When you come to San Francisco, you really should get out on the water somehow. Most people do this via the Alcatraz tour. But another option is the Bay Cruise tour run by the Blue & Gold Fleet, who are the same people who do the Alcatraz trip. The trip takes a little over an hour and leaves from Pier 41 (next to the dreaded Pier 39). Most people take this cruise because they didn't make reservations on the Alcatraz tour and were out of luck. Let this be a lesson.
A very hokey (but actually pretty informative) recording features "Captain Nemo" spinning yarns about the City as you pull away from the dock and head out along the waterfront towards the Golden Gate Bridge. You pass within feet of the famous Pier 39 sea lions as you leave. The waves become choppier and the winds pick up as the looming bridge gets closer... and closer... and closer! Soon you are right underneath it(!), staring up at the underbelly of this modern marvel. After a few minutes the boat then cuts over to Alcatraz and does a slow pass close to the shore. From there it's back to the dock.
There's some advantages and disadvantages to taking this ride versus the Alcatraz trip. On the plus side, you won't usually need to get tickets in advance (remember, if you want to do Alcatraz, you'll NEED to call and make reservations AT LEAST a day in advance and sometimes more). It's a short ride - you can park, get tix, do the ride, and leave in about 2 hours - good if you have things to do or get seasick easily. And the Alcatraz tour doesn't go under the bridge.
On the downside, it's a bit pricey- $21 for adults. If you're more than a few people, I would call and inquire about group rates. And if you're more than, say,10 people, I would seriously look into chartering a private boat for a few hours. B&G also offers some combo tours as well that include the bay cruise. And I'm pretty sure that some of the many combo cards (where you get admission to several museums and tours for a flat fee) include it as well. Check the website or call SF tourist info.
We always seem to be giving friends tours of San Francisco. Since I live on the East bay, the way I like to start off their experience is by taking them there using the Ferry. I think this is the best way to get a really special view of the city. If you’re not on the east bay side there is also ferry from the city of Vallejo,
You have two choices on where you want to arrive to. The first is the Ferry building which is next to the Embarcadero and the start of Market Street. The second jump-off point is at Pier 39, which has become an attraction on its own and is also next to Fisherman’s Warf. The Ferry leaves from a variety of sites to get to San Francisco. From the East Bay side you can leave from the city of Alameda or from Jack London Square in Oakland.
The cruise across the bay to San Francisco takes about 20 minutes from Alameda and 30 minutes from Jack London Square. You can also use the ferry to take you right to Giants' SBC Park to catch a ballgame. A round trip ticket is about $11 but it’s a pretty cheap way of getting there and touring the bay at the same time. You can buy your ticket right on board. There’s a little table there with someone selling tickets
If you’re a bit hungry or thirst, the Ferry also offers beverage service (beer, wine, sodas, coffee), and a snack bar with fresh pastries. If you want you can also bring a bike on board, but SF is not a great place to ride one as far as I’m concerned. If you want to jump-off at the Ferry building and explore downtown, you can always take a bus to Fisherman’s’ Warf. The ticket you buy also has a stub on it for a free bus ride. With a roundtrip ticket you get two tickets, one to leave from the boat and one to return.
For whatever reason, I wasn't able to get tickets for Alcatraz last time I was in San Francisco, so I did the next best thing (or maybe even a better thing): I took a ferry tour of the Bay. It was fantastic! What I loved about it was that anyone from anywhere could enjoy the same tour - because the narrative is done in multiple languages. You just indicate in what language you'd like your tour to be, and you're given a small radio with earphones.
I love this tour-cruise because if you're dressed appropriately (and that means a good jacket and maybe even a hat, depending on how cold or rainy it might be and also what time of the day you go), it is exhilarating. I can smell the salt water and hear the splash of the waves even now in my memory....in one hour, you'll glide past Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, past Angel Island (aka the "Ellis Island of the West" and a historical destination of its own today), around Alcatraz, by Sausalito, and under the Golden Gate Bridge. The narrative points out specific landmarks and reknown areas of import all the while.
I highly recommend this tour!
Cost: around $20 for adult.
Tiburon is a great ferry ride. It's less tourist-y than Sausalito. Very quiet and peaceful. I would rent a bike and take the ferry across then tour the area by bike. A great restaurant that I highly recommend is Guaymas. It's on the pier as you get off the ferry. A little pricey but worth it. The food and views are amazing.
If your time is short in San Francsico then it may be worth your while taking a Bay Area Cruise.
I bought the City Pass which included a one hour cruise.
