The 5 Best San Francisco Boat Tours & Bay Cruises – [2020 Reviews]

See those famous San Francisco landmarks with a boat tour or bay sailing cruise.

There’s nothing like seeing the island of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and even the unique San Francisco skyline from the bay. A sailing cruise or boat tour can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience you won’t want to miss.

San Francisco has a culture all its own and a visit there is well worth it. With trolley cars, the curviest road in the country, and even the unique Fisherman’s Wharf, there’s no lack of things to see and do.

Best San Francisco Boat Tours & Bay Cruises

 San Francisco Bay: Sail & Jail Boat Cruise & Alcatraz TicketSan Francisco Bay Sunset Cruise by Luxury CatamaranCalifornia Sunset Cruise in San Francisco
editors choice
Departure Point:Pier 39Pier 39Pier 43 1/2
Departure Time:11:00 AM7:00 PM7:00 PM
Duration:4 hours1 hour, 30 minutes2 hours
Includes:Catamaran tour of San Francisco Bay, ferry ticket & admission to AlcatrazCatamaran cruise, hors d'oeuvres, 2 beveragesCruise, appetizer buffet, live music onboard, a complimentary drink

One of the most popular activities for those visiting San Francisco is a sailing cruise or boat tour. We’ve reviewed the top choices for you.

Quick Answer: The Best Sailing Cruises & Boat Tours in San Francisco

    1. San Francisco Bay Sail & Jail Boat Cruise & Alcatraz Ticket
    2. San Francisco Bay Sunset Cruise by Luxury Catamaran
    3. California Sunset Cruise in San Francisco
    4. San Francisco: Bay Sailing Tour w/ Drinks
    5. San Francisco by Land & Sea: Combo Day Tour

Whether you would like to visit Alcatraz personally or you just want to sail San Francisco Bay from the comfort of a luxury catamaran, there’s guaranteed to be the perfect cruise or boat tour for you or the whole family.

San Francisco Sailing Cruises & Boat Tour Reviews

#1 San Francisco Bay: Sail & Jail Boat Cruise & Alcatraz Ticket

Tour Highlights At A Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pier 39, Gate J
  • Departure Time: 11:00 AM
  • Duration: 4 hours (approx.)
  • Includes: Catamaran tour of San Francisco Bay, ferry ticket to Alcatraz Island, admission to Alcatraz Prison

During this combination catamaran cruise and visit to Alcatraz, you’ll be able to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge and see Alcatraz from the bay waters. You may even catch a glimpse of the sea lions that call the bay their home.

A handy navigation guide will help you locate many of the landmarks you will see from the luxury catamaran. If you have any questions about them, be sure to ask the captain and crew. During the 1.5-hour sailing adventure, you may even be able to take control of the sails yourself, with guidance from the crew.

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There are beverages available for purchase while on the catamaran, from water and sodas to wine and beer. You can take in the sights from a viewing area with comfortable seating or even experience the waves in a whole new way by relaxing on the trampoline nets.

After your catamaran sailing adventure in San Francisco Bay, you’ll receive the ferry ticket as well as your admission ticket to Alcatraz Island. Find Pier 33 and head out to the most infamous prison in American history, and even take the 45-minute audio tour with commentary from both prisoners and guards.

 

For tour prices, transportation and availability:


#2 San Francisco Bay Sunset Cruise by Luxury Catamaran

Tour Highlights At A Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pier 39, Gate J
  • Departure Time: 7:00 PM
  • Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes (approx.)
  • Includes: Catamaran cruise, hors d’oeuvres, 2 complimentary beverages

The San Francisco sunsets are not to be missed. If you find yourself in the City by the Bay, you will definitely want to catch one while on a bay cruise.

You’ll be able to take in the sights of Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the friendly sea lions, and the unique city skyline. For a full 90 minutes, you will be able to experience San Francisco from a luxury catamaran.

