By Matt Villano, on June 2, 2016

Fourth of July in San Francisco

San Francisco is a glorious city from which to celebrate our nation’s independence. So long as a local nemesis stays away.

That nemesis—most locals call it “Karl the Fog”—can roll in on a moment’s notice and make fireworks-viewing a bit of a challenge. With that in mind, here’s a rundown on some of the best (and most fog-proof) options for witnessing the pomp and circumstance of July 4 in San Francisco.

Fisherman’s Wharf

As its name suggests, Fisherman’s Wharf is situated right on San Francisco Bay, and has become one of the most popular tourist areas in the entire city. On July 4, it’s also one of the best places from which to watch the action.

The center of the Wharf area is Pier 39, an old fishing pier that has been turned into an open-air mall. This year, the holiday festivities are presented by Discovery’s Shark Week, and they start at noon with a performance from WJM, the world’s youngest social cause band. Next, around 5 p.m., the Bay Area’s favorite 1980s cover band, Tainted Love, takes the stage. Finally, at approximately 9:30 p.m., the fireworks will begin—hopefully without Karl the Fog to obscure the view.

If you’re looking for other diversions during the day, consider a two-hour tour with GoCar, an outfitter that provides two-seat motorcars with GPS-enabled narration as you drive along specific routes. I tried the cars a few years back on assignment for the Expedia Viewfinder and loved the experience. The outfitter’s headquarters is just a few blocks from Pier 39.


View from the Bay

Because the City of San Francisco shoots off fireworks over San Francisco Bay, often the very best place to watch the show is on the bay itself, in a boat. Luckily, there are a number of charter seafaring options to witness the spectacle.

My personal fave is the Adventure Cat, a catamaran that leaves from the Fisherman’s Wharf area. A special July 4 outing leaves the dock around 8 p.m., and stays in the water until the end of the fireworks show, about two hours from departure. Included in the $US75 ticket are two complimentary drinks and light hors d’oeurves.

Other cruises are less exclusive but just as much fun. Probably the best bang for the buck are offerings from the Blue & Gold Fleet, which boast cash bars. Most of these excursions depart from Pier 41, which is adjacent to Pier 39. One of them also departs from the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge in Tiburon. Prices vary.

July 4 and baseball

With two professional baseball teams in the San Francisco Bay Area (the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, for those of you scoring at home), odds are good that one team will be home on July 4. That means another way to commemorate our nation’s independence is to do so by indulging in our national pastime: baseball.

In 2016, the Giants are the home team, playing a 1 p.m. game against the division rival Colorado Rockies.

The early start means postgame fireworks likely are out of the question, but there are a number of ways you can make the experience extra special. Outside the park, be sure to stop by Willie Mays Plaza and marvel at the bronze statue of Willie Mays, arguably the best player in Giants’ history. Inside the park, make a point to stop by the centerfield hydroponic garden—here, the ball club grows its own produce, which it serves through concession stands nearby.

Viewfinder Tip: Fireworks is a relative term in San Francisco, as fog can blanket even the most daring displays. Be prepared for a muted experience, that way if there’s no fog, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Other displays

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a handful of other July 4 celebrations around the Bay Area worth considering.

No. 1 on that list: The community fireworks display in my hometown of Healdsburg, up in Sonoma County. The local American Legion outpost puts on the show here every year, and locals climb the hills that overlook the high school football field for a bird’s eye view. Because the display is funded by donations from the public, it’s always top-notch. And because we’re inland, we never have to worry about Karl the Fog.

Also worth mentioning is the day of festivities in Foster City, in San Mateo County about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Here the fun begins at 9 a.m. with a festival that includes a pancake breakfast, a dog parade, and more. After sundown, the city shoots off fireworks over a lagoon in the center of the city; because the body of water is so centrally located, you can see the fireworks from anywhere.

Where do you like to celebrate July 4?