By Lee Foster
Getting out on San Francisco Bay in a boat of some kind is a concept I recommend to all visitors and locals. San Francisco Bay is such an inviting body of water, especially if your boat trip takes you out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. From a boat you can see the Bridge, the lovely green Marin hillsides, the skyline profile of the city of San Francisco, and the Bay islands, such as Alcatraz and Angel Islands. The protected Bay waters are usually not too rough. Sometime you will encounter wildlife, such as sea lions and migrating birds. Occasionally, you may even pass close to the immense container ships coming through the Golden Gate into the port of Oakland with their consumer goods from China and Korea.
The excursion boat California Hornblower ready to depart on San Francisco Bay
There are many ways to get out on San Francisco Bay in a boat, and I have done most of them at one time or another. My favorite option is a Sunday morning Champagne brunch cruise on Hornblower. You leave from Pier 3 at 11:00 a.m. for the two-hour cruise on their large and stable California Hornblower. Large and stable is good to avoid any seasickness issues. You receive an assigned white-table-cloth table for your dining. The Champagne flows freely from an attentive waiter, and is included in your ticket price. The Brunch itself is sumptuous, and strategic choices need to be made. You can concentrate on the leafy salads, or the traditional bacon sausage eggs and waffles, or the delicate smoked salmon and cream cheese and baked salmon fillets. It is OK to change course in this culinary voyage, and go back for more and different, as live music entertains you.
At some point you will want to go out on the upper deck and watch the glorious scene unfold, especially as the boat sails out under the Golden Gate Bridge and turns around. The first part of this leisurely voyage from Pier 3 crosses the San Francisco skyline. Then the boat slips beyond the Golden Gate, turns towards the green Marin County hills, passes again back under the Golden Gate Bridge, and shows the classic San Francisco skyline once again in the distance. Finally, the boat crosses the Bay on the north side of the Alcatraz prison island (now a National Park entity, welcoming visitors) and heads towards the Bay Bridge, before turning back to Pier 3. You can enjoy your buffet, go out onto the upper deck, and then return to your table for the dessert and coffee course during the end of the voyage. If the weather is windy or chilly, the ample windows afford views of the outside absent a close encounter with the elements.
Full details on Hornblower’s many cruise possibilities, including dinner and holiday cruises, can be seen on their website at https://www.hornblower.com/home/sf.
Beyond Hornblower, there are other appealing options to consider for getting out on the Bay. Excursions out to see the Alcatraz prison island, which depart from Pier 33, include a boat tour, which circles the island. A boat was, of course, the only way to get prisoners, guards, supplies, and water out to the secure prison island. The relatively high cost of maintaining this draconian prison site, including barging out the potable water, eventually led to the closure of the federal prison phase in this island’s long history.
The sumptuous Sunday Morning Buffet on the boat California Hornblower on San Francisco Bay
Further west from Pier 33 along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, there are two excursion boat services, the Blue and Gold Fleet and the Red and White Fleet of tour and ferry boats. They have regularly-scheduled out-on-the-Bay trips. Right at Fisherman’s Wharf, on Jefferson Street, several of the small fishing boats consider tourists to be the “catch of the day” and gladly take visitors out for a look at the Bay. This is an intimate small-boat option, good for people who don’t get seasick.
Back near the Hornblower Pier 3 location is the Ferry Building, situated at the foot of Market Street. Ferries regularly cross the Bay from here to Oakland/Alameda in the East Bay, Larkspur in Marin County, and Vallejo in the North Bay. I have particularly enjoyed the early morning ferry ride from Oakland’s Jack London Square to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The morning light can be dazzling as you pass the container ships in the port of Oakland, then sail underneath the Bay Bridge western section, and observe close-up the downtown San Francisco skyline from the water. Review the ferry schedule for details.
A selfie on the deck of the boat California Hornblower on San Francisco Bay
However you choose to make it happen, rest assured that getting out on San Francisco Bay will enhance your visit to San Francisco or your appreciation of living in the region if you are a local.
Getting out on San Francisco Bay figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and
Northern California History Weekends.