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While aboard the catamaran, you can take advantage of comfortable seating from the protected viewing area. If you’d like to experience the salty waves, you can always view the San Francisco sunset from the two trampoline nets.

A toast at sunset, to another fantastic day in this beautiful and unique city, can be shared by all on board. You will have your choice of two complimentary beverages as well as access to the light hors d’oeuvres that are served.

 

For tour prices, transportation and availability:


#3 California Sunset Cruise in San Francisco

Tour Highlights At A Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pier 43 1/2, right behind the crab sign at Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Departure Time: 7:00 PM
  • Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
  • Includes: Cruise, appetizer buffet, live music onboard, a complimentary drink and access to the full bar

Before sunset, your cruise will take you past many iconic San Franciscan landmarks such as the Transamerica Pyramid and Coit Tower. Be sure to take plenty of pictures while enjoying free appetizers served buffet-style.

You’ll also cruise past Alcatraz and Angel Island before heading due west toward the Golden Gate Bridge to view the sun setting behind it and sinking into the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

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While aboard, you will have live entertainment in the form of a guitar player or band. Toast to the beauty of another day in paradise with a complimentary drink. Additional beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are available at the bar.

If you’d like to purchase a souvenir while on your cruise to commemorate both the trip and the memorable sunset, merchandise is available for purchase as are snacks.

 

For tour prices, transportation and availability:


#4 San Francisco: Bay Sailing Tour w/ Drinks

Tour Highlights At A Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pier 39, Dock F
  • Departure Time: 12:30 PM, 2:00 PM, 4:30 PM
  • Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes to 2 hours (approx.)
  • Includes: sailing experience on the Bay, full crew, 2 complimentary beverages

When you meet the First Mate of the Privateer at Pier 39, Dock F, he will walk you to the magnificent double-masted sailboat. Be sure to ask either before or after your cruise to have a crew member or other passenger take a picture of you and your party in front of her.

After motoring out into open water, the crew will raise the sails and you’ll be traveling San Francisco Bay by power of the wind. The first landmarks you will see are Alcatraz Prison and Angel Island along with the Bay Bridge. But that’s not all.

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The beauty of the city of Sausalito can be seen back on shore as you head toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Your talented captain will navigate along the length of the bridge to give you plenty of time to take pictures of the bridge as well as of you and your party with the bridge in the background.

During the adventure, a member of the crew will be around to serve you two complimentary beverages of your choice. Soda and water are available, as are beer and wine. The crew can also answer any questions you have about the sailing vessel or the landmarks you see.

 

For tour prices, transportation and availability:


#5 San Francisco by Land & Sea: Combo Day Tour

Tour Highlights At A Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pier 43 1/2 at Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Departure Time: cruise @ 10:00 AM, Hop On Hop Off pass valid 48 hours
  • Duration: 48 hours (approx.)
  • Includes: 1-hour bay cruise with audio narration, 48-hour Hop On Hop Off pass

The tour guide office is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. During these times you can stop in to purchase your “land and see” combo pass that includes both a 1-hour bay cruise as well as a Hop On Hop Off pass that’s good for a full 48 hours.

You will meet at the famous Pier 43 1/2 at Fisherman’s Wharf to board your cruise vessel. This 1-hour cruise of the Bay will take you past many famous landmarks, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and even around Alcatraz Island. When you return back to the Wharf, be sure to enjoy some fresh seafood for lunch.

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The Hop On Hop Off pass that’s included in this combo day tour of San Francisco is valid for 48 hours. With over 20 stops around the city, and even a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge, you can easily see all there is to see in the City by the Bay.

During both the bay cruise and while aboard the Hop On Hop Off trolley busses, your captain or guide will be able to point out those famous San Francisco landmarks. Most can also answer any questions you have about these landmarks or the city itself.

 

For tour prices, transportation and availability:


Your Guide to Visiting the San Francisco Bay Area

Best San Francisco Bay Cruises

Airports & Entry

Located just 13 miles south of downtown San Francisco, the San Francisco International Airport, receives flights from all over the world; making the city highly accessible to would-be visitors.

