Going out on the water with one of the San Francisco Bay cruises is one of the best SF experiences, in my opinion. You'll see incredible views of the city, the bridge and Alcatraz that you can't get on land.
There are so many San Francisco Bay cruises, but which one to choose?
I've been on most of the boats, so here is my take on them...
There are two main types of bay cruises:
The local ferry system is a great way to get somewhere and see the sights at the same time. The Blue and Gold Ferry company runs the ferry system for San Francisco Bay, and ferries depart from the Ferry Building and Pier 41. The Blue and Gold Fleet also does bay tours, but more on that later.
Here are the ferries that have scenic routes and take you to pretty locations.
|Sausalito||Pier 41||25-60 min.||$10 one way|
|Tiburon||Pier 41, Ferry Bldg||20-45 min.||$10 one way|
|Angel Island||Pier 41||25-40 min.||$8 one way|
Kids (5-11) and seniors (65+) are less. Tickets are good for any departure.
Why do the times vary? The ferries have a variety of routes, so it may be longer when they make additional stops.
For the current schedules and prices, see the www.blueandgoldfleet.com
Alcatraz cruises are in class by themselves. Only one company, Alcatraz Cruises, at alcatrazcruises.com, runs ferries out to Alcatraz where visitors can get off the boat and explore the island. They have the park concession and run the tours on the island as well. All the other Alcatraz cruise companies just sail around the island, which is fun, too, but just be clear on which one you are doing. The Alcatraz Cruises' ferries leave from Pier 33.
See my page on Visiting Alcatraz for lots of information and insider tips on how to get tickets to Alcatraz, and what to expect out on the Rock.
Before you book a bay cruise, check to see if there are discounted tickets at Goldstar.com. Often the one-hour bay cruises and the Rocket Boat are available for half-price, and sometimes the other cruises, too.
Goldstar also has lots of half-priced tickets for other SF attractions and events. I always check with them first before I get tickets for activities in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. It's free to join, then you can see what they've got. See Goldstar.com.
Three different companies have boats that do the one hour cruise that starts at Fisherman's Wharf, sails out and under the Golden Gate Bridge, then circles Alcatraz and returns to the dock.
The views of the city and bay are spectacular, and sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is one of those OMG experiences. Prices are reasonable, too, especially with the smaller fishing boats.
One of the prettiest things to see in San Francisco are the white sailboats on the blue waters of the bay. Going out on one of them is even better!
I recently went for a sailboat cruise around the bay and it was amazing; my first time on a sailboat. In fact, it's my new favorite!
The San Francisco Sailing Company runs several bay tours on their sailboats that I highly recommend. I went out on their 90-minute sailing tour...what a treat! It's like being on a private yacht, fun and relaxing, with a mellow crew and free wine and beer. It's not even expensive: only $45 (and I got my tickets for $27 through Goldstar). See my photos, the tale of my trip, and booking info at sailboat cruise.
If you're up for a wild ride, try the Rocket Boat, run by the Blue and Gold Fleet from Pier 39. High speed, sea spray and rock and roll. A 30 minute ride, $27 for adults. I had a great time on this one! For more on my experience, and booking, see the Rocket Boat cruise.
This is a new addition to the boat rides in SF Bay. The RIB is the more extreme version of the Rocket Boat: 90 minutes zooming around SF Bay on an inflatable boat, and a lot wetter (they provide you with rain gear!). This cruise also includes a tour of the bay, narrated by the captain (Ferry Building, the sea lions, the Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, around Alcatraz, etc.). Limited to 12 people. I haven't tried this one yet, but it looks pretty wild and fun! For more on this ride, and booking, click here.
Sail the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, in a catamaran, the Adventure Cat . Just the sound of the wind in the sails. You can ride on the outside, or go in a wind-protected area. Adults $40, 90 minutes. From Pier 39. (for more on the catamaran cruise, and booking, click here.)
Several companies have dinner and evening cruises on the bay; a very pretty time of day to see the lights of San Francisco and the sun setting behind the Golden Gate.
The Red and White Ferry Sunset Cruise. This is a fun way to get out on the bay and see the city as the sun goes down, with all the lights coming on. They sail past Alcatraz, Angel Island, the SF waterfront and both bridges. Meanwhile, they put on a generous buffet spread, so no one goes hungry.
This is a popular cruise. It's two hours of sailing and $64. To check out the Sunset Cruise and booking info, click here.
The Catamaran Sunset Cruise. You also have the option of sailing out at sunset on a catamaran. This cruise is 90 minutes and $55, and includes hors d'oeuvres and two free drinks. Great views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. Also very popular. For more info and booking, click here.
Hornblower Dinner/Dance Cruise. Hornblower, a classy company that provides sailing trips on their yachts, has a San Francisco Bay dinner/dance cruise that sounds very appealing. Sailing around the bay on a yacht, dancing to a live band, and savoring a four-course meal...like watermelon and feta salad, crab gazpacho soup, chicken cordon-bleu, or maybe glazed salmon, with key lime pot de creme and macaroons, or perhaps berry parfait with Gran Marnier. OK, I'd better stop here, or I'll be standing at my refrigerator, weeping.
I've been on a couple of Hornblower evening cruises - very professional outfit. And magical to be out on the water at night with the city lights sparkling in the distance.
The Hornblower dinner/dance cruises are either 2.5 or 3 hours, starting at $137.66. For more on the Dinner/Dance Cruise, and booking click here.
Goldstar often has half-priced tickets for this cruise; check here at Hornblower dinner cruise.
Sad to say, but Ride the Ducks closed their San Francisco operation on September 7, 2015, citing a difficult business environment, possibly related to a new requirement that tour guides can't also be the bus drivers. They still run their boats in other cities, but no more quacking in SF, sniff.
There are a lot of fun cruises on San Francisco Bay, but if I had to pick some favorites, they would be the Alcatraz cruise and tour of the island, the fishing boat cruise, and the sailboat cruise.
Gliding over the water with just the sound of the wind and the gulls, the spectacular views, with only a few other people, is the ultimate SF Zen experience!
See sailing on the bay for more details about the sailboat cruise.
If you have problems with seasickness, it might encourage you to know that I've never felt sick on one of these San Francisco Bay tours. And that is coming from someone who can't even watch the Teacups at Disneyland.
The best deal: Goldstar's half-price tickets:
Be sure to check out Goldstar.com for discounted tickets for bay cruises. You can sign up with Goldstar for free, then see what they have available; click on the logo to check them out.
If Goldstar doesn't have discounted tickets for the cruise you want, it's very convenient to book them through the Viator tour company. There are lots to choose from.
To see the list of bay cruises available for booking through Viator, click here.
The Golden Gate Bridge hidden in a fog bank - not unusual.
The Alcatraz Ferry (alcatrazcruises.com) doesn't go around the island, except on their night tours. This is the view from the other side, which you see on SF Bay tours with the Blue and Gold Ferry, the Red and White Ferry, and the fishing boats. Like the dark side of the moon?
It's back, but only through June 30, 2017.
(But it might become permanent.)