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Beginner’s Guide to Fleet Week in San Francisco

San Francisco Insider Guides Family Travel
by Megan Wood Oct 22, 2011
Megan Wood breaks down her first time.

I WAS LUCKY enough to move to the East Bay area in time for Fleet Week, an annual event celebrating the military by making it seem incredibly badass and family friendly.

Though I wouldn’t consider myself a blind supporter of all things armed forces, the festivities proved to me that San Francisco really knows how to put on a show. Live music, death-defying aerial tricks, chocolate, and enough noise to make me appreciate the fact that I’ve never lived in a war-torn country.

What I’d do again

The Blue Angels air show is hard to miss. If you’re anywhere near the Wharf, the show will be an assault on your ears and nerve endings, but pretty spectacular to see, especially from a rooftop.

Even total flight novices (read: me) can appreciate two jets flying within 18in of each other during a “Diamond 360 maneuver.”

The Blue Angels reach speeds of almost 700mph, and the most impressive vertical roll is at heights of 15,000ft.

What I’d skip

Call me patriotic, but I didn’t care so much about the Snowbirds, Canada’s answer to the Blue Angels.

What I ate

Ghiradelli chocolate: Originating in San Francisco in 1852, rich Ghiradelli chocolate is now pretty widely available across the United States. Lack of exclusivity doesn’t make the chocolate any less sweet, especially the Intense Dark.

Clam chowder: You probably couldn’t pay a long-term San Francisco local to eat from the stalls selling clam chowder and Dungeness crab along the Wharf. I, however, am not a local and relished eating the hot soup while I wandered around the docks.

Where I slept

The Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf has an unbeatable location for Fleet Week, only 3 blocks from the Wharf, which is ground zero for the festivities.

Most memorable moment

The USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier from which Bin Laden’s remains were deposited into the Arabian Sea, made an appearance at Fleet Week, leading 13 ships under the Golden Gate Bridge for a boat parade with 9,000 U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel onboard.

What Fleet Week would like to promote

The Blue Angel’s mission statement clearly states that the main objective of the program is recruitment. A lot of children look at the daring pilots and think — “I want to do that.”

In an effort to also promote the humanitarian side of the military, the Navy and Marines set up a display showing how the military responds to non-combat emergencies overseas and at home. A “Humanitarian Assistance Village” was set up with a field hospital, housing for refugees, and a reverse osmosis desalination system for converting salt water into potable drinking water.

The military has been on hand to assist San Francisco in two earthquakes.

What Fleet Week would like to forget

In 2007, a Blue Angels plane crashed during an air show in Beaufort, South Carolina. The pilot was killed, eight people were injured, and several homes were damaged.

I tried to forget about crashing planes while the jets buzzed 500ft above San Francisco’s buildings.

What I wish I knew before I came

Bring ear plugs and try not to think about 9/11.

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