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. 

 

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. 

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

This is one of the largest boat tour companies in San Francisco. This fleet operates out of Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.  

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

 

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


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

They have a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews) with very few negative reviews.

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

Golden Gate Bay Cruise

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

Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise

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

California Sunset Cruise

This outing turns into the California Twilight Cruise during the winter months as a result of changing daylight hours.

California Twilight Cruise

This is essentially the same as the Sunset Cruise, but this outing takes place after dark due to the sun going down earlier, giving you an opportunity to see the city lights after the sun goes down.

 


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ALCATRAZ CRUISES

Just about every cruise listed on this page either 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, Alcatraz Cruises 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 types of water taxi rides available in the San Francisco Bay. The first is a typical 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. 


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.

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 one of the most popular 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. 

They have earned a 5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor. Very few passengers have reported having any issues with this company.


Ticket Prices

Adventure Cat Bay Sail

  • $45 for Adults
  • $25 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

San Francisco Brunch Cruise

  • $114 per person
  • Boards at 11 AM
  • Cruises from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM

San Francisco Dinner Cruise

  • $141 per person
  • Boards at 6:30 PM
  • Cruises from 7 PM – 9:30 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! 

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. 

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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About the author

Manager | San Francisco

Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city.

A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.