There are multiple options for transport from the airport to the city. BART is a rail system that offers service between the airport and the city, as well as to the surrounding Bay Area.

San Mateo County’s transit agency, SamTrans, provides bus service from the airport to Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco.

A taxi or other car-for-hire service such as Uber or Lyft are other options.

Planning Tips

Consider what you’d like to do before packing your suitcase. Do you plan to head to the beach, expect to dine in an elegant restaurant, or attend the symphony while you’re in San Francisco?

Not only should your plans guide you in what to pack, you should also purchase tour tickets and make reservations in advance, for those things you definitely don’t want to miss out on.

Restaurants & Eating Out

The San Francisco food scene will please the picky eater and foodie alike. Whether you prefer basic American grub or are into international cuisine, there’s a huge selection to choose from.

For cheap eats you may consider a deli like the popular Molinari Delicatessen. For a slice of pie on the go, check out Golden Boy Pizza.

If you’d like to treat yourself to an evening of fine dining, Kokkari Estiatorio offers a delectable Mediterranean menu; and Seven Hills is superb for seafood.

As far as moderately-priced establishments go, give La Ciccia, an intimate Italian restaurant, a try. Other great mid-range places include Hog Island Oyster Company for delicious seafood or Roam Artisan Burgers for, well, burgers (vegan options available).

Nightlife & Entertainment

There is no lack of after-hours entertainment in this active city. The performances at the Marrakech Magic Theater combine magic, illusion, and comedy for a thoroughly entertaining experience.

A great place to relax with an adult beverage is the Cityscape Bar & Lounge, which has gorgeous nighttime views of the city.

If you plan to make room for some culture during your visit to San Francisco, both the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera give outstanding performances in their respective artforms.

Getting Around

San Francisco has an excellent public transport system, so there’s no reason to go the rental car route. Public transport options include buses, streetcars, cable cars, light rail, and trolley coaches. Of course, taxis and services like Lyft and Uber are available as well.

If you do plan to go with a rental car, rental agencies abound. Depending on the neighborhood and time of day though, you may find it challenging to find available, affordable parking.

Accommodations

San Francisco offers accommodations for all budgets- from basic camping sites in Angel Island and Samuel P Taylor State Parks for those who okay with roughing it, to ultra-exclusive hotels like Fairmont Heritage Place in Ghirardelli Square.

Economically-minded travelers might want to check out area hostels like the highly-rated Green Tortoise Hostel, or a mid-range option such as the chic Scarlet Huntington boutique hotel or the Victorian-styled Queen Anne Hotel.

Weather

As a general rule, the Bay Area doesn’t get much rain, with very little rainfall from May to September. The area’s average temperature remains moderate throughout the year, with highs in the 60’s and 70’s and lows ranging in the 40’s and 50’s, year round.

Attractions

A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without snapping a selfie with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge as your backdrop. Other must-sees include the notorious Alcatraz prison; Fisherman’s Wharf for sightseeing and shopping; Lombard Street, known as the “crookedest street” in the world; and a ride on the city’s world-famous cable cars.

Other fun things to do include the San Francisco Zoo and the Sea Lion Center. There are loads of parks and gardens where you can meander or enjoy a picnic lunch, such as the unique Japanese Tea Garden and the seaside park Land’s End.

Final Thoughts

A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a Bay cruise. It will give you a unique view of the bay, the city and of course the Alcatraz!

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The San Francisco Bay Sail & Jail Boat Cruise & Alcatraz Ticket is our Editor's Choice for the best San Francisco Bay cruise.

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Krysha Thayer

Krysha is a passionate freelance writer who appreciates everything outdoors. Living in rural New Mexico, she enjoys everything from hiking to snowshoeing and 4x4 trail riding to international travel. Being able to combine a love for writing with a love for being in the open, outside air is a dream career come true.

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