The biggest draw to San Francisco on Fourth of July is the fireworks display. On a clear night, this is one of the most amazing displays in the area.
The city sets off the fireworks from two locations in front of Fisherman's Wharf. One is at the end of Municipal Pier and the other is on a few barges in front of Pier 39.
The set up is perfect for a large crowd. It allows onlookers to see the displays from several great spots all around San Francisco (and a few across the SF Bay). It also allows for several cruises to head out, so plenty of people can see the display from close up.
This event draws tens of thousands of people every year.
The display starts when it gets dark. This is usually around 9:30pm. It lasts for about 30 minutes with a beautiful finale.
Even though it's crowded, I do recommend this event. It's such an amazing experience and one that you will not soon forget!
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As I mentioned above, they set off the fireworks in two places. This means you can see them from several places around the city. Here is a map showing the rough location of the displays.
These are some of the best places to see the show.
If budget is not a concern, then the best option is to head out on a cruise. These cruises are really popular. Some offer light appetizers (free or paid), a pay per drink bar, and other factors that make it much more of a comfortable wait.
Many of the cruises are several hours long, so you have plenty of time to hang out with friends and family before the event. They all return around the same time, which is about 30 minutes after the end of the show.
You can pick them up in either on the San Francisco side or in Tiburon in Marin. Most of them run out of SF, but the location you take it from does not make a difference on how close you get to the display.
Fireworks Cruise with Red & White Fleet
Fireworks Cruise with Blue & Gold Fleet
Here are some fun activities for you that run on the morning and afternoon of Fourth of July.
All day long, SF Bay Cruises will be leaving from Fisherman's Wharf for a fun 60-minute ride around the bay. These narrated cruises offer you the chance to see some of SF's top attractions from the water and learn more about them. The best part is that this cruise rides under the Golden Gate Bridge - twice!
Enjoy a high speed adventure on the SF Bay this Fourth of July holiday! For 30 minutes, the Rocketboat twists and turns its way around the SF Bay. During this heart pumping ride, you will also have fun with its rock and roll music. These rides start at 12:30pm and run every 45 minutes until 6:45pm.
Explore San Francisco all day long on the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. During your trip, you can hop on and off at any attractions and districts along the way. Top stops include the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Alamo Square, and Lombard Street. You can select from the 24-, 48-, or 72 hour ticket.
Some of the streets around Fisherman's Wharf close the morning of the Fourth of July Fireworks and stay closed until early the next morning. Keep this in mind when selecting the best transit option.
Due to the crowds, I think this is the best way to get down to the fireworks display. You can take the F Streetcar to the heart of Fisherman's Wharf. You can also take the 2, 4, 8, 18, 19, 24, 30, 38, 44, 47, 54, 56, 72, 74, 76, or 91.
You can also take either the Hyde/Powell or Mason/Powell Cable Cars from Union Square. Both will drop you close to the action. The Hyde/Powell drops you right next to Aquatic Park.
After the display, SF Muni will run two special shuttle services from 10pm to 11:30pm. They are as follows:
The shuttles leave once they are full, so they will run as many shuttles as they can for the hour and a half time frame.
You have two options when taking BART. Your first option is to take it to the Embarcadero Station and grab the F-Streetcar to the end of the line. You can also get off at Powell Street and take a cable car over.
For either option, I recommend heading over early to avoid the crowds or a long wait in line. BART will be running their Sunday schedule this holiday.
NOTE: BART will not be running between the South Hayward, Union City, and Fremont stations this holiday weekend. There will be bus shuttles, so expect delays in these areas.
Caltrain offers extra southbound service on the night of the fireworks display. The first special train leaves at 10:45pm and will express to Belmont. It will then make all local stops through to San Jose Diridon. Two more special trains will leave at 11:15pm and 11:45pm. They will make all local stops to San Jose Diridon. The last regular train will leave SF at 9:15pm and will make all weekend stops to San Jose.
If you plan to drive, arrive really early in the day. I recommend arriving in the late morning or the early afternoon to grab a spot. Even if you arrive that early, there is no guarantee parking will still be available in the area.
If you need to drive into the city, I'd park my car in Union Square and take public transit down. There are several parking lots there and at least you will find a decent place.
This means you will need to either walk back or take public transit to your car after the display, but it might take less time than trying to fight the traffic in Fisherman's Wharf.
However, even if you park here, you will still face quite a bit of traffic as you attempt to leave the city.
The best way to fight the crowds is to grab a hotel room in Fisherman's Wharf. If you book early, you will not have to worry about fighting the crowds to get in or out of the district after the show.
Click here to check out my recommendations in Fisherman's Wharf. This page includes all budget ranges, although prices go up for this weekend.
You might even be able to find some great deals on hotel rooms in the district (or other places in the city) on TripAdvisor.com. Click here to check out their deals for this night and/or weekend in SF.