive and circle
  • 4-5 pm: Blue Angels practice

FRIDAY, OCT. 5

  • 12:30-4 pm: Air show rehearsal, including Blue Angels at 3-4 pm
  • 7:15-7:45 pm: Meet the Blue Angels (the pilots), Pier 39

SATURDAY, OCT. 6

SUNDAY, OCT. 7

TUESDAY, OCT. 9
Ships depart.

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