Thursday, June 20, 2024

LA Fleet Week is ready for another San Pedro splash, with thousands expected to visit

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San Pedro, along with thousands of visitors, will once again celebrate the nation’s seafaring military branches this week.

That’s right, LA Fleet Week is back for its ninth iteration.

Thousands of sailors and two ships — including a show-stopping aircraft carrier for the first time in 13 years — will descend on Los Angeles Harbor for LA Fleet Week, which will feature multiple events and entertainment options for those looking to celebrate the military, particularly the Navy and Coast Guard, during Memorial Day weekend. While Fleet Week takes place in earnest from Friday to Monday, May 24-27, there will be other events in the days leading up to it that people can enjoy.

The ships, for example, are set to arrive midweek for the much-anticipated annual highlight in San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. The USS Carl Vinson, one of only 11 mega warships in the nation’s Navy fleet, is expected to come in from San Diego sometime Tuesday afternoon, May 21. The best viewing areas for the arrival will be at Cabrillo Beach and on the fishing pier at the Outer Harbor — where the ship will dock. Public access will be closed off south of 22nd Street.

A USS Coast Guard cutter will anchor at the Downtown Harbor dock, on Harbor Boulevard near Fifth Street, next to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Both will be open for free tours from Friday to Monday.

Other early events include a welcome party in San Pedro on Thursday evening.

LA Fleet Week — one of several such Navy-sponsored events held at U.S. seaports each year — is intended to honor the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. All branches of the military service are expected to be represented.

LA Fleet Week, based in San Pedro, launched on Labor Day weekend in 2016.

In 2022, the event moved to Memorial Day weekend, in large part because of the milder weather that time of year.

Fleet Week, as always, is free to the public and will include an expo venue adjacent to the USS Battleship Iowa, 205 S. Harbor Blvd.; the expo will feature military displays, equipment and entertainment.

But the fun won’t stop at the expo. Fleet Week has grown over the years, embracing activities throughout the wider Los Angeles area — from Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles, Venice and Orange County. During Fleet Week, sailors help build Habitat for Humanity houses, participate in parades and put on small concerts. All of it melds into the overall goal of encouraging more interactions between military personnel and civilians.

And while they’re in town, the troops also have some fun.

Sailors and Marines, for example, will attend Dodgers and Angels games.

And on Friday afternoon, 100 sailors and Marines, donning their dress uniforms, will march down Main Street USA at Disneyland and participate in a special flag retreat ceremony in honor of LA Fleet Week.

On Memorial Day, 500 sailors will march across the iconic Sixth Street Viaduct, in Downtown Los Angeles, from noon to 3 p.m. for a poignant tribute to those who have died defending the nation.

Locally, LA Fleet Week has been a key link in developing what is now known as the L.A. Waterfront, which comprises San Pedro and Wilmington; both communities are part of the city of Los Angeles.

Jonathan Williams, president and CEO of the Battleship Iowa, who also heads up the LA Fleet Week planning, said this year’s event will stand out for its fuller activation of the entire waterfront in the Harbor Area.

“This will be an expansion of the festival grounds,” he said.

Several years of “practice” and planning have also led to a smoother experience in moving that many people. Last year’s attendance was 65,000 people, he said — and this year’s should be higher.

That’s a lot of people moving through a rather compact area. And in previous years, Williams said, the crowds caused some logistical challenges.

“Tthere were a lot of people and not enough experience on how to move them, where they could park for an event of this scale,” Williams said. “Over the last several years, with West Harbor (emerging), concerts that have been developed here since 2011, the Fish Market growing significantly, this is a much more active waterfront.”

And that has led to the development of stronger public safety and media teams, as well as better traffic flow and parking logistics, he said.

All of that, Williams said, will also help in upcoming years as L.A. prepares to host matches during the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics.

But before all that, San Pedro and visitors from across the region will celebrate the military during Fleet Week.

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