Which San Francisco Boat Tour or Cruise is Best?

This post compares and reviews the many different San Francisco Bay cruises, boat tours and dinner cruises available to you to help you decide which is best for you. Most of the choices may be included as part of the San Francisco City Pass or Go San Francisco Card. Read our guide on whether a tourist discount pass is a good fit for you.

 

Blue and Gold Fleet San Francisco Boat

 


TOURIST CRUISES

Most of these tourist cruises take guests under the Golden Gate Bridge and then circle around Alcatraz, though some include longer trips with more sites. It’s important to note, however, that though many boats cruise by and discuss Alcatraz, only one company — Alcatraz Cruises — is allowed to drop guests off on the island. 


BLUE AND GOLD FLEET

This is one of the largest boat tour companies in San Francisco. They also operate a speedboat called the Rocket Boat and an Escape from Alcatraz tour which details the history of the island. Additionally, there is also a traditional cruise of the San Francisco Bay.  

Tickets are included for free with the purchase of either the San Francisco City Pass or the San Francisco Go Card. Read our post to compare the different tourist discount passes.  

They offer audio tours in 9 languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, German & Taiwanese, but you need to bring your own Wi-Fi enabled device to access the audio tour.

 

Blue and Gold Fleet San Francisco Boat

 

This fleet operates out of Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. We provide a walking tour of Fisherman’s Wharf which will help you become familiar before heading out on the water. This would be an excellent opportunity to combine our walking tour with a cruise.

Blue & Gold Fleet has a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor and a 4.6 out of 5-star rating on Get Your Guide (see the reviews). Very few people have taken issue with their service.

Most of the negative reviews are focused on one-time events that could not have been foreseen or avoided. The majority of reviews are positive, taking note of their affordable ticket prices and high-quality tours. This is definitely one of the better boat tours in the bay area.  


Ticket Prices

SF Bay Cruise Adventure

  • $29 – Adult | $23 – Senior | $22 for Youth | $18 – Child
  • 8-12 Tours a Day from 10:45 AM to 7 PM
  • Purchase tickets here

Escape from Alcatraz 

Blue & Gold Fleet is included for free with the purchase of the CityPass, the MegaPass, and the Explorer Pass – all three are tourist attraction discount passes.

 


RED AND WHITE FLEET

This company travels around Alcatraz and goes under the Golden Gate Bridge. There are also tours from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge, as well as a sunset cruise that takes you all around the bay area.  

Tickets are included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from the San Francisco Go Card

All tours and cruises depart from Pier 43. This is also an excellent opportunity to combine a cruise with our Fisherman’s Wharf walking tour

 

 


Reviews of Red and White Fleet

Believe it or not, this boat tour company has an even better rating than Blue & Gold Fleet. They have a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews) with very few negative reviews. Most guests report a relaxing and enjoyable cruise experience. Most complaints centered around foggy trips, but it is impossible to control the weather. Overall, the Red and White fleet has a stellar rating and is considered one of the finest boat tour options in San Francisco.  

Ticket Prices

Tickets are included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from the San Francisco Go Card

Tickets are included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from the San Francisco Go Card


Hours of Operation

  • Golden Gate Bay Cruise
    • Summer Hours
      • 13 Tours Daily from 9:15 AM to 6:15 PM
    • Spring and Fall Hours
      • 10 Tours Daily from 10 AM to 5 PM
    • Winter Hours
      • 8 Tours Daily from 10 AM to 3:45 PM
  • Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise
    • Summer Hours
      • 4 Tours Daily from 12:30 PM to 5:45 PM
    • Spring and Fall Hours
      • 3 Tours Daily from 12:30 PM to 4:15 PM
    • Winter Hours
      • One Tour Daily at 12 PM
      • Additional Tour Thur-Mon at 4:15 PM
  • California Sunset Cruise
    • Summer Tour begins at 7 PM
    • Spring and Fall Tours begin at 6 PM
    • Winter Tour begins at 5:30 PM

 


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ALCATRAZ CRUISES

Just about every cruise listed on this page sail or cruise past Alcatraz Island. The option listed below is designed for a more close-up view of the island.

Escape from Alcatraz 

Blue & Gold Fleet is included for free with the purchase of the CityPass, the MegaPass, and the Explorer Pass – all three are tourist attraction discount passes.


