A bay cruise is one of San Francisco's top-rated things to do. Find out what the rest are.
We've organized this San Francisco bay cruise guide by activity, to make it easier for you to pick the one that meets your needs.
Best San Francisco Bay CruiseDon't just follow the crowds that shuffle onto San Francisco Bay cruise boats like sheep. Instead, head for Pier 43 1/2 near Fisherman's Wharf to take the Bridge 2 Bridge cruise from Red and White Cruises. It changes names with alarming regularity and you may still see it called the San Francisco Explorer Bay Cruise in some places, but the experience stays the same. This 90-minute trip will take you to places most San Franciscans have never seen. If you want a preview, take our bay cruise photo tour.
It's longer and costs a little more than the "standard," but is well worth it.
The "Standard" San Francisco Bay CruiseThese San Francisco Bay cruises will take you around Alcatraz, under the Golden Gate Bridge and along the waterfront west of Fisherman's Wharf. They'll last from an hour to 90 minutes.
- Red and White Fleet: Leaves from Pier 43 1/2 near Boudin's and Fisherman's Wharf. Includes narration in eight languages.
- Blue and Gold Fleet: Leaves from Pier 41
- AdventureCat: This 55-foot sailing catamaran leaves from J Dock next to Pier 39
Trip to SausalitoA ferry ride to charming Sausalito for shopping and lunch is an excellent way to spend a day. You'll also see most of the same sights you'd see on the "standard" San Francisco Bay cruise described above, but the trip will cost you less.
- Blue and Gold Fleet: Pier 41 to Sausalito and Tiburon
- Golden Gate Ferry: Ferry Building (near the Bay Bridge) to Sausalito
Tour AlcatrazIf you want to tour the former prison on Alcatraz Island, there's only one choice: Alcatraz Cruises, leaving from Pier 33 at Fisherman's Wharf. Combine this tour with a visit to Angel Island in the same day for an "Island Hop." To ensure you get an Alcatraz tour when you want it, reserve at least a week in advance.
Visit Angel IslandAngel Island is sometimes called the Ellis Island of the West, but it's got more to see than the fascinating Immigration Station, and there are three ways to get there:
- Blue and Gold Fleet: Leaves from Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf. They offer a visit to Alcatraz in the same day for an "Island Hop."
- Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry: Leaves from the town of Tiburon
- East Bay Ferry: Leaves from Pier 41
- Red and White Fleet: Leaves from Pier 43 1/2 near Boudin's and Fisherman's Wharf. Cruise includes drinks and Italian-style appetizers. Early April through early October only.
- AdventureCat: A 55-foot sailing catamaran leaving from J Dock next to Pier 39, their two-hour sunset cruise includes light hors d’oeuvres and two complimentary drinks.
Brunch and Dinner CruisesHornblower Dining Cruises offers champagne brunch, dinner and dancing cruises.
Holidays and Special CruisesSome cruises do not run on December 25. Many of the companies listed above offer special Fourth of July fireworks cruises and special outings during Fleet Week in October.
The San Francisco yacht club's "opening day" is the last Sunday in April (except when Easter falls that day) and their big boat parade makes for an extra-festive time to go on a cruise.
San Francisco Bay Cruise Tickets and ReservationsSeveral of the San Francisco bay cruises described above can be reserved in advance through Viator.com. You'll get a print-at-home voucher right away, and they guarantee their prices are as low as you'll get at the box office.
To get the best deal, check the individual company's websites for discounts and online purchases and evaluate whether a San Francisco CityPass will save you money. The Go San Francisco Card also offers a lot of attractions at a very reasonable price. Use these handy guides to find out all you need to know about the San Francisco CityPASS and Go San Francisco Card.
San Francisco Bay Cruise Tips
- Even my easily-queasy stomach doesn't usually have any trouble on a Bay cruise, but it you're especially prone to motion sickness or the water is extra rough, take your usual precautions. The AdventureCat catamaran is also more stable and may be a good choice for you.
- Take a sweater or jacket. I've left the dock in warm sunshine and returned 90 minutes later in cold fog.
- Reserve ahead if you're concerned about availability, but be sure you know about the cancellation and no-show policy.
- Don't forget your camera. If you're trying to take pictures of things as you're sailing past, try to keep the subject centered in the same spot in your viewfinder instead of your normal still-as-possible technique.