The Best Bay Cruise in San Francisco


best bay cruise in sf



Bay Cruise in San Francisco




You can’t come to San Francisco and not experience a cruise around the bay.


Not only is there the iconic bridge. There are also sites such as Alcatraz Island, the home of the infamous prison.


And just the bay itself is a wonder to behold, and a cruise is a perfect way to take in the piers and coastline.


To marvel at sights such as Fisherman’s Wharf and the distant hills beyond the city. So which is the best company to explore the bay with?


Here we have picked the three most popular ferry tour operators for you to choose from.


Alcatraz Cruises


What to see


Alcatraz Cruises offer a service that no other company can match.


The clue is in the title, although you can find other companies that will allow you to see the island.


This company is the only one that gives you the chance to get off the boat and explore the island itself. In addition to the prison, the island is home to Civil War-era buildings.


You will also find beautiful gardens and seabird nesting areas.


Inside the prison buildings, you can walk in the footsteps of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.


Both of whom served their time here. You can also see the cell where Robert Stroud sat out most of his sentence.


If you don’t know who that is, perhaps you know him by his nickname.


The Bird Man of Alcatraz!





1. The only tour which gives full access to the island itself.

2. Access to the prison, as well as other features on the island.

3. Various tour packages available, including night tours.





1. Tickets likely to sell out in advance.

2. The company is the only operator to the island, so prices don’t have to be competitive.

3. Not suitable for those looking for an all-inclusive cruise of the bay.



Alcatraz Cruises run from Pier 33, and prices vary depending on the type of ticket you need. The Day Tour stars at around $40 per adult with children tickets around $24.


Family packages also give generous discounts. There are Night Tours and more specialized excursions available all at similar prices.


Blue and Gold Fleet 


What to see


Blue and Gold Fleet offer a more inclusive cruise around the bay.


It is a popular booking with photographers and provides some fantastic opportunities to capture high images. It sails close to Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge. It also takes in magnificent views of Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason and the Marina District.


Once you have experienced a cruise under the iconic bridge, you are offered majestic views of the vast open Pacific Ocean. Then you head back into the bay and get close up views of Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco before docking back at Pier 39. Home of the famous basking sea lions. 





1. One of the cheapest general cruises to be found

2. Lots of locations covered and information given

3. Perfect for tourists and first-time visitors.




 1. Audio commentary a bit dated compared with other tour operators.

 2. At only 1 hour, it’s a whistle-stop tour.

 3. Places work on a first-come, first-served basis.





There are daily sailings from Pier 39, and adult tickets are just under $30, children around $18.


There are also discounts available for booking in advance on-line.


Generally, there are 4 trips scheduled per day during the week and double that between Friday and Sunday each day. \


Unless you have booked in advance, all places are first come first served.



Red and White Fleet 



What to see


Red and White Fleet offer a similar service as the Blue and Gold Fleet. This family-owned business has been offering this cruise since 1939.


Heading out from Pier 43 in Fisherman’s Wharf, it will take you past North Beach and the Maritime Museum.


Next, it heads out towards the Golden Gate Bridge for some great photo opportunities.


It takes in the Marin Headlands to the north as well as passing by Sausalito home of the 60’s flower generation. 


Next is a slow cruise around Alcatraz Island before passing by Angel Island State Park, Bay Bridge, and a return to Fisherman’s Wharf.


Finally, there is a visit to Pier 39 and those beautiful basking and barking Sea Lions.






1. Oldest and most experienced tour operator in the bay.

2. Open-ended ticket in case of unfortunate weather cancellation.

3. Excellent access for wheelchairs and service animals.




 1. At only 1 hour you don’t spend very long at any one location.

 2. Slightly more expensive than rival companies.

 3. A long wait for places in a busy season and at weekends.






Prices are higher but still comparable, adults $34 and children $25.




san francisco bay view


If you want to explore Alcatraz Island, then the aptly named cruise company is the only one you need.


If you are looking for an hour on the bay, packed with information about the area and those who call it home, then both Fleet companies are great.


If we had to call it, then Red and White Fleet provide a slightly more knowledgable and slightly slicker service.


That said, both will give you a great time. Perhaps which you choose will depend on the availability of tickets on the day rather than anything else.