People say one of the best views of San Francisco is from the water, but I have always wanted to see it myself. I had taken a boat to Alcatraz before, but I needed to get the full San Francisco Bay experience. Many of my favorite attractions are visible from a boat – the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the Palace of Fine Arts, and more. During a recent trip, I took the opportunity to go on a San Francisco Bay Boat Tour that included going under the Golden Gate Bridge with Red and White Cruises. I was glad I did.

Note: We went on our cruise on November 11, 2018.  Our pictures look hazy, but that is actually the smoke from some of the California wildfires.  Our thoughts are with all those affected.

Boarding the boat is first-come-first-served, so we got to the Pier about 20 minutes before our scheduled cruise.  They started boarding just before it was time to leave. As you board, there is a photographer that will take your picture with the boat. If you like it, the photo is available for purchase for $15 after completing the tour.

Once onboard, you get your audio tour equipment – headphones and a small radio.  The narration is available in 16 different languages. I thought the audio tour was very informative.  Even though I have been to San Francisco many times, I still learned a few things.

Once you have the audio tour, you choose your deck and seat.  The boat has three levels with both indoor and outdoor space on each level.  We decided to go for the top deck which is all outdoors. I think the best views are from the left side of the boat.  Don’t stress too much about where you sit, though, as everyone moves around during the tour.

Inside the Red and White Fleet Boat. - San Francisco Boat Tour

Inside the Red and White Fleet Boat.

The top deck of our boat.

The top deck of our boat.

The boat left the dock and we headed north towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  We learned about some of the famous ships that are permanently docked in the San Francisco Bay, such as The Balclutha – a three-mast ship built in Scotland in the 1880s. If you are lucky, you may be able to spot some of the bright orange swim caps of the Dolphin Swim Club.  They go for swims in the bay daily! We didn’t see any swimmers but we did see a few windsurfers.

Golden Gate Bridge

My favorite part of a San Francisco Bay boat trip is going under the Golden Gate Bridge.  It’s a beautiful bridge and an iconic feature of San Francisco. It is nice to see it from all angles!  (You may remember I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge on a previous trip.)  The audio guide was full of interesting facts about the bridge.  The fact that stood out for me is that they are constantly painting it.  Once the crew gets to the other end of the bridge, it is time for them to start over.  We saw the scaffolding they use. I would not want that job!

The view as we headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge. - SF Bay Boat Tour

The view as we headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

Alcatraz Island as seen on our San Francisco Bay tour

Alcatraz Island is such a fascinating place!

Alcatraz Island

Next, the boat cruise passed by Alcatraz Island.  I have visited Alcatraz Island several times before because I think it is such a fascinating place.  (If you can, I highly recommend the Alcatraz night tour.) Still, I learned a few things from the tour narration.  For example, I didn’t realize that the lighthouse on Alcatraz Island was the first in California.

Angel Island

We could also see Angel Island from the boat.  It’s a place that has always intrigued me and I have been wanting to visit it.  I knew it was a great place for hiking and biking, but I didn’t know much about the history.

The stories I heard about Angel Island on the audio guide were very moving.  Originally, Native Americans lived on the island. It was known as the Ellis Island of the West.  Many immigrants (especially Chinese) were detained here. I strongly believe immigrants are an important part of the fabric and history of the United States and the way these immigrants were treated was disgraceful.  I don’t want to see history repeating itself.

Bay Bridge

We didn’t go under the Bay Bridge, but we still got a good view of it.  It’s now actually two bridges and a tunnel. Hearing the story of the 1989 earthquake gave me chills.  I can’t imagine how it would have felt to be on the bridge or have loved ones on that bridge when it collapsed.

Back at the Pier

Right on schedule, we arrived back at Pier 43 ½.  They run a tight ship and ask that you leave the boat right away so that they can reload for the next trip.  We thought we would try to take a few pictures as we were waiting for the line to go downstairs to move. Well, lesson learned.  One of the crew members waved his hand in front of the camera to prevent us taking a photo and told us we needed to leave. So be sure to take all the pictures you want to before the boat gets back to the dock.  Also, note that they close the restrooms ten minutes before the end of the cruise.

One of the large ships we passed on our boat tour. - San Francisco Bay Tour

One of the large ships we passed on our boat tour. Look closely and you can see the Bay Bridge in the distance.

Anisa and her friend Diane. Look closely and you can see Alcatraz in the background.

Anisa and her friend Diane. Look closely and you can see Alcatraz in the background.

One of the windsurfers we saw during our San Francisco boat ride.

One of the windsurfers we saw during our San Francisco boat ride.

Getting to Pier 43 ½

It’s best to take public transportation to get to your Red and White Fleet Cruise.  The Bay & Taylor Street Cable Car will take you within four blocks of Pier 43½ or the MUNI F-Line streetcar stops one block away.

I do not recommend driving as traffic and parking can be difficult, but if you do, park across the street from Pier 43 ½.  Then you can ask the Red and White Fleet to validate parking for one hour.

About Red and White Fleet

The Red and White fleet was founded back in 1892!  It’s a family-owned company. The boats depart from Pier 43 ½.  Their boats are also available for private charters for up to 600 guests.  The boats have both indoor and outdoor space.

You can find out more about the Red and White Fleet and book a tour here.

San Francisco Cruise Tour Options

While we did the Golden Gate Bay Cruise, they do have other tour options.  If you have more time, you can do the 90-minute long Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise which goes under both the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridges.  It also goes around Alcatraz. In the evenings, they offer a Sunset Cruise which goes by Alcatraz, Angel Island, Tiburon, Sausalito, and under the Golden Gate Bridge.  On that two-hour tour, they also have appetizers, drinks, and live entertainment.

Our San Francisco Bay Tour Boat

Our San Francisco Bay Tour Boat

You definitely need to do one of the San Francisco Bay boat cruises during your visit.  I recommend choosing the Red and White Fleet. We had great views of the sights and learned so much about the history.  Plus, I got a few ideas for things to do on future trips to San Francisco. Have you ever done any San Francisco boat trips?

-Anisa

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Expert Tips for Your San Francisco Bay Boat Tour

  • Take public transportation to get to Pier 43 ½.
  • Don’t worry too much about getting a specific seat on the boat.  Everyone moves around during the cruise.
  • During your visit to San Francisco, you should also try to visit Golden Gate Park, the Walt Disney Family Museum, and SFMOMA.

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Disclosure: We would like to thank the Red and White Fleet for inviting us to take their San Francisco Bay Cruise so that we could share the experience with our readers.  All opinions are our own.

 

Thinking about doing a San Francisco Bay boat tour? It's the best way to see San Francisco! Read about our experience with the Red and White Fleet. | San Francisco Things to Do In | San Francisco Bay View | San Francisco Boat Tour | San Francisco Boat Rides | #california #californiatravel #boat