7 San Francisco Boat Tours: Dinner Cruises, Ferry Rides, Sailing, & More

Visiting San Francisco’s busy waterfront tourist hotspots like Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are a must, but getting away from it all—out on the water is a sublime opportunity to take in the City’s sights. Experience the serenity of being on the water with spirited marine life and the benefit of a different perspective of San Francisco Bay’s many attractions with these incredible San Fransisco boat tours. 

boat in front of San Francisco bridge and sunset
Complete your San Francisco experience with these amazing boat tours.

We advise boaters to dress in layers. It gets chilly out on the Bay, so bring your windbreaker and keep your head covered. And don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes to maneuver on a moving boat. Anchors up!

City Experiences Cruises for Foodies

Let the refreshing sea breeze wake your senses on a weekend brunch cruise around San Francisco Bay. Or wait until evening and take a dinner cruise while the city skyline twinkles with lights and the fog rolls through the Golden Gate Bridge. Discover a different perspective of San Francisco’s iconic beauty from the water on a City Experiences meal-included cruise for a romantic date night or a fun day with friends and family.

It’s a memorable party on board the two to three-hour San Francisco boat tours with live music or DJ selections. Foodservice is either buffet-style or a seasonal plated menu depending on cruise type. Watch the always entertaining San Francisco scenery glide by from the dance floor or go out on the deck for a blustery but worth-it experience.

boat dining room with white plates of food
What can be better than delicious food and the San Francisco skyline?

Adventure With San Francisco Whale Tours

The whales are out there, and San Francisco Whale Tours gets passengers close to the wildlife action. The Kitty Kat, a sixty-five-foot-long catamaran, whisks passengers from Pier 39 on a whale-watching expedition spanning the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean waters. On-board naturalists interpret the marine wildlife behavior and coastal landmarks.

Humpback and gray whales feast off the coast depending on the migratory season. The magnificent marine mammals make themselves known by pectoral fin slapping, tail throws, and out-of-the-water breaching, making for a heart-pounding show of nature. The whale action often happens just 300 feet from the boat!

Harbor seals, dolphins, and seabirds also make a splash with the Golden Gate Bridge, coastal bluffs, and iconic San Francisco buildings—Salesforce Tower and Transamerica Pyramid—as the backdrop. We recommend bringing a camera to document your action-packed day on the Bay.

Visit Alcatraz with City Experiences

City Experiences is the only San Francisco boat tour operator servicing Alcatraz Island. If you’ve ever wondered what the infamous rock is all about, take a quick 15-minute ferry boat ride to this unique San Francisco landmark in the middle of the Bay. Discover the secrets of the cavernous cell house where inmates used to plot their escape on a daytime or night tour.

Plan to spend about three hours on Alcatraz and return on any ferry back to the mainland. Learn about the island’s history through an audio tour, ranger talks, and exhibits. Roam the recreation yard where prisoners breathed in the fresh air, and stroll the historic rose garden planted to beautify the often gloomy fog-shrouded landscape.

Alcatraz island
Learn about Alcatraz’s fascinating history with City Experience’s exclusive boat tour. Photo credit: Chris6d

Bay Voyager’s Unobstructed Views

Zip across the San Francisco Bay aboard Bay Voyager, a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), clocking some serious speeds, 32 miles per hour, with adventure-seeking passengers. This San Francisco boat tour is unique for its top-down approach. No cozy cabin here. Everyone straps in for fast sprints through all water conditions. Passengers wear bright red waterproof jackets, rain pants to keep warm and dry from the occasional wave splash, a life jacket, and yellow sunglasses.

Bay Voyager boat tours leave from the excitement of Pier 39, where there’s always a chance to get up close with boisterous sea lions. The 90-minute-long Touch of Gold Bay Tour circles under both the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge and along the waterfront. And the 45-minute Adventure Waterfront Tour highlights the civil war-era Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge and the historic SS Jeremiah O’Brien WWII Liberty Ship.

Rigid Inflatable Boat in San Francisco
Bay Voyager’s boat experience is perfect for you, if you love speed and don’t mind getting a bit wet. Photo credit: Ralph Nas

A Leisurely SF Water Taxi Ride

With all the attention-grabbing attractions along San Francisco’s waterfront, wanting to get off the tour boat to check things out is only natural. If you’re aboard an SF Water Taxi, just let the captain know where you want to hop off to explore. Hop on and hop off at any of SF Water Taxi’s six stops servicing Hyde Street Pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, along The Embarcadero, under the Bay Bridge, and terminating at Chase Center’s Pier 52.

The banana yellow taxi boats with a black and white checked stripe running along the hull arrive at each stop every 30 minutes. Reservations can be made online or by calling the captain at 415.926.1114 to let them know where you want to be picked up. Relax on the dog-friendly vessels where kids often take the helm, chat with the captain about passing city landmarks, and make fast friends with fellow passengers. 

Sails Up at San Francisco Sailing Company

On this San Francisco boat tour, it’s all about setting sail. The San Francisco Sailing Company’s traditional sailboats whisk passengers away from the bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf by harnessing wind and wave power. With sails up, the 41-footer high-class yacht sprints by San Francisco Bay’s iconic gems.

But it’s not all fast-past sailing. San Francisco Sailing Company’s daily 90-minute sail and two-hour Sunset Sail adventures are full of views, including Alcatraz and Angel Island, Sausalito to the north, along the Golden Gate Bridge, and back around San Francisco’s waterfront. With your drink of choice in hand, it’s a party on the Bay as well as a time for solitary reflection and communing with nature.

white sailboat at open sea
San Francisco Sailing Company is conveniently located at the Pier 39 Marina Photo credit: Mike B

Exciting Ride Aboard Adventure Cat

Adventure Cat’s San Francisco boat tours incorporate speed and grace. The sleek two-hulled catamaran vessels skim the bay water averaging 9 to 13 miles per hour. Be on deck to enjoy the fresh sea breeze and occasional sea spray or watch the spectacular scenery from the protection of the covered cabin.

On an Adventure Cat Bay Sail passengers can tune into an audio tour to learn about San Francisco landmarks. The captain and crew are eager and available to answer questions about the boat and the amazing sights. The catamaran’s netted deck trampoline is available for lounging in the sun, but a splash from the water rushing underneath is a real possibility. For a romantic vibe, consider a Sunset Sail or City Lights Sail to experience San Francisco anew.