Looking for the best location to watch the fireworks in San Diego? Whether you reside in San Diego or it’s on your travel bucket list, you may harbor a desire to see the Big Bay Boom on the 4th of July!
Despite living in San Diego for decades I can only claim a single visit to the big Independence Day event. And that was primarily to show some classic Americana to a foreign exchange student from Spain. Fifteen celebrations have passed since then and the nest has been empty for years. When I found that my wife and I had an opening on our schedule on the 4th I decided to brave the bash anew.
What is the Big Bay Boom?
Every July 4th since 2001, San Diego’s Bay has been lit up with a spectacular fireworks display called the Big Bay Boom. It is orchestrated from four separate barges and is set to music broadcast by a local radio station. Given the natural amphitheater from Point Loma to Liberty Station, to Little Italy to Seaport Village and the South Embarcadero to the Coronado Ferry Landing, the show captivates over 500,000 viewers. This makes it the largest annual event in the western U.S. Only two anomalies in 20 years have happened. Covid cancelled the show in 2020, and in 2012 all the fireworks mistakenly went off at the same time!
Location options for viewing Big Bay Boom
There are lots of choices for places to view the fireworks. Point Loma is a narrow spit of land without a lot of space to set up for viewing, and it is the farthest from the action. Liberty Station might be another good option with parking, parks and promenades that might do the trick. I wasn’t a fan of the harbor front (Seaport Village & Little Italy) for the lack of free parking. Harbor Island would have great views but has very little public parking. And then there’s Coronado Island…
Why we chose Coronado for viewing the fireworks
I chose Centennial Park on Coronado Island for our vantage point. The park adjacent to the Coronado Ferry Landing turned out to be perfect. One of the barges was immediately in front of us. I felt like I could reach out and grab a handful of shooting stars!
The vibe on Coronado Island is another reason to stake your claim there for the extravaganza. The Centennial Park crowd was definitely more family-based than what I would expect at the downtown viewing locations. The residents are very friendly and they deck themselves and their town out in unsurpassed glory. They did not seem at all put out by the influx of patriots from all around San Diego and the country. Part of the success of the day included walking the neighborhoods to see decorations and family in their front yards revelling with old friends and us one-day friends!
But Coronado is an island…
Coronado Island, for all its pluses, does carry one potential drawback. It is an island, sort of. And that means only one exit over the Coronado Bridge. The bridge is a worthy part of the adventure for its majestic beauty and the views it affords. But depending on how many people are driving to the fireworks one might be prepared for a slow return home. I had downloaded a favorite TV show episode for us to enjoy if necessary. Another option I explored was to get lodging on Coronado for the night. That would have provided parking and an easy stroll “home” after the finale. But checking only one week out, the whole island was booked!
While I could find horror stories about the drive home, I could not find any indication as to how early I should go to set up on the grass at Centennial Park. I played it too safely, showing up 8 hours before boom time. That did result in excellent parking, only 700 steps down Avenue D.
We brought a picnic dinner and tons of things to do. We also enjoyed walking the town and getting photos there and along the waterfront. I think it would still be good to arrive 3 hours before the 9pm start. You’ll end up driving further down an avenue to park curbside but you can drop off someone and your things at the park, then have plenty of time to walk back!
Time for fireworks!
Finally the appointed hour arrived (9:00 pm)! We sat comfortably in our chairs as did many viewers while others chose to stand. Nearly everyone had their phones out to record the moment as did we. Our view of the fireworks was spectacular — could not have been better! Remember, one of the barges was anchored right in front of the park.
We loved the pyrotechnics’ variety of shapes, colors and sizes. The show ran for 20 minutes and was full of crowd-pleaser fireworks. The multitude erupted during the insane finale. With the last explosion and the final note still hanging in the air, we stood, folded up our chairs, slung our bags over our shoulders and headed out.
Leaving Coronado after the fireworks
A wave of humanity poured from the park onto the walkways and into the streets. It was immediately apparent that it is possible to park TOO close to the viewing area. Cars were hemmed in on all sides by the throng. By the time we walked down the avenue to our car people were dispersed enough that we were able to drive immediately. GPS directed us to the road to the bridge, and we made it there with little delay. The bridge was definitely full of cars but with a majority of the lanes arranged for leaving the island we were never really stopped. We ended up making it home with only an additional 20 minutes to our commute. And we had to finish watching that TV episode at home!
Here is your recipe for a great Big Bay Boom on Coronado Island:
- Pack comfortable chairs and/or a modest-sized blanket.
- Bring a picnic dinner, reading material, things to do.
- Arrive 3 hours before the fireworks (6pm). Drop off someone and stuff at Centennial Park.
- Drive down any avenue until you find parking.
- Wear good walking shoes, not only for parking, but checking out the neighborhood.
- Bring your phone/camera for getting great pictures, especially of the skyline & sunset.
- Beware of relying on using cellular data, the crowd is big and the surfing gets very slow.
And if you ever want to check out what there is to do on Coronado Island, see Coronado: the Crown of San Diego.
My husband, Darren Wilcox, contributed this article. He enjoys putting together great outings for us, which I really appreciate!