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.  Choosing the right company and service can be difficult.  Thus, we have come up with a comparison post to help you make your choice.  We have also made note of which of our self-guided tours are good companions to a particular choice.

Each of the cruises and tours listed below have a cost.  Some 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.

Alcatraz Cruises

Speed Boats

Sail Boats

Combo Packages and Discounts

Tourist Cruises

Water Taxis

Fishing Boat Tours

Dinner Cruises


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 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 operate a speedboat called the Rocket Boat and an Escape from Alcatraz tour which details the history of the island. In addition, 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
    • $28 – Adult | $23 – Senior | $23 for Youth | $18 – Child
    • 8-12 Tours a Day from 10:45 AM to 7 PM
    • Purchase tickets here

Blue & Gold Fleet is included for free with the purchase of the CityPass or the Explorer Pass – both are tourist attraction discount passes.

 


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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 the San Francisco Go Card.   Different tour lengths and routes are available through the historic Red and White fleet.  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. Learn about the area before you take a fun and educational cruise out on the San Francisco Bay!

 

 

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 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

Tour Hours

  • 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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As we mentioned above, most San Francisco tourist boats sail by or around Alcatraz Island, but only one company, Alcatraz Cruises, is permitted by the National Park Service to dock there.  Before you purchase tickets though, please note that Alcatraz Cruises does offer package deals with area bus tour companies, so you might save some money going this route.  Tickets to Alcatraz Island often sell out well in advance and these bus companies may be your only option.

 


ALCATRAZ CRUISES

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

 

 

Alcatraz Cruises has a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and has won many Traveler’s Choice Awards. Considering the history behind this location, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people would be interested in visiting the famed island prison. Thankfully, the cruise is not only affordable, but also receives high ratings from its passengers.

Less than one percent of the 30,000+ reviews for this service are negative. Many complaints actually center around the popularity of the boat tour, as it can be difficult to secure tickets. If you want to visit Alcatraz, make sure to book your trip as early as possible.

Ticket Prices (purchase tickets here)

Daily Tour of Alcatraz (15 Tours from 8:45 AM to 3:50 PM)

  • $33 for Adults
  • $31.25 for Seniors
  • $20.50 for Children

Behind the Scenes Tour (2 Tours Daily at 4:20 PM and 4:50 PM)

  • $85 for Adults
  • $81 for Teens
  • $79.25 for Seniors

 


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  • San Francisco Bay Boat Cruises — These tours are a bit more luxurious for a small increase in price. They specialize in wine tasting tours, including one of their most popular tours — the “Daytime Wine Therapy” cruise. Boats come with a heated cabin.
  • Bay Voyager — Offers 3 guided tours which range in length from 90 minutes to 3 hours. The boat seats 12 people, so the experience is quite intimate. However, it’s also no-frills, so don’t expect food, drinks, or bathrooms on board.

 

 

HOP-ON, HOP-OFF BOAT TOURS

There are 2 different type of hop-on, hop-off boat 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 9am and 5pm. There is no guided commentary that accompanies the ferry rides to Sausalito, Tiburon, or Angel Island. However, they do offer great views of the area for a very affordable price. 

  • 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. Whether you’re just looking for easy transportation around the bay area or you want to discover some of its greatest sites from a boat, the Tideline Water Taxi service is a highly rated option that allows you the freedom to get on and off whenever you wish.

Ticket Prices

  • Blue & Gold Fleet – From San Francisco: Ferry Service to Sausalito or Tiburon
  • Bay Lights Cruise
    • $45 per passenger
    • 60 minute cruise
  • Golden Gate Sunset Cruise
    • $49 per passenger
    • 60 minute cruise
  • San Francisco Giants Cruise
    • $35 per passenger
    • 35 minute trip
  • McCovey Cove Floaters Club
    • $35 per passenger
    • 3 hour trip
    • Try to catch Home Run balls that land in the cove!

