epic views of Golden Gate bridge see from San Francisco Boat Tours and San Francisco Bay Cruises

7 Best San Francisco Boat Tours and Bay Cruises by a local (2024)

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Looking for the best San Francisco boat tours or bay cruises on your trip to San Francisco?

As a San Francisco local, I can assure you that the best views of San Francisco cannot be seen from the pier. The best views can only be seen by getting on a boat into the bay!

I highly recommend that you should take a cruise on your San Francisco visit and experience epic views of the San Francisco Bay, city skyline, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, Bay Bridge, and more!

Did you know that most San Francisco Bay cruises go under the famous Golden Gate Bridge? That is an awesome experience you must have!

My Top 3 Picks: Best Boat Tours in San Francisco Bay

Best Sunset Cruise

Catamaran boat in San Francisco Bay

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise
✔️ Stylish boat, small group
✔️ Complimentary drink
✔️ Sunset sail

Best Day Sightseeing Cruise

Golden Gate Bridge Views from San Francisco Boat tours and Bay Cruise

San Francisco Bay Sailing Cruise
✔️ Stylish boat, small group
✔️Afternoon times

Best Combo Tour

San Francisco Bay sightseeing cruise

Alcatraz Island with San Francisco Bay Cruise
✔️ Sightseeing cruise and Alcatraz Island combo
✔️ Includes Alcatraz admission

7 Best San Francisco Boat Tours and Bay Cruises

There are various types of boat cruises you can take in San Francisco. They mostly differ in the boat type and the cruise duration.

There are smooth sailing and stylish catamaran boats (my favorite!), bigger double-decker boats, sailboats, and private yachts.

Some cruises offer a combo with a visit to Alcatraz Island to tour the prison, some offer food and drinks like brunch or dinner cruises, while some are just sightseeing cruises.

Below are the best cruise offerings in different categories selected after careful reviews and my personal experiences, having lived in San Francisco for 20+ years.

All of them are great, and you can pick one based on your group’s interests. You can pick a combo tour with Alcatraz, a sunset cruise, a brunch cruise, a dinner cruise, or just a day sightseeing cruise.

Golden Gate Bridge Views from San Francisco Boat tours and Bay Cruise
Golden Gate Bridge Views from San Francisco Bay Cruise

1. San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise

⭐ Ratings: 5 / 5 | Duration: 1.5 hours | Book Now

Taking a San Francisco Bay Cruise at sunset on a catamaran boat is one of the best boat tours in San Francisco and my personal favorite.

This cruise is on a stylish 55 or 65 feet catamaran boat known for its smooth gliding on ocean waters.

San Francisco bay cruise on a catamaran boat is one of the best San Francisco boat tours
Catamaran boat tour in San Francisco Bay

The 1.5 hour long cruise sails at twilight from Pier 39 near the Sea Lions dock. The sea lions are hard to miss here; they are so loud!

The cruise takes you along the picturesque San Francisco Bay, and you can see the city skyline slowly lighting up. You will see several landmarks in the distance, such as Telegraph Hill, Aquatic Pier, and Ghirardelli Square.

Pier39 and San Francisco skyline view from Cruise
Pier 39 and San Francisco skyline view from Cruise

The soft hues of the setting sun cast a warm glow on the city’s skyline, creating a breathtaking backdrop for the journey.

The cruise passes iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, giving you plenty of photo opportunities with sunset tones illuminating the backdrop.

This sunset cruise in San Francisco is especially great for couples looking for a romantic evening. My husband and I like to sit on the net in the front and admire the sunset hues.

I recommend taking the Sunset Bay cruise on the first day in the city to feel excited about your San Francisco trip or the last evening of your trip as a perfect ending to a great visit!

This was an INCREDIBLE experience… the crew was so friendly, fun and accommodating and it was the perfect way to celebrate our first evening in San Francisco! Such beautiful views, fun atmosphere. I would do this trip 50 times over again!!!

Julia – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • Departs from Pier 39.
  • Departure times around sunset may vary depending on the season.
  • Includes one complimentary drink (alcoholic/non-alcoholic offered).
  • More drinks and snacks are available to purchase onboard.
  • The cruise goes under the Golden Gate Bridge and near Alcatraz Island.
  • Manual Wheelchair and stroller accessible.
  • Great for couples, special occasions, solo travelers, friends group

Check rates and availability for San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise

2. San Francisco Bay Sailing Cruise

⭐ Ratings: 5 / 5 | Duration: 1.5 hours | Book Now

This is a great sailing cruise on the San Francisco Bay on a stylish Catamaran Boat, typically 55 or 65 feet long, and very smooth gliders on ocean waters.