For those set on visiting Alcatraz Island, this company is your only option. Tours are available in the mornings, afternoons and at night, and each includes a visit to the island. The night tour is the only one that is personally guided; the rest rely on an audio tour.

However, during the busy season, tickets for all tours can sell out weeks, if not months, in advance, but there are ways to get standby and last minute tickets.

Check out our post on visiting Alcatraz to learn more about how to get tickets and what to expect. 

 


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FERRIES AND WATER TAXIS

There are 2 different type of water taxi rides/tours available in the San Francisco Bay. The first is a typically ferry cruise run by Blue & Gold fleet and the second is a water taxi. Below we have listed both options to help you determine which works best for you. 


Blue & Gold Fleet Ferries 

In addition to their sightseeing cruises, Blue & Gold Fleet also offer ferry services between San Francisco and Sausalito, Tiburon, and Angel Island. Each route runs regularly between approximately 9 am and 5 pm.

There is no guided commentary, however, they do offer great views of the area for a very affordable price. 

From San Francisco: Ferry Service to Sausalito or Tiburon

From San Francisco to Angel Island 

  • Operates from 9 am – 5 pm
  • One Way – $9 per person 
  • Round Trip – $18 per person 
  • Purchase tickets here

Reviews of Blue & Gold Fleet 

Most people seem very happy with their experience using Blue & Gold Fleet’s ferry services (read the reviews). Despite the lack of commentary, guests write that they were very happy with the low cost and high quality of the experience. Many also describe it as very convenient, especially amongst those who were eager to avoid heavy traffic. 


Water Taxi 

The Water Taxi functions very much like a normal taxi; guests can book a ride either online or by phone, and the service can then drop guests at a number of different public or private ports around the Bay Area.

On the weekends they run the Bay in a Day loop, which stops near Sam’s Anchor Cafe in Tiburon, The Trident in Sausalito, Pier 1.5 or Hyde Street Pier near Fisherman’s Wharf and Jack London Square in East Bay.

Finally, they also run a special water taxi service for fans after Giant’s games, which is a great alternative to fighting the crowds and traffic!

If you are traveling out of Pier 1.5, you may be close enough to consider combining this service with our Market Street walking tour. This tour will take you on a historical trip down one of the most notable streets in San Francisco.

Tideline Water Taxi has a 4 ½ star rating on Yelp with very few negative reviews. Most of the reviews were positively glowing, some saying that this company has provided memories that will not soon be forgotten.

 


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SPEED BOATS

ROCKET BOAT (by Blue and Gold Fleet)

This 30-minute speedboat ride is always a hit with kids and adults! You’ll pass many popular sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz with classic rock playing in the background. Expect to get wet!

 

 

If you’re looking for a more exciting experience out on the San Francisco Bay, you can’t go wrong with the Rocket Boat. This is one of the fastest boats in the bay area, and it will take you on a speedy trip that you’ll never forget.

If the typical boat cruise doesn’t interest you, this cruise might do the trick. Discover all of San Francisco’s greatest landmarks at speeds of up to 51 miles per hour!

Reviews suggest that this is an excellent option for kids and families, as children absolutely love the thrill of the Rocket Boat. Despite the crazy maneuvers your captain may try to pull off, guests say that this is actually a very safe and fun cruise out on the water.

Avoid paying full price with the help of the San Francisco Go Card!

Ticket Prices

Tour Hours

  • Summer Hours (May – October)
    • 9 Tours a Day from 12:30 PM to 6:30 PM

Flying Tiger (6 passengers max)

  • $140 per hour on Weekdays
    • $165 per hour on Weekends Off-Season Hours

7 Tours Wed-Sun from 12:15 PM to 6 PM

 


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SAILBOAT TOURS

Each of the following sailboats is available to charter. Some of them are also available for other excursions.  One of the benefits of traveling on a sailboat is the potential to get closer to certain sites and wildlife, including sea lions and dolphins! However, unsurprisingly, these trips tend to be more expensive than standard cruises. With that in mind, it’s usually a good idea to charter a sailboat when you have several guests to bring with you.  Most of the sailing companies on this list sail to or from Pier 39.

 


ADVENTURE CAT SAILING CHARTERS

Adventure Cat is the most popular of the sailing companies. In addition to their typical charters, they also offer special combo excursions that include hikes, a visit to Alcatraz, and more. If you want to experience the San Francisco Bay from a sailboat, they offer daily sailing options at a more than fair rate. Whether you want a private charter or not, you can still enjoy yourself with this boat tour company.

