The 7 Best San Francisco Boat Tours

Take in the city's major sights by water with one of these excursions.

By Holly Johnson, ContributorJuly 22, 2019
U.S. News & World Report

The 7 Best San Francisco Boat Tours

Best San Francisco Boat Tours

Enjoy a thrilling ride past some of San Francisco's top landmarks on this boat tour from Bay Voyager. (Courtesy of Bay Voyager)

It's no secret that many of San Francisco's most iconic landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf, are best seen from the water. Because of this, there are a variety of boat tours – from sunset sails to whale watching excursions – for San Francisco visitors to choose from. To help you narrow down your search, U.S. News relied on expert input and traveler opinion to determine the seven best San Francisco boat tours.

Bay Voyager – Touch of Gold Excursion

If you're looking for an adventurous way to tour the bay (and don't mind getting a little wet), consider this 90-minute tour from Bay Voyager. After boarding the 12-person rigid-inflatable boat, you'll zip under the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, passing Alcatraz, Fort Point and more landmarks along the way. You'll also enjoy expert commentary from your captain – a particular highlight for reviewers. Another high point? Observing the sea lions up close at Pier 39. Tickets start at $99 for adults and $69 for children ages 5 to 9. Departure times vary by day but may be available at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. Evening twilight cruises are also available, as are Alcatraz combo tickets.

Adventure Cat Sailing – Alcatraz City Sail

This 90-minute boat tour focuses on the history of Alcatraz – a former federal prison that housed some of history's most dangerous felons. Though you won't actually stop at Alcatraz Island, you will sail around the prison for an intimate look at its grounds before passing other San Francisco landmarks, such as the Ferry Building Marketplace and Coit Tower. Throughout the tour, you'll enjoy live commentary from the crew – a highlight for reviewers. The tour departs from Pier 39 at 10 a.m. Thursday through Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Tickets start at $45 for adults and $25 for kids ages 6 to 12. Kids 5 and younger ride for free. Adventure Cat Sailing also offers sunset cruises, among other options.

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San Francisco Whale Tours – Golden Gate Whale Watch

San Francisco's whale activity has been on the rise, making a whale watching tour a smart choice for your next trip. The Golden Gate Whale Watch tour takes you into the bay to see humpback whales, harbor seals, dolphins, porpoises and other sea life that may be swimming just off the shore. This 2 1/2-hour excursion, which is available from March through October, departs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets start at $45 for adults, $35 for children and $40 for students, seniors and military members. Patrons call this tour awesome and incredible, though some express disappointment with the small number of whales spotted. If you're visiting between November and March, consider the company's Gray Whale Watching Tour.

Red and White Fleet – Golden Gate Bay Cruise

This hourlong tour departs from Fisherman's Wharf and takes you along San Francisco's majestic waterfront for views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and more. Audio commentary is available in 16 languages. You may even encounter wildlife, such as sea lions, harbor porpoises and whales, along the way. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, tours depart daily from 9:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., with reduced hours in the winter months. Tickets start at $34 for adults and $25 for youths ages 5 to 17. Children 4 and younger tour for free. The Golden Gate Bay Cruise earns mostly flattering praise from reviewers, with some tourists calling it the highlight of their trip. Because this is one of the Red and White Fleet's most popular cruises, the company recommends its California Sunset or Bridge 2 Bridge cruises for those looking for a break from the crowds.

Blue & Gold Fleet – Escape From the Rock

Blue & Gold Fleet's Escape From the Rock cruise takes you on a 90-minute sail around the famous Alcatraz Island. You'll enjoy beautiful scenery and hear audio commentary detailing Alcatraz escape attempts and the various felons who called this former maximum-security prison home. Audio recordings are available in nine languages. The cruise departs at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5 p.m. daily from June to August. Tickets start at $42 for adults and $28 for kids ages 5 to 11. Cruisers say this trip provides a variety of great photo opportunities, and they applaud the audio commentary. Sunset cruises and day cruises around the bay are also available.

San Francisco Sailing Co. – Sunset Sail

On this two-hour sunset sail, you'll enjoy panoramic views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, among other sights. Plan to take amazing pictures of the sun setting and the surrounding landscapes during a journey reviewers call lovely and the perfect way to spend an evening. Tickets, which include two glasses of wine, beer, soda or water, start at $65. The tour departs every evening from May through November; specific departure times vary by month. Other tours include a 90-minute day sail and a two-hour weekend cruise.

ACsailingSF – Day Sail

Boating enthusiasts won't want to miss this opportunity to sail on an 84-foot yacht once used in America's Cup. This 2 1/2-hour tour takes visitors through the bay for a close-up view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sausalito cityfront, among other sights. What's more, participation is encouraged, meaning tourgoers can help the crew hoist and trim the sails and steer the yacht. Tourists give this day sail rave reviews, calling it unique and awesome. Sails are usually offered twice a day Thursday through Sunday, though availability can vary by month. Tickets start at $150 per adult and $75 per child ages 5 to 12; water and snacks are included. Sunset sails and "express" two-hour tours are also available.

Holly Johnson, Contributor

Holly Johnson is an award-winning writer who focuses on credit cards and credit, personal ...  Read more

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