Catamaran Boat in San Francisco Harbor

Enjoy a 1.5-hour sailing experience with epic views of the San Francisco skyline and San Francisco Bay. The cruise goes under the Golden Gate Bridge and near Alcatraz Island for excellent photo ops.

This is the same cruise as the Sunset Catamaran Bay Cruise above, except this is during the day and does not include a complimentary drink.

This is a great family-friendly cruise; kids will love sitting on the net in front of the boat! My kids, when little, used to think they would be able to catch fish in those nets!

One of the favorite things we did in San Francisco! Captain and crew were awesome, super friendly and genuine. Sailing the bay was a nice break from walking all over and the views from the water were beautiful.

Benjamin – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • Departs from Pier 39.
  • Departure times are in the afternoon.
  • Drinks and snacks are available to purchase onboard.
  • The cruise goes under the Golden Gate Bridge and near Alcatraz Island.
  • Manual Wheelchair and stroller accessible.
  • Great for families, couples, solo travelers, friends group

Check rates and availability for San Francisco Bay Sailing Cruise

3. Alcatraz Island with San Francisco Bay Cruise

⭐ Ratings: 4 / 5 | Duration: 2 to 4 hours | Book Now

Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island are the two most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco.

This combo tour is my top pick for visitors to San Francisco who want to see Alcatraz, as it combines both Alcatraz Island and Bay Cruise!

San Francisco Bay sightseeing cruise
San Francisco Bay sightseeing cruise

This is my favorite tour to take visiting friends and family who wish to see the famous Alcatraz Island, and I also get to show off our beautiful San Francisco Bay views!

The cruise departs from Pier 33, near Pier 39, which is easy to get to using Uber or public transport.

As your cruise departs, you will see epic views of Pier 39 and sea lions, Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront, Aquatic Park and Pier, and the San Francisco skyline, including the Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.

Alcatraz Island in San Francisco
Alcatraz Island

The cruise goes up to and under the Golden Gate Bridge, a unique experience and a great photo opportunity.

You will disembark at Alcatraz Island, where you can listen to the free audio tour as you explore the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary and Prison grounds.

You can tour Alcatraz Island at your own pace and then board any return ferry to Pier 33, which is included in this tour. The return ferry usually arrives every 30 minutes.

Note: These are two separate tours – one to Alcatraz Island and the other is a San Francisco Bay Tour.

My husband and I really enjoyed our ferry ride and time on Alcatraz! Great that you stay as long as needed and take the next ferry. Ranger info was very helpful and the audio tour very informative..

Charles – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • Departs from Pier 33.
  • Several departure times each day.
  • Includes Round trip ferry to Alcatraz Island.
  • Includes admission fee to Alcatraz Island ($45 value).
  • The cruise goes under the Golden Gate Bridge and has scenic Bay Views.
  • Wheelchair and stroller accessible.
  • Kids 4 years and younger are free.

Check rates and availability for Alcatraz Island with San Francisco Bay Cruise

4. One-hour San Francisco Bay Cruise

⭐ Ratings: 4.5 / 5 | Duration: 1 hour | Book Now

Cruise boat going under the Golden Gate Bridge
Cruise boat going under the Golden Gate Bridge

This compact one-hour San Francisco Bay Cruise is ideal for anyone with limited time in the city.

The cruise departs from Pier 41 (next to Pier 39) and takes you on a scenic boat ride to and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Later, it circles Alcatraz Island to give you a peak at the Alcatraz grounds and prison buildings.

The boat is a double-decker boat and has enough room to move around. It also has a cafe where you can purchase drinks, coffee, and snacks. The lower level has an inside sitting area in case it is a windy day, and the upper deck has bench-style seating.

I usually recommend this cruise to family and friends who only have a day or two in San Francisco, as the cruise is quick and scenic and still has the same epic views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.

It was a wonderful time! Easy boarding, well thought out and informational tour. Dazzling views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the eastern edge of the city.

Stephanie – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • Departs from Pier 41.
  • Several departure times each day.
  • The cruise goes under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz Island, and has scenic Bay Views.
  • Wheelchair and stroller accessible.
  • Kids 4 years and younger are free.

Check rates and availability for One-hour San Francisco Bay Cruise

5. San Francisco Bay Premier Brunch Cruise

⭐ Ratings: 5 / 5 | Duration: 2 hours | Book Now

Experience a delightful weekend brunch cruise on San Francisco Bay. This is a great cruise to celebrate special occasions with family and friends or just a great way to spend a weekend morning in your San Francisco visit.

Indulge in a brunch buffet, unlimited mimosas, and sparkling champagne as you glide across the water.

Enjoy the lively onboard music as you savor your brunch and take in the sights.

Sail beneath the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, catch glimpses of Alcatraz Island and Angel Island, the towns of Sausalito and Tiburon, and admire the San Francisco skyline from the deck.