 

 

When we said that Adventure Cat was popular, we weren’t lying. They have earned a 5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews). Very few passengers have reported having any issues with this company.

There is only one real complaint, and it was due to how crowded the boat had gotten on one particular sailing adventure. In order to avoid issues like this, make sure to call ahead and ask them which tour will be the least crowded. 


Ticket Prices

Adventure Cat Bay Sail

  • $40 for Adults
  • $20 for Children
  • Children under 5 sail for free
  • $5 discount for groups of 10 or more
    • Daily at 1 PM and 3 PM
    • Daily at 11 AM during Summer

Adventure Cat Sunset Sail

  • $55 for Adults and Children
  • $5 discount for groups of 10 or more

 


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DINNER CRUISES

Some of the popular cruises listed above such as Red and White Fleet and Blue and Gold Fleet also offer dinner cruises in addition to their wide variety of other cruises. The following cruise services are known primarily for their dining cruises. If you’re looking for a romantic dinner out on the San Francisco Bay, consider the following options.


HORNBLOWER CRUISES

This company offers four-course dinner cruises around the Bay Area. Alcohol is not included in the price of a ticket, but there is a cash bar on board. They also offer lunch and brunch cruises for a slightly lower rate.

 

 

Whether dining with a close partner or a business associate, Hornblower Cruises provides fantastic service at a decent price. This dining cruise company also provides private charters for corporate events and weddings.

Hornblower has earned a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on both TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews), indicating that they provide pretty good service.

Most negative reviews include complaints about the quality of the food, but this is an entirely subjective experience. Other passengers took issue with how crowded their boat was, which can be easily resolved with appropriate scheduling. Despite the negative comments, most passengers report that this service is absolutely excellent.

Ticket Prices

  • San Francisco Lunch Cruise
    • $63.50 per person
    • Boards at 11:30 AM
    • Cruises from 12 PM – 2 PM

 


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BUS/BOAT TOUR COMBO

One of the many benefits of purchasing the San Francisco Go Card or City Pass is the ability to pair together different tours and attractions at a discounted rate. Check out our post on choosing a tourist attraction discount pass to learn more! 


CITY SIGHTSEEING 

City Sightseeing also offers a bus/boat combo deals for those looking to save on touring around San Francisco by both land and sea, which gives you 24-hour access to their hop-on-hop-off bus service in the city.

Bus & Boat Adventure (1 Day Pass) 


BIG BUS ALCATRAZ COMBO

Big Bus offers an interesting package that combines a ticket to Alcatraz Island (operated by Alcatraz Cruises) with hop-on-hop-off bus service in San Francisco.  

NOTE: During the high tourist season, tickets to Alcatraz Island may be booked out a few weeks in advance.

Features:

  • 48 Hours of  hop-on/hop-off
  • 3 walking tours of Chinatown, North Beach, & Barbary Coast
  • Panoramic Night Tour
  • Sausalito Tour
  • Aquarium of the Bay admission
  • 1-hour bike rental (with 1-hour purchase)
  • Voucher for Players Arcade and Grill

Price:


TOWER TOURS

Alcatraz + Grand City Tour

This is an excellent opportunity to discover Alcatraz after going on a highly rated bus tour. Discover the bay area in style and experience this island prison at a discounted rate.

This is being offered as part of the Build Your Own Package from San Francisco Go Card, which allows you to save 20% on all tours included. All you have to do is select more than one attraction in order to start saving money! Feel free to check out our post about San Francisco Bus Tours to learn more about the Grand City Tour.

This boat tour package is offered through Tower Tours. They have a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor and are generally considered to be one of the better bus tour companies in the bay area. Many report that the Grand City Tour is both educational and entertaining. The Alcatraz tour is offered through Alcatraz Cruises, which is also a highly rated service. This combo package is perfect for anyone looking to spend a day discovering some of the greatest locations in San Francisco.

Ticket Prices

Tour Hours

  • Tours begin at 9 AM when available
  • Expect to spend 7 hours total on both tours

 


ADVENTURE CAT SAILBOAT

Sail and Jail: Alcatraz Island Tour Package

  • $85 for Adults and Children
  • No discounts for Children or Adults
    • Daily at 11 AM during Summer
    • Daily at 1 PM during Spring/Fall/Winter

 


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