San Francisco Boat Tours: A Complete Guide

san francisco boat cruise in the bay and the golden gate bridge

San Francisco boat tours are a MUST for anyone visiting the Bay Area. For those who are unfamiliar with San Francisco Bay cruises, choosing the right tour can seem daunting. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about boat tours in San Francisco! Read on to enjoy the unique perspective on our great city that a boat ride can provide.

Are SF Bay Cruises Worth It?

There are so many things to do in San Francisco that it can be hard to decide what to prioritize. However, if you are interested in seeing the city in all of its glory, a boat tour is a must.

Cruising around the San Francisco Bay is both fun and scenic. Not only will you be able to see the amazing bay waters and marine life, but you’ll get to see the city skyline like nowhere else. Plus, you’ll get up close to San Francisco’s top landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

If you are traveling with a loved one, a San Francisco boat tour would be the perfect SF romantic getaway or date idea.

One of the best places to visit in San Francisco is Fisherman’s Wharf, where many boat cruises depart from. So, you’re probably already going to be in the right place for take off. You might as well take the leap and create a San Francisco memory you’ll always cherish!

A Brief History of San Francisco Bay Cruises

Boat tours have been a popular excursion for San Francisco locals and visitors alike for centuries. As maritime activity boomed during the Gold Rush, boat tours offered a new way to visit the bustling port city.

Soon enough, San Francisco became a tourist destination. Boats began offering scenic tours around the bay to view San Francisco’s landmarks up close, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

For example, the Red and White Fleet was founded in 1892. Their first boat was used to transport goods and travelers. During the 1913 Panama Pacific International Exposition, a World’s Fair, the company began offering cruise excursions on the San Francisco Bay to the fair’s visitors. By the 1930s, the Red and White Fleet was relying on tourism!

What to Expect on a San Francisco Boat Tour

What to expect on San Francisco Bay boat tours will depend on what kind of boat you book. However, there are several common experiences to expect on all SF boat tours:

  1. Scenic views: A San Francisco boat cruise in the bay will have unmatched views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the city skyline. So, anywhere you turn you’ll see a beautiful sight!
  2. Wildlife watching: San Francisco boat tours often get to have an up close look at some of the Pacific’s wild marine life. This includes sea lions, seals, dolphins, whales, and all kinds of birds and fish.
  3. Amenities: Most boat rides in San Francisco provide comfortable seats, snacks and beverages for purchase, onboard restrooms, and wheelchair accessibility. These amenities will differ depending on the size of the boat and the length of the journey.
  4. Weather: San Francisco’s weather can be unpredictable, especially near the bay. As a result, boat rides in San Francisco¬†can be immersed in sunshine, fog, wind, or rain.

No matter what kind of boat ride in San Francisco, you are bound to embark on memorable journey!

How to Prepare for a San Francisco Boat Tour

You don’t need much to prepare for a San Francisco bay cruise. Boat companies strive to meet all the needs of their passengers. However, here are our suggestions to make sure you have the best adventure:

  1. Dress in layers! San Francisco weather can be unpredictable, and it is often colder than it seems. Bring a sweater or light jacket to combat chilly or windy weather on the bay.
  2. Wear sunscreen! Even if you sit inside a covered boat, you’ll be exposed to UV rays from the sun. Protect your skin with sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and lip balm.
  3. Bring a motion sickness remedy! If you know you tend to have motion sickness, definitely take your remedy before taking off. However, if you are not sure if you will get motion sickness, on the boat would not be the best place to find out.
  4. Choose comfortable shoes! Keep yourself save while maneuvering on and off the boat by wearing the right shows. Save the heels for your post-cruise dinner at Pier 39 restaurants.

san francisco boat tours ferry to alcatraz island in the bay

Top San Francisco Boat Tours

Your options for San Francisco boat rides are endless, and there is something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a luxury cruise with food and wine or a more adventurous journey, there are private boat tours in San Francisco for you!

Scenic San Francisco Boat Rides

  • Blue & Gold Fleet at Pier 39

Blue & Gold Fleet offer two popular San Francisco Bay cruises. The 60-minute San Francisco Bay Cruise sails past Pier 39’s sea lions, under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz Island, and along SF’s waterfront with views of the city’s skyline. The 90-minute Escape from the Rock Cruise adds an in-depth view of the Alcatraz Island State Park and prison. Both cruises include a free multi-language audio tour.