The price justifies the buffet and bottomless mimosas and a smooth ride. I definitely recommend this to anyone visiting San Francisco. You get a close up to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island. It was very classy with piano playing and the food was very good!! The waitresses were very attentive and always made sure your glass was full!

MArisol – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • Includes Brunch Buffet with coffee/tea
  • Complimentary mimosas and champagne
  • Live Music
  • Departs from Pier 3 near the Ferry Building on Embarcadero.
  • Available on weekend mornings (Saturday, Sunday, and select Fridays)
  • Wheelchair accessible.

Check rates and availability for San Francisco Bay Premier Brunch Cruise

Cruise Boats and sail boats in San Francisco Bay with Bay Bridge in the backdrop

6. San Francisco Premier Dinner Dance Cruise

⭐ Ratings: 4 / 5 | Duration: 3 hours | Book Now

Enjoy a delightful evening on the San Francisco Bay with a dinner cruise. Great way to celebrate or just have a great time with friends or family with gourmet dinner, dancing, and epic views of the San Francisco Bay.

Indulge in a delectable 3-course gourmet meal prepared onboard using fresh, local ingredients. This is not a buffet-style dinner, but plated for you and served at your table.

There are menu upgrade options and alcoholic drinks and cocktails are available to purchase.

After dinner, dance to the tunes of the DJ or step out onto the exterior deck to marvel at the nighttime views of Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city skyline.

The Dinner cruise was amazing. From the food to the DJ and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

Tyrone – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • 3-course plated gourmet dinner prepared on board with fresh local ingredients.
  • Alcoholic drinks are available for purchase.
  • Live Music and dance floor.
  • Departs from Pier 3 near the Ferry Building on Embarcadero.
  • Available on weekends and select weekdays.
  • Wheelchair accessible.

Check rates and availability for San Francisco Premier Dinner Dance Cruise

7. Private Sailboat Charter in San Francisco Bay

⭐ Ratings: 5 / 5 | Duration: 2 hours | Book Now

Would you like a less crowded SF Bay cruise experience with just your group? Then this private sailboat charter tour is for you!

Sailboat cruise in San Francisco bay
Sailboat cruise in San Francisco bay

This highly-rated tour comes with a sailboat and an experienced captain to steer the boat as per your itinerary. This tour is great for a group of family and friends as the tour allows 6 people for a flat rate.

Sail past the Fisherman’s Wharf, Under the Golden Gate Bridge, near the towns of Sausalito and Tiburon, and around Alcatraz and Angel Islands. You can customize your sailing itinerary and which places you want to pass by along the bay.

The captain will provide a picture of your group with the boat as a souvenir!

Loved every minute of our 2 hour private sail on San Francisco Bay with Captain John on his beautiful boat. What an experience! Well worth what we paid for a private sail. The weather was glorious and Captain John was proficient, professional and a wealth of knowledge re the San Francisco area. We sailed over to Sausalito and back. Highly recommend this tour. Thank you Captain John for making possible a beautiful family experience we will cherish always.

Catanach – (See more reviews)

Additional Info:

  • Private sailboat with a skilled captain just for your group.
  • Departs from near Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Several departure times each day.
  • You can customize your sailing itinerary.
  • Not Wheelchair accessible.
  • Kids 4 years and younger are not allowed.

Check rates and availability for Private Sailboat Charter in San Francisco Bay

Pier 39 harbor in San Francisco
Pier 39 Harbor in San Francisco

Tips for taking a boat ride in San Francisco

Be prepared for your boat ride on the Bay, and you will have a great time! Below are some tips to help you prepare for your cruise:

  • Even in summer, have a light jacket with you as the winds can be very strong in the bay. I even carry my beanie cap! For sunset cruises, dress warmly, as it can get cold in the evenings.
  • Closed-toe shoes like sneakers are recommended. Flip flops are not a good idea as they can fall in the water, especially on catamaran boats.
  • Ladies, keeping a hair scrunchie is a good idea! I once forgot and my hair was flying everywhere and got super tangled in the end.
  • If you are prone to motion sickness, keep some motion sickness medicine or a sea-sick wristband in case of rough waters.
  • Carry sunscreen and a reusable water bottle with you if your bay cruise is during the afternoon, as it can be sunny.
  • Try to reach 30 minutes before the check-in time listed in your reservation.
  • You can take a rideshare like Uber to reach the departure, Pier.
  • After the boat ride, spend some time walking along the Embarcadero from your pier to experience the waterfront.
  • And most important, have a camera or just use your phone (like me) for some great pics from your boat ride with the Golden Gate Bridge in the backdrop!

FAQs about boat tours in San Francisco

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about taking a San Francisco boat tour:

Which season is best for taking a boat tour in San Francisco?