The cruise gives you good views of the city and takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge and back around Alcatraz Island. There is a running commentry onboard which is interesting, but if you're not interested just walk away from the speakers!
I walked along Fisherman's Wharf one day, and totally on the spur of the moment, I hoped on to a small boat taking tours, it was about the corners of Jefferson St and Jones St. It was a small privately owned boat, which took a dozen or so people out.
This was the best value for money ever, I almost felt bad for the rest of the tourists who had paid to go one one of the big ferry trips that go out to the bridge and back. The crew of the boat where very helpful, as I was on my own one of the guys offered to take my photo at the bridge.
We went out under the bridge, and back around Alcatraz then over to the mainland so we could get some photos of the San Francisco Skyline and then back to Dock.
This is one of the best trips you can do in my opinion.
I think it cost about $10 for the trip, which was a bargain.
It was built backi in 1922 for automobile ferries between San Francisco and Sausalito. If you visit the pier now, you'll find a few historic vessels that are open to visitors.
We got aboard of the "Eureka" and "C.A. Thayer".
Is a side-wheel ferry built in 1890 and originally used for trains, later served passengers and cars.
Entrance fee: $5
To commemorate both the birth of our nation as well as the birth of our dear friend, we get on board the HORNBLOWER boat cruise for some fine dining, UNLIMITED Premiere Bar cocktails (the boat was stocked with so much libations, it wasn't even funny!), and a night cruise to watch the 4th of July Fireworks spectacle.
We're bright and shiny for our 3 hour tour......our 3 hour tour......
The boat we boarded was the California Hornblower.
It was a tri-level boat with a band on each level. The entire meal was a sit down dinner (as opposed to the Buffet dinner which was served on an entirely different boat).
The food wasn't bad, and the service was incredibly attentive and courteous! We were very pleased with our Aussie waitress, Nicole........she was witty enough to endure our guys' "Tom and Nicole" jokes all the way through dinner!
We were even MORE pleased by the unlimited access to the Premiere bar which was included in the total price of the dinner ($166 per person for the 4th of July sit down dinner cruise)
I hadn't had a frozen strawberry daquiri since I was 13 years old (with that fake I.D.!) ...but that evening I was slamming those down like there was no tomorrow. Why?
Because I could.
We were smart enough not to mix drinks (it was a rocky night on the Bay waters!) ......so I stuck to Rhum all night. Rhum and coke, strawberry daquiri, Bacardi and Bacardi.......etc...etc..
Knowing what we had in store for us that evening, we decided to take public transit all throughout the city and leave our cars at home.
We even took a little stroll along the Embarcadero. Can the weather in the city be more perfect than THIS to view the Fireworks Spectacle?
How BLUE art thy skies San Francisco?
The cruise was a pretty full house as folks started to wrap around the lines to go on board.
If you're going to take a Hornblower cruise, be sure to have your "Pier Location" correct for where you board your boat.
We saw a few folks stand in line for a long period of time, only to find out once they reach the front that their boat was departing from an entirely different pier!
Check and double check with your confirmation slip before your event takes place!
Also, the reservationists say the dress code is semi-formal or business casual (i.e. NO jeans). However, we saw many folks dressed as if they just finished a canoe trip or just came from a camping trip. Plenty of jeans and many casual dressers.
Not sure how the company can "strictly enforce" the dress code on someone who just paid them $166 !
So wear what you're most comfortable in when you go on the cruise.
Our first round of free cocktails was accompanied by a fresh shrimp and cucumber salad. They immediately seat you at your reserved table so you can peruse through their menu and make your entree selection.
The menu included Filet mignon, Rack of Lamb (curry style), salmon, stuffed chicken, even lasagna made the cut.
As usual, the night was full of laughter and good times with great friends........all the while cruising our beautiful Bay and listening to the cover band play a lil jazz and old school rock and roll.
With these guys alone, I think we pretty much emptied out the ship's liquor cabinet! ;-)
The Blue and Gold Fleet goes from San Francisco to the beautiful towns of Marin County (Sausalito and Tiburon). These picturesque towns are quaint, prosperous (houses are expensive and large) and have spectacular views of the entire San Francisco skyline. A ferry from San Francisco to the North Bay will take approximately 30 minutes, with riders being able to take in the views of San Francisco all along the way.
One of the highlights of any visit to San Francisco is to go on a Bay Cruise. Some cruises last just an hour or so, others can last several hours... it depends on what you're paying for.
My favorite type of Bay Cruise are the kind that go under the Golden Gate bridge. They also circle around Alcatraz so you can get a look at the island.
I always make it a point to take foreign friends out on the Bay whenever they visit.