  • Red & White Fleet at Pier 43 1/2

Red & White Fleet also offers a one hour Golden Gate Bay Cruise that leaves from Pier 43 1/2. Their 90-minute cruise takes you under both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Also, check out their 90-minute California Twilight Cruise that makes the most of sunset hours, complete with a full bar.

SF Wildlife Watching Cruises

  • San Francisco Whale Tours at Pier 39

Embark on a whale watching adventure with the Golden Gate Whale Watch Cruise. This two and a half hour scenic tour has the chance of finding humpback whales, gray whales, harbor seals, dolphins, porpoises, and sea bird colonies.

Exciting SF Boat Adventures

  • Adventure Cat at Pier 39

Sail close to the water on Adventure Cat’s catamarans. Their 1.5-hour sails during the day and at sunset provide incredible views of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge. These catamarans skim over the surface of the water to speed at 8-12 knots, or 9-13 miles per hour.

  • Bay Voyager at Pier 39

The Bay Voyager excursions will take you faster and closer to SF landmarks than any other tour boat on the bay. Cruising up to 32 miles per hour, their Rigid Inflatable Boats are best for the most adventurous passengers.

  • Alcatraz Cruises at Pier 33

Head to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing for transportation to Alcatraz Island. These ferries include access to tour the famous former prison and Civil War fort with ease. Make sure to tune in to their award-winning audio tour of the cellhouse!

San Francisco Foodie Cruises

  • City Experiences at Pier 3

For those seeking a cruising experience complete with food and entertainment, look no further than City Experiences’ many foodie cruises. The San Francisco Premier Bottomless Mimosa Brunch Cruise is a great option if you’re looking for endless champagne, a brunch buffet, and live entertainment. On the other hand, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, this romantic Valentine’s dinner cruise with a plated dinner, full bar, and live DJ may be the right choice.

Luxury Yacht Rides Near SF

  • San Francisco Sailing Co at Pier 39

San Francisco Sailing Co offers two daily and one weekends-only tours on their boats that feature panoramic views of SF City Front, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge.

  • Giants Enterprises Private Luxury Yacht Rental

If you’re traveling with a big group and are looking to impress, consider renting a private, luxury yacht. Giants Enterprises’ yachts can hold between 15 and 60 seated guests or up to 120 for a standing reception. While this wouldn’t be an everyday adventure, it could be right for your group.

  • Blue Skies Yacht

For groups of 6 or less, the Blue Skies Yacht’s 35-foot luxury trawler will comfortably escort you on your San Francisco Bay adventure. This private charter does not include food and drink, but that just means you can bring your favorites!

  • Gaslight, a 72-ft Tall Schooner

This Gold Rush era yacht replica offers a nostalgic, luxury experience unlike any other. With the help of a San Francisco Maritime Museum co-founder, this scow schooner took ten years of meticulous care to build. Enjoy a San Francisco ship tour like never before with Gaslight’s historic charm and modern amenities.

Burger with Fries and a Beer with a Bloody Mary and Pancakes overlooking the bay

Eagle Cafe & the San Francisco Waterfront

Whether you’re embarking on a romantic getaway, a family adventure, or a solo exploration, don’t miss the opportunity to discover the magic of San Francisco on the water. Set sail, soak in the breathtaking views, and enjoy the beauty of the bay!

Complete your excursion with breakfast, brunch, and lunch at Eagle Cafe. This historic, waterfront cafe has served San Francisco since 1928! Eagle Cafe’s decor and historical artifacts are a tribute to the veterans, active military, and longshoremen who have frequented the cafe for almost 100 years.

Eagle Cafe is located on Pier 39 where many of these San Francisco boat tours are docked. But, you might be surprised to learn that the cafe used to be up the street on Embarcadero and Powell! Warren Simmons, the founder of Pier 39 and Simco Restaurants, devised a plan with the Andreotti family (Eagle Cafe’s owners at the time) to put the restaurant on jacks and literally wheel it down the street to the pier!

Eagle Cafe is open from 8 am to 3 pm 365-days a year and serves classic American staples like Banana Pecan French Toast, Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl, and the BLTA. Come for the historic charm and bay views and stay for the delicious food (not to mention the full bar!).

Visit Eagle Cafe’s website

View Eagle Cafe’s menu