One of the best ways to see San Francisco Bay at the most intimate level is to take a bay cruise. Bay cruises allow visitors to San Francisco to see the city in a completely different way than when they are in it. Once out on the open waters passengers can get 360 views of San Francisco, see exactly how both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges connect into the city, get up close and personal views of Alcatraz and see a variety of marine life as well as other islands out in the bay. The photo opportunities that come from these cruises are outstanding. The cruises are a relaxing experience and will leave you feeling calm and relaxed afterward.
There are a variety of bay cruises to choose from when exploring San Francisco. Two main cruise operators offer tour services, they are the Red and White Fleet (out of Pier 43) and the Blue and Gold Fleet (out of Pier 41). It is obvious to any observer which boat belongs to which cruise company as they are painted either blue and gold or red and white (with red splash waves painted on the side). Both companies are safe, operate with the highest level of professionalism and have long histories dating up to 70 years in offering bay cruises. The one main difference between the operators is that the Blue and Gold Fleet offers more point to point ferry services between Pier 41 (i.e. to Tiburon and Angel Island) while the Red and White Fleet is primarily a cruise tour service that departs from the pier, sales around the bay and returns to the same pier. It should be noted neither of these cruise companies sail directly to Alcatraz. They will sail by it and get very close but will not actually land at the island. Alcatraz Cruises out of Pier 33 is the only ferry service from San Francisco to Alcatraz.
Red and White Fleet
The Red and White Fleet has been operating cruises on San Francisco Bay of over 70 years. Their main departure point is out of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf on Pier 43. They offer a variety of cruises. The two most popular cruises are the Golden Gate Cruise and the Bridge to Bridge Cruise.
The Golden Gate Cruise is a round trip 90 minute boat ride that departs the pier and passes by Alcatraz before heading out to the Golden Gate Bridge. The boat passes under the Golden Gate before turning around and heading back by way of passing outside of Sausalito. The cruise gives passengers amazing views of the bay, obviously the Golden Gate and some up close views of parts of San Francisco that may not be visited when staying by the Wharf such as the Marina and the Presidio. Headsets are given out and translated in over 12 languages to guide and inform passengers on the sights they are seeing.
The Bridge to Bridge cruise is similar to the Golden Gate Cruise in that it takes visitors out to the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridget. This is the heaviest travelled bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its double decker arrangement allows incoming traffic to San Francisco to travel above and outgoing travel to go below. It was this double deck configuration that was made famous in the 1989 San Francisco World Series Earthquake when one deck collapsed on to the other. This cruise will take passengers under this bridge and around Treasure Island. Views from this part of the cruise include AT&T Park where the San Francisco Giants play as well as the Ferry Building-a structure at the end of Market Street that has been a part of San Francisco’s history predating 1906. The cruise then continues out to the Golden Gate Bridge where like the Golden Gate Cruise it passes under the bridge and returns back to pier 43.
Blue And Gold Fleet
The Blue and Gold Fleet operates out of Pier 41 on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf adjacent to Pier 39. The Blue and Gold Fleet offers a little more diverse of a cruise experience than the Red and White Fleet. In addition to bay tours they also offer a variety of ferry expeditions to Tiburon, Sausalito and Angel Island as well as the Rocket Boat Experience from May to October.
Types of Bay Cruises
Bay Cruises-The Bay Cruises are similar to Red and White’s Fleet however Blue and Gold Fleet only offers one. This tour of the bay takes passengers along San Francisco’s waterfront, past the Marina and Presidio and out to the Golden Gate Bridge where the boat sales under the bridge and returns past Sausalito and arrives back at Pier 43.
Escape From The Rock-Escape From the Rock is a 90 minute cruse that goes out to the Golden Gate Bridge and returns to circle Alcatraz Island giving passengers detailed narratives of some of the crazier stories to come from Alcatraz-including harrowing escape tales. This cruise should not be confused as a journey to Alcatraz as the boat never docks on the island. Those cruises depart from San Francisco’s Pier 33.
Rock and Roll Cruise The Blue and Gold Fleet operates an alternative cruise service called the Rock and Roll Cruise. This is on board a large speed boat that is painted red with a detailed orange flame decaled on the side. This cruise accelerates through San Francisco Bay at speeds of up to 45 mph giving passengers a total thrill and rush. While cruising along the San Francisco water front guides point out the various sights and interact with the passengers by instructing them to hold on or raise their arms to enjoy the full flying affect of this journey. Against this backdrop of water, the city and speed a constant sound track of some rock and roll’s biggest classics is played from speakers on the boat. The cruise lasts 30 minutes. This cruise is great for teens and or travelers looking for a “thrill” rather than a slow paced sail that takes in the sights. This cruise is operated only May through October.
Independent Boat operators/Fishing Boats
Visitors to Fisherman’s Wharf looking to take an alternative trip on San Francisco Bay or who are up for some adventure should check out a strip that is on Jefferson Street between the restaurants of Castagnolas and Tarantinos. It is here that hundreds of small fishing vessels that comprise “Fisherman’s Wharf” are docked. It is also here that many of the owners of these boats offer for around $15 to take visitors on a bay cruise. These boats are a lot smaller than the bigger ones found with the Blue and Gold/Red and White Fleets. But the experience is usually priceless. You set sale with an older captain who has been fishing the waters off the bay for decades and they will point out in matter of fact matter all the sights. These boats are affected a little more by the waves than the bigger ones. However one can’t say these types of cruises are “tourist traps” as they are so authentically run by the same people who drive these same boats all over the bay and open ocean in hunt of the perfect catch.