Updated March 16, 2023.

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.

There are three main types of bay cruises:

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...

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

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.

San Francisco Bay has two ferry companies:

  • Blue and Gold Ferry
  • Golden Gate Ferry

The Blue and Gold Ferry company runs part of the ferry system for San Francisco Bay, and the ferries depart from the Ferry Building and Pier 41. The Blue and Gold Fleet also does bay tours, but more on that later.

The Golden Gate Ferry company runs ferries across the bay as well, departing from the Ferry Building.

SF Ferry Destinations

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

Here is a Blue and Gold ferries that has a scenic routes and takes you to a pretty location.

For the current schedule, see the www.blueandgoldfleet.com

Blue and Gold Ferry

Destination Leaves from: Duration Cost
Sausalito Pier 41 30 min. $14.25 one way

Kids (5-11) and seniors (65+) are $8.50 one way.

The Blue and Gold run to Tiburon has been discontinued.

The Golden Gate Ferry runs boats to both Sausalito and Tiburon; their ferries leave from the Ferry Building. See the current schedules: Sausalito & Tiburon.

Golden Gate Ferry

Destination Leaves from: Duration Cost
Sausalito Ferry Building 30 min. $14.00 one way
Tiburon Ferry Building 30 min. $14.00 one way

Seniors 65+ and youth (5-18) pay $7.00 one way.

Do you need to book ahead? No, there's plenty of room on the ferries. The tickets are not for a specific time or date; they just need to be used within 90 days.

Only the Golden Gate ferry goes out to Angel Island from SF now. For info on Angel Island, and how to get there, see my page on Angel Island.

Tip: for the cheapest boat ride in San Francisco, you can take the "short hop" (about 10 minutes) on the Blue and Gold Ferry between Pier 41 (on Fisherman's Wharf) and the Ferry Building: $1.25. Sail all along the Embarcadero waterfront for basically nothing! Great city and bay views.

You have to look at the hourly schedules for SF-Vallejo, SF-Alameda, SF-Oakland ferries to find the runs that stop at both places. See ferry schedules.

The Sausalito Ferry

The ride across SF Bay on the Sausalito Ferry was named as the second best ferry ride in the world by the Society of American Travel Writers in 2009 (second only to the Starr Ferry ride in Hong Kong).

It's a gorgeous ride, with great views of the city skyline, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Highly recommended, and a bargain to boot! Plus Sausalito is fun to explore.

san francisco bay cruises, sausalito ferry
On the Sausalito Ferry

Want to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and take the ferry back? See my guide to biking the bridge: how to rent the bikes, what the ride is like, tips for taking the ferry, plus maps of the route and photos of the trip, at biking the bridge.

Insider Tip:

If you are biking to Sausalito from SF and want to return on either ferry (Blue and Gold or Golden Gate) with your bike, lots of people are going to be trying to board with bicycles in Sausalito, especially in summer and in late afternoon. It's a lot easier to travel back to the city without the bike, and now there's a company that will return your bike for you at $12 per bike (doesn't operate in winter).

Alcatraz Cruises

Alcatraz cruises are in class by themselves. Only one company, Alcatraz Cruises, at cityexperiences.com, runs ferries out to Alcatraz where visitors can get off the boat and explore the island.

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.

To learn more about the Alcatraz Island tours available and the best ways of getting tickets for Alcatraz, plus what to expect out on the Rock, see Alcatraz tours.

Alcatraz sold out? Tickets for the Alcatraz ferry sell out weeks, and sometimes months, in advance during the summer and holiday periods. But never fear, there are ways of getting Alcatraz tickets, even for sold-out days. See my tips on the four ways to get those elusive tickets, at last-minute Alcatraz tickets.

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

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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 Goldstar.com. Often the one-hour bay cruises 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.

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, and the discounts available on the other cruises.