Ideally, Fall is the best season for a bay cruise in San Francisco as the weather is warmer and the winds are fewer.

Summer is also good due to the longer days, but it can be windy by the bay. This is also the most crowded season for boat rides.

Winter can be rainy, and some of these cruises do not operate in the winter except during the holiday season.

Spring season is a wild card each year and depends on how rainy the season will be.

How long is the Bay Cruise in San Francisco?

The length of the cruise varies based on the type of cruise and can be anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. Sightseeing cruises are typically 1 to 1.5 hours long, while cruises with meals can be two to three hours in duration.

How much does a San Francisco Bay Cruise cost?

The cost of a San Francisco boat tour varies anywhere between $40 to $200 depending on the type of the boat and what the cruise offers. Simple 1-hour sightseeing cruises are cheaper, but cruises with meals like brunch or dinner are more expensive. Private boat charters can be up to $600-800.

Aquatic Park near Fisherman's Wharf
San Francisco Ghirardelli Square and Aquatic Park seen from boat tour

Where to stay in San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf area is a great place for first-time visitors to stay in San Franciso. It is within walking distance of most tourist attractions like Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, Lombard Street, Cable Car, and more.

From Fisherman’s Wharf, you can walk to Pier 39 and 41, from which most of the cruises in this list depart. For cruises that depart from Piers 3 and 33, you can reach them by a short Uber ride.

Hotel Fairmont Heritage Place: A luxury hotel in Ghirardelli Square with stunning ocean views.

San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf:: A mid-range hotel within walking distance of Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39.

Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf: A conveniently located mid-range hotel in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf.

More San Francisco activities for your trip

San Francisco has a lot of iconic landmarks and attractions that should not be missed while visiting San Francisco. You will see some of these sights from the boat ride, but make sure to visit them up close as well.

Golden Gate Bridge: One of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks, offering breathtaking views and a great spot for photography. You can explore it by walking or biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Golden Gate Bridge should be on your itinerary no matter how many days you have in San Francisco.

Alcatraz Island: A popular attraction known for its historic prison, offering guided tours that provide insight into the island’s intriguing past.

Fisherman’s Wharf: A lively waterfront filled with seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, street performers, and the famous Pier 39, known for its sea lions.

Chinatown: One of the largest Chinatowns in the US, featuring vibrant streets, authentic cuisine, unique shops, and cultural landmarks.

Cable Cars: A charming and historic mode of transportation, cable cars offer an enjoyable ride through the city’s hilly streets.

Golden Gate Park: A vast urban park offering various attractions, including the Japanese Tea Garden, California Academy of Sciences, and the Conservatory of Flowers.

Haight-Ashbury: Known as the birthplace of the hippie counterculture, this neighborhood offers a bohemian atmosphere and plenty of things to do in Haight Ashbury, like vintage shops, colorful murals, and eclectic cafes.

Alamo Square and The Painted Ladies: A row of Victorian houses which are famous for their colorful facades, providing a picturesque view of classic San Francisco architecture. Alamo Square is the urban park from where you can admire them.

If you are staying for a few days or 1 week in San Francisco, you should plan to explore some of these landmarks and neighborhoods.

Alternatively, if you are short on time and only have one or two days in San Francisco, I highly recommend taking a San Francisco city tour, as it can cover a lot more than you can explore on your own.

➡ Check rates and availability for this highly-rated small group tour which includes San Francisco, Muir Woods, and Sausalito with an option to add Alcatraz Island visit.

Sea Lions at Pier 39
Sea Lions at Pier 39

Final Takeaways: Best San Francisco Bay Cruises for your visit

No visit to San Francisco is complete without taking a boat cruise in the San Francisco Bay!

I hope you are able to find a boat tour from this list that meets your needs and enjoys spectacular views of San Francisco Bay and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

If you can’t decide, I recommend going with San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise. The city looks amazing at sunset from this luxury catamaran boat.

Below is a summary of the top 7 San Franciso water tours:

  1. San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise – Best 1.5-hour sunset tour on a catamaran boat
  2. San Francisco Bay Sailing Cruise – 1.5-hour Day tour on a catamaran sailboat
  3. Alcatraz with San Francisco Bay Cruise – 2 to 4 hours Combo tour of Bay Cruise and visit to Alcatraz.
  4. One-hour San Francisco Bay Cruise – 1-hour budget-friendly scenic bay cruise
  5. San Francisco Premier Brunch Cruise – 2-hour brunch cruise (weekends only)
  6. San Francisco Premier Dinner Dance Cruise – 3-hour dinner and dance cruise
  7. 2 Hours Private Sailboat Charter in San Francisco Bay – Private sailboat tour for your group of up to 6 people.

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