San Francisco Bay Cruises

Sightseeing Cruises, Dinner Cruises, Tours, and Ferries

Taking Photos on a San Francisco Bay Cruise
••• Taking Photos on a San Francisco Bay Cruise. ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

On a nice day, a San Francisco Bay cruise is a good way to rest your tired feet and see the city from a different angle. You have a lot of options. You can do a traditional sail around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge or take a fascinating trip to other locations, go on sunset sails, dinner cruises, tours, and ferries.

A bay cruise is one of San Francisco's top-rated things to do. Become a San Francisco travel expert by finding out what the rest are.

We've organized this San Francisco Bay cruise tours guide by activity, to make it easier for you to pick the one that meets your needs. If you're thinking about taking one while you're in San Francisco, they're often included with multi-attraction cards like Go Card or San Francisco CityPASS, but one of the cheapest places to get them is through Goldstar. Find out what Goldstar is and how to use it.

The "Standard" San Francisco Bay Cruise

These 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 audio headset narration in eight languages. They offer two cruises: a one-hour bay cruise that takes in Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge and a 90-minute Bridge 2 Bridge tour, which adds a loop around the Bay Bridge.
  • Blue and Gold Fleet: Leaves from Pier 41.
  • AdventureCat: The unique thing about this cruise it that you'll go in a 55-foot sailing catamaran. It leaves from J Dock next to Pier 39.

Trip to Sausalito

A 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 boat tour described above, but the trip will cost you less.

You can make that trip with these companies:

Cruise to Tour Alcatraz

If you want to tour the former prison on Alcatraz Island, don't let the advertisements fool you. You can see the island from many cruises, but if you want to set foot on it, there's only one choice: Alcatraz Cruises. They leave from Pier 33 near Fisherman's Wharf. Combine this tour with a visit to Angel Island on the same day for an "Island Hop." To ensure you get an Alcatraz tour when you want it, reserve at least one week in advance.

Cruise to Angel Island

Angel 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:

Sunset Cruises

  • Red and White Fleet: Leaves from Pier 43 1/2 near Boudin's and Fisherman's Wharf. The cruise includes drinks and Italian-style appetizers. These sightseeing tours are available 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 Cruises

Hornblower Dining Cruises offers champagne brunch, dinner, and dancing cruises.

Holidays and Special Cruises

Some 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 Reservations

To get the best deal, check the individual company's websites for discounts and online purchases and evaluate whether a multi-attraction pass will save you money.

Use these handy guides to find out all you need to know about the San Francisco CityPASS and Go San Francisco Card. You can also find San Francisco Bay Cruise reviews on Tripadvisor.com

San Francisco Bay Cruise Tips

  • Even my easily-queasy stomach doesn't usually have any trouble on a Bay cruise, but if 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. Start planning your getaway with my San Francisco travel planner.
  • 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.