Tour Hours

  • Bay Lights Cruise
    • Saturdays at 8 PM departing from Pier 1.5
    • Saturdays 9 PM departing from Jack London Square
  • Golden Gate Sunset Cruise
    • Fridays in June–July
    • Departs from Sausalito at 7:45 PM
    • Departs from Tiburon at 8 PM
  • San Francisco Giants Cruise
    • Service dates and hours depend on when the baseball games begin and end
    • Please check their calendar for more information
  • McCovey Cove Floaters Club
    • Service dates and hours depend on when the baseball games begin and end
    • Please check their calendar for more information

 


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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 tour 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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SAIL BOAT TOURS

Each of the following sailboats are 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.

 


CAPTAIN KIRK’S SAN FRANCISCO SAILING

This sailboat company has 3 different yachts which range in size from 1-6 passengers to 6-24 passengers. The captains of these yachts have over 30 years of experience, so you can rest assured that your sailing experience will be absolutely wonderful. Captain Kirk’s is a great option for smaller groups, as their sailing charters are typically a lot more affordable than others on this list. They also offer sailing lessons for anyone who wishes to learn how to traverse the waters in style.

Just like Adventure Cat, Captain Kirk’s San Francisco Sailing also has a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor. You won’t find many passengers who have had a bad experience with this sailing company! The one negative review on the site was due to a scheduling conflict that could not be avoided, but this is clearly not the typical ordeal. Most reviewers report that the crew is both experienced and friendly, providing excellent service.

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
  • Bay Wolf (24 passengers max)
    • Up to 6 Passengers
      • $190 per hour on Weekdays
      • $225 per hour on Weekends
    • Up to 9 Passengers
      • $300 per hour on Weekdays
      • $325 per hour on Weekends
    • Up to 24 Passengers
      • $400 per hour on Weekdays and Weekends

 

  • Osprey (24 passengers max)
    • Up to 9 Passengers
      • $300 per hour on Weekdays
      • $325 per hour on Weekends
    • Up to 24 Passengers
      • $400 per hour on Weekdays and Weekends

 

Food and Drink is $20 per person. Feel free to bring your own wine if you wish.

 


Sailing San Francisco

This sailing company provides excursions on their top of the line Catalina 350. This sailboat is much smaller than many other options on this list, making it perfect for more personal trips. This vessel is equipped and prepared to handle up to six passengers.

In addition to sailboat charters, Sailing San Francisco also offers sailing lessons. Whether you want to learn how to sail or you want to take your family on a private charter around the bay, this is an excellent option.

This sailboat company has earned a 5-star rating on both TripAdvisor and Yelp. Most reviews suggest that Sailing San Francisco provides stellar service at all times. The only negative reviews that have been posted suggest that the captain can sometimes be unfriendly, but there are so few of these comments that they probably aren’t accurate. Some have said that this is a great alternative to the typical boat tour, as it allows for a more personal experience out on the San Francisco Bay.

Ticket Price

  • $350 for 2 hours
    • $20 off if you pay with cash
  • $480 for 3 hours
    • $30 off if you pay with cash
  • $600 for 4 hours
    • $40 off if you pay with cash

 


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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.

If you’re considering a lunch or brunch cruise, consider burning some of those calories off with our fun and educational tour of Market Street! Hornblower Cruises operates out of Pier 3, which is fairly close to the starting point of this walking tour. If you want to learn about the history of the city by the bay after taking a dining cruise out on the water, this is an excellent opportunity to save some money and experience a lot of San Francisco at the same time.

 

 

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!

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:

 


CITY SIGHTSEEING 

City Sightseeing also offers 2 different bus/boat combo deals for those looking to save on touring around San Francisco by both land and sea. The first is the Bus & Boat Adventure (1 Day Pass), which gives you 24 hour access to their hop-on, hop-off bus service in the city, as well as their San Francisco Bay Cruise. Both are guided and will take you to many different popular attractions. 

Bus & Boat Adventure (1 Day Pass) 

Bus & Boat Adventure (Downtown Tour) 


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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