San Francisco Bay Cruises

A local's guide to cruising
on San Francisco Bay

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.

san francisco bay cruise, blue and gold ferry
On the Blue and Gold Ferry

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:

  • Destination Cruises - going from San Francisco to another location.
  • Sailing Around the Bay Tours

San Francisco Bay Cruises to a Destination

San Francisco Ferries

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.

SF Ferry Destinations

san francisco ferries map, san francisco piers map, sausalito, tiburon, angel island

Here are the ferries that have scenic routes and take you to pretty locations.

Destination Leaves from: Duration Cost
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

san francisco bay cruises, sausalito ferry
On the Sausalito Ferry

Alcatraz Cruises

Alcatraz cruises are in class by themselves. Only one company, Alcatraz Cruises, at, 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.

san francisco bay cruises, alcatraz island
On Alcatraz, Looking Towards Angel Island

San Francisco Bay Cruises - Sailing Around the Bay

Insider Tip:

Before you book a bay cruise, check to see if there are discounted tickets at 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

The One Hour Cruise
If you only have a short time in San Francisco, or can only do one thing at the Wharf, this is the San Francisco Bay cruise to do!

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.

  • The Blue and Gold Fleet. Large ferry, comfortable for walking around, snack bar, doesn't bounce around much in the waves. Recorded commentary on sights (OK, it was corny). They've recently added an audio tour in 9 languages for smart phones with wifi. Adults $30. Weekends only in winter. From Pier 41. (For more on the Blue and Gold Cruise and booking, click here.)
  • san francisco bay cruises, sea lions on a buoy
    Sea Lions on the Buoy
    Blue and Gold Bay Cruise

  • The Red and White Fleet. Very similar to the Blue and Gold. Recorded narration. Audio on headphones in 12 languages. Operating daily, frequent departures, starting at 10 a.m. Adults $30. From Pier 43 ½. For more on the Red and White Cruise and booking, click here. The tickets are open tickets for any day within a year of the booking date.
  • san francisco bay cruises, red and white ferry
    The Red and White Ferry Coming to the Dock

  • The small fishing boats docked at the marina on the main street of Fisherman's Wharf (Jefferson Street at Jones). Fewer people, lively wave action, salt spray if you sit in the front.
    san francisco bay cruises, fishing boat sign

    No snacks or recorded narration (but some people brought their own wine). $15, cash only. No advance reservations, just sign up at the dock on Jefferson Street for the next trip. They leave about every hour.
  • san francisco bay cruises, fishing boat ready to leave dock
    Fishing Boat Ready to Go

More San Francisco Bay Cruises

A Sailboat on the Bay

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 Privateer on the Bay

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.

The Rocket Boat

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.

san francisco bay cruises, rocket boat
The Rocket Boat

The RIB Boat

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.)

san francisco bay cruises, catamaran
The Adventure Cat
Dinner and Evening Cruises

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.

Sunset Cruises

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.

Dinner Cruises

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 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.

Duck Tours

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.

san francisco duck tours
San Francisco Duck Tours

My Favorite San Francisco Bay Cruises

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.

The Alcatraz Tour.
If you have several hours and have any interest in the history of the island prison, take the Alcatrazcruises tour to Alcatraz (ferry and prison tours included). Not only is the building fascinating to explore, the views of the city and bay are wonderful. (See Visit Alcatraz for details). You don't sail out to the Golden Gate, though. For that you have to take one of the other cruises.

The Fishing Boat Cruises.
I think it's more exciting to sail out under the Golden Gate in a smaller boat than in one of the much larger ferries. You really feel the waves and the ocean seems mightier, especially just outside the protection of the gate. The boat goes all the way around Alcatraz, so you see the other side that's not visible on the actual Alcatraz ferry ride. Also, it's a real bargain - only $15 last time I went (on the good ship "Chucky's Pride" - yes, really!)

san francisco bay cruises, chuckys pride fishing boat
Chucky's Pride, heading out.

san francisco bay cruises, fishing boat near the bridge
On the Fishing Boat Cruise.

The Sailboat Cruises.

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!

san francisco bay cruise, sailboat and marin headlands
The Privateer Out on the Bay

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.

Insider Tips:

Discounts are available on many of the San Francisco Bay cruises, from a number of sources.
  • The Bay City Guide. This free guide is available from the magazine stands all over the Fisherman's Wharf area. They have lots of discounts for activities in the wharf area, including a few dollars off of the bay cruises (though not the fishing boats). You can also get their coupons online at
  • Discount cards like CityPass, Go San Francisco, and Go Select San Francisco often include bay cruises.

The best deal: Goldstar's half-price tickets:

goldstar logo

Be sure to check out 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.

Getting Tickets for a Bay Cruise

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.

More San Francisco Bay Cruise Photos

The Golden Gate Bridge hidden in a fog bank - not unusual.

san francisco bay cruises, blue and gold ferry
Blue and Gold Ferry, heading for the bridge

The Alcatraz Ferry ( doesn't go around the island. 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?

san francisco bay cruises, alcatraz view
The Other Side of Alcatraz

san francisco bay cruises, golden gate view, sunny
Under the Golden Gate on a sunny afternoon.

san francisco bay cruises, golden gate view, foggy
More mysterious in the fog...

san francisco bay cruises, red and white ferry
The Red and White Ferry headed home.

Nearby Attractions...

> San Francisco Bay Cruises

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