  • 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. Daily sailings. Adults $35.99 ($2 off if booked online). From Pier 39. (For more info and booking, see Blue and Gold Cruise.)
  • 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. This is the original bay cruise in San Francisco; a family-owned business, they've been offering this cruise since 1939. Drinks and snacks available, full bar. Recorded narration. Audio on headphones in 16 languages. Operating daily, frequent departures, starting at 10 a.m. Adults $38. From Pier 43 ½. For more info and booking, see Red and White Cruise. 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

    Live narration (though hard to hear in the front). No snacks supplied, but you can bring your own refreshments, including alcohol. Bathroom on board. $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!

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. Leaves from Pier 39.

The price has gone up a bit since I went, $99 now, but you can often get these tickets half price through Goldstar; check Goldstar to see if it's available). If Goldstar doesn't have tickets, you can book the sailing cruise at SF Sailing Tour.

See photos of the cruise, and details about the trip, at sailboat cruise.


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. Limited to 12 guests. Snacks and drinks are available onboard, plus an audio tour in 8 languages. $90, 90 minutes. From Pier 39. (for more on the catamaran cruise, and booking, see Adventure Cat.)

san francisco bay cruises, catamaran
The Adventure Cat near Alcatraz

Want a Private Cruise?

Through the SAILO company, you can rent a sailboat or yacht and sail the bay with a group of friends or family.

There's a big selection of sizes and prices of boats to rent. Nice looking boats, too. Not as expensive as you might think, based on the number of guests splitting the cost. Quite a range, for example from $960 per day for 6 people, up to huge boats holding 350 guests. They provide the captain and necessary crew.

Take a look at all the boats they have available for San Francisco Bay; pretty cool.

The Rocket Boat

Note: the current Rocket Boat was retired in 2019. They're were going to introduce a new version of the Rocket Boat in the spring of 2020, but that was delayed by Covid. And there is still no Rocket Boat as of 2023.

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, $30 for adults, kids less. I had a great time on this one! The Rocket Boat operates May through October. Goldstar often has half-price tickets for this one; you can check for them at Rocket Boat tours.

For more details on what the trip is like, see my page on the Rocket Boat ride.

san francisco bay cruises, rocket boat
The Rocket Boat

The RIB Boat Sightseeing Tour

This is a newer 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 guided tour of the bay, narrated by the captain (the Ferry Building, Fort Point, the sea lions, the Presidio, goes under both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, around Alcatraz, etc...and sometimes the whales are out there). 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, see RIB boat tour.

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, Sausalito and under the Golden Gate Bridge (very cool). 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 $68. To check out the Sunset Cruise and booking info, see SF Bay Sunset Cruise.

The Catamaran Sunset Cruise. You also have the option of sailing out at sunset on a catamaran. This cruise is 90 minutes and $60, 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, see catamaran cruise.

San Francisco 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 is a lot of fun. Sailing around the bay on a yacht, dancing to a live band or DJ, 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. Delightful!

I've been on several Hornblower evening cruises - a very professional outfit.

It's magical to be out on the water at night with the city lights sparkling in the distance. The views of the city and the bridges at night were incredible, and the food was great! A fun San Francisco experience.

For all the details on our dinner cruise experience, plus photos and maps, see my page on the SF dinner cruise.

View of San Francisco and Bay Bridge from Hornblower dinner cruise
Going Under the Bay Bridge

The Hornblower dinner/dance cruises are 2.5 hours (3 hours on Friday and Saturday), for $141.36 per person. For more info on cruise and booking, see Hornblower dinner cruise.

Goldstar.com often has discounted tickets for this cruise; check for them at Goldstar tickets. We got our tickets through Goldstar for $96.50 each.

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, the fishing boat cruise, the sailboat cruise, and Hornblower's dinner cruise.

The Alcatraz Tour.
If you have several hours and have any interest in the history of the island prison, take one of the Alcatraz Cruises tours 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 Alcatraz tours 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 - still only $15. We went out on Chucky's Pride, one of several fishing boats available for the cruises.

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 my experience on the sailboat cruise.

Hornblower Dinner/Dance Cruise

A nighttime extravaganza: a delicious four-course meal, and stunning views of the city and the bridges all lit up. Amazing!

See dinner cruise for more details about the 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.

More discounts available on the San Francisco Bay cruises:

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, bay cruises.

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 (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?

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...

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