Cruising San Francisco Bay

Over the years, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco has gotten cluttered with souvenir shops, street performers and throngs of tourists. Sadly, I think that it long ago lost much of its maritime charm and historic appeal. So why do Mr. TWS and I still insist on bringing our out-of-town visitors down to the wharf?

San Francisco Skyline from Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco Skyline from Fisherman’s Wharf

Experience Cruising San Francisco Bay

Gull on Blue and Gold Boat

Seagull on Blue and Gold Fleet Tour Boat

This seagull is riding atop a tour boat operated by the Blue & Gold Fleet that sails from Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. Of several tour options that are available, we like to take the 60 minute Bay Cruise Adventure. It’s definitely a touristy thing to do, but a worthwhile one that offers great views of the city and perspectives of the Golden Gate Bridge that you can’t get any other way. Although there is also inside seating, we always sit outside on the upper level or stand upfront on the bow for the best photo opportunities.

Palace of Fine Arts

Fort Mason and the Palace of Fine Arts

The red-roofed buildings of Fort Mason can be seen near the waterfront on the left. To the right is the rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts, a structure built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition that commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal.

The Golden Gate Bridge never fails to impress me no matter how many times I’ve crossed it on foot or by car, or passed beneath it on this tour.

Golden Gate Bridge

Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Bridge

The Marin Headlands in the background are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There are wonderful hiking trails, beaches, and panoramic views that can be seen from the scenic road you can drive to the top.

Boats on San Francisco Bay

Golden Gate Bridge

Under the Golden Gate Bridge

Under the Golden Gate Bridge

View of San Francisco Skyline

Heading Back

As you can see, we chose a calm, sunny day to be cruising San Francisco Bay and were joined by many sailboats. But don’t be deterred if their are threatening skies or rough waves. In my opinion, that can make the cruise can be particularly exciting.

Sailboats on San Francisco Bay

Sailboats on San Francisco Bay

The boat tour takes you up close and around Alcatraz, the infamous prison.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay

After the cruise, take a few minutes to watch these sea lions as they loll around the docks of Pier 39’s west marina.

"Sea lions at Pier 39 on San Francisco Bay"

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Cute, eh?

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71 thoughts on “Cruising San Francisco Bay

  1. Steve

    Wait a minute…you found a calm sunny day? In San Francisco? I’m not sure that I believe that part of the story. I’d love to get out on the water in the Bay area, but it always seems that there’s so much to do. Then again, I still like visiting Fisherman’s Wharf. I guess not knowing it when it was less-touristy makes a big difference.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Pretty lucky, weren’t we? Maybe that’s it, Steve. When I first visited Fisherman’s Wharf, it was still a major tourist spot, but still seemed authentic. Also, I think there are times that are better than others to go. It seems that I’ve been there lately on holidays or busy weekends.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Glad you like that pic, Debbie. I liked the sailboat in the photo, too. Everyone is looking for something different when they visit a place, so I don’t mean to project my opinions on everyone. But Fisherman’s Wharf seems to be over-commercialized to me.

  2. Lisa

    Photos of San Francisco always make me want to go there so badly! The kids and I have never been (apart from the airport) and we really have to get there soon. The boat tour sounds amazing but I could easily sell it to the kids just by showing them the photo of the sea lions – so cute!!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Absolutely! Click on the link in the article for more info. Hey, do you like Irish Coffee? While at the wharf, check out the Buena Vista — the place where Irish Coffee was first introduced in the U.S. 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      Oh, you should go back there now. I’ve seen more of them in the past, but there was still quite a few there — as you can see.

    1. Cathy Post author

      One of these days, I’m going to try one of the other tour options. But the 60 minute cruise is perfect, especially for first time visitors.

  3. eileen ludwig

    Many years ago, I was fortunate to be visiting a friend in Walnut Creek who had friends of her parents who had a sailboat. We sailed the Bay and they let me take the wheel – it was so exciting. Another visit there before the seals took over the Marina there was a gentleman that took people sailing from the docks. I joined some strangers and went. He was very generous letting me at the wheel once he knew I was a sailor. Thanks for bringing back those joyous memories.

  4. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    These are beautiful shots especially of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve never see it in person without the fog on top of it even in July. You had such a great day! This looks like a wonderful tour and I would definitely look into it next time. I’ve always loved watching and listening to those seals =)

    1. Cathy Post author

      The GGB is a very popular place for runners (and walkers.) I don’t think that people can get close enough to touch the sea lions at the marina, but that’s a good question.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I know that you can visit inside Alcatraz, but don’t know about spending the night there. I’m going to check that out.

    1. Cathy Post author

      This is definitely one of the cool tourist experiences. It’s more the atmosphere around Fisherman’s Wharf that’s less cool, in my opinion.

  5. Leigh

    I always think it’s a lot of fun to see a city from another perspective. I haven’t done a San Francisco tour but have done a NYC one & loved it. Great photos Cathy.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Boat tours can be great. One of the best I’ve ever taken was in Chicago – the Architecture Boat Tour on the Chicago River. And of course, I recently blogged about my boat trip on the Seine where I actually fell asleep! 🙂

  6. Andrew Graeme Gould

    This series of shots with its bayside landmarks brings back a lot of memories for me from two visits to San Francisco, Cathy. We never went on out on the bay in a boat though, but you’ve now given me the idea to do that next time!

  7. Jenna

    I’ve never done a boat tour around San Francisco, but I think I will do this now based on your experiences. I agree that you can never tire of seeing the Golden Gate (or views of the city). Such a beautiful place. And even though the wharf is so touristy, we always take out-of-town visitors there, too, because of the sea lions and views of the water.

    1. Cathy Post author

      There’s plenty of touristy things to do in San Francisco and I love doing them, too. I just wish there weren’t so many others with the same idea sometimes. 🙂

  8. Melinda Eliza

    Those sea lions really know how to live! 🙂
    I’ve always wanted to visit the bay area. I’ve added a cruise of the bay to the list based on your experience.
    All the best!
    Melinda Eliza

  9. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    I’ve never thought of taking a short boat tour of the SF Bay like this – seems like a great way to take some great photos. My photos of the Golden Gate Bridge are always from a bizarre perspective. 😛

  10. Carol

    You’ve sold me on it! I’ve been once before and while the warf wasn’t the highlight of my tours (I have a particular fondness for the street cars) it was amazing. Your pictures don’t lie – the views are spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks, Carol! Yeah, the wharf has gotten a bit out of control, but still worth a visit, especially to get on the tour boat.

  11. Jeremy Branham

    I have to admit I’ve never take a cruise through San Francisco. However, I love the idea of exploring the city. I am learning that there is so much to see and do right where I live and I love exploring my backyard.

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