Boats on the San Francisco Bay

Sailing past Alcatraz

Although it is relatively shallow, San Francisco Bay has always been an attractive draw to mariners of the past and present.

Sailboat and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The deepest part of the Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge,  goes down 372 feet (113 m). San Francisco Bay Wikipedia.


Commercial vessels here include container ships, oil tankers, ferries, pilot boats, tugs, and more. Frequent dredging maintains deep channels.


Fireboats operate here too.

Fireboat, SF

Privately owned sailboats and yachts are commonly seen.


Quieter inlets invite kayakers, windsurfers, and even paddle boarders to navigate the waves.

Paddle Boarders, Richardson Bay, San Francisco Bay


Many hardcore San Francisco Giants fans take the Giants Ferry to AT&T Stadium. And the baseball stadium has a special cove, McCovey Cove, where boaters wait for home run “splash hits.”


McCovey Cove, San Francisco


For people who can’t stomach the perpetual motion, permanently moored vessels are popular. Historic ships host sleep-overs for school groups or families; and many can be independently toured.


A few historic ships I have visited at San Francisco’s Hyde St. Pier in Maritime Park include The Eureka, an 1890 steam ferryboat, and The Hercules, a 1907 steam tug. My favorite is The Balclutha, an 1886 square -rigger.

Balclutha, San Francisco Bay

Retired military vessels are also anchored in this Bay, including the USS Hornet, a World War II aircraft carrier; and the USS Potomac, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht.


If you’re tired of being on land and are looking for affordable ways to cruise the waters of San Francisco Bay, there are many fun options.


Frequent ferries visit the popular Alcatraz Island.

Alcatraz Island

One of my favorite day trips is a round-trip ferry ride to Angel Island, with a hike and a picnic.

Angel Island view, looking out at Alcatraz and SF skyline


I also like to go on birding boat charters. Seabirds and sea mammals are abundant in the Bay. A key migratory stop on the Pacific Flyway, San Francisco Bay provides important ecological habitats for hundreds of species.

Gulls and Sailboat, San Francisco Bay, California


An elaborate ferry system services commuters in numerous parts of the Bay. These ferries offer a short and sweet boat ride.

Ferry boat, The San Francisco, Athena commuting on the top deck


San Francisco Embarcadero. Ferry boats center right


In December marinas around the Bay are lit with decorated yachts. Parades of lighted boats thrill mariners and landlubbers alike.

Corinthian Yacht Club, Tiburon; Angel Island silhouetted in background


Sausalito Boat Parade


What is my favorite boat ride so far?


I’ve been on many. I love every single boat ride, whether it’s in dense fog and frigid temperatures, or on spectacularly sunny, scenic days. Satiated sea mammals and squawking birds, bracing wind, briny air.

Sea lion relaxing in ecstasy

But my favorite boat ride was last summer, a Fourth of July fireworks cruise.

San Francisco Bay


San Francisco Bay

It’s probably not too early to figure how to do that again. No, it’s never too early to plan the next boat adventure on the San Francisco Bay.


Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.


Bay Area USGS satellite image

(1) Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, (2) Golden Gate Bridge, (3) San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, (4) San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, (5) Dumbarton Bridge, (6) Carquinez Bridge, (7) Benicia-Martinez Bridge, (8) Antioch Bridge. Courtesy Wikipedia


86 thoughts on “Boats on the San Francisco Bay

  1. The fireworks cruise looks spectacular, Jet. I thought I’d gotten to the wrong blog until I saw some birds and animals/mammals. 🙂 Enjoyed the rides, though, all of them. Touring historic ships also sounds interesting and the lighted masts are lovely.

    Happy Friday!


  2. I enjoyed the trip back to San Francisco, Jet. I visited the city in the 1990’s and loved it. However, I wasn’t prepared for how cold it can get when that fog rolls in. It was September and we were coming back on the boat from Alcatraz. The sun was setting and the winds were howling…and there I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt! It was freezing! Live and learn, I suppose. 🙂

    • Yes, it gets really cold on the water when the fog rolls in. We’ve all been caught in the cold in SF, and we don’t forget it…as you know. For the fireworks cruise in July I had on hat, gloves, neck scarf, a fleece jacket and an additional winter wind jacket, and I was toasty warm. But I’ve learned over the 30 years here. I’m glad you had a boat ride here, Jill. My warm thanks.

  3. Messing about in boats on the Bay – sounds just about perfect, and I loved all the photographs and different reasons people in and around SF find for being on or near the water! Great post, and I hope you are out there again this weekend.
    Thanks, Jet!

    • You and I both like “messing about” around the waters, pc, it’s a lively place. I’m happy you enjoyed the boat post, and I hope you are out on the watersides this weekend, too. My warmest thanks.

  4. I’m with you, no such thing as a bad boat ride. Hopefully, I’ll make it out to San Francisco one day and get out on the bay. Thanks for a fun excursion on the water.

  5. I was fascinated to read that the Golden Gate is only one of many bridges around the Bay area and it looks to be one of the smaller ones from the map. You’ll have to post some pics of the others – or are they not quite as interesting?

    • It’s true, Mike, there are many bridges around the Bay. They are all quite different, and various vintages. And yes, the Golden Gate has one of the shortest spans. I like your idea, I’ll start taking photos of some of the other bridges, too. It takes about 4 hours to get from one end of the Bay to the other, due to traffic, so I better get busy. Many thanks, my friend.

  6. A thorough, and thoroughly enjoyable, look at ships and boats on the Bay. We’ve been on a few July 4th fireworks cruises and they are stunning—just like Athena’s photos.

    Have a beautiful weekend,

    • I was hoping you would cruise on by here today, Allan, given your illustrious background with the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m glad you’ve been on a Fourth of July cruise (several). Man, are they fun. Smiles to you, and many thanks.

  7. The variety of boats and their purposes is really quite impressive, and of course you have some of the best coastal scenery in the world. I couldn’t help but wonder if the inmates at Alcatraz look out at the boats longingly wishing they could hitch a ride.

    • Glad you enjoyed the boats on the bay post today, Anneli. I know you and your husband are stalwart mariners, so I’m glad I could bring this bay to you. There are no longer inmates at Alcatraz, it is strictly a tourist destination now (and a popular one at that). But there are many accounts of inmates, when they did live on Alcatraz, of longingly wishing to get out into the adventure of the Bay and SF. Many thanks for your visit today.

      • Oh, I should have remembered that! (Oops!) 🙂 Anyway, it was just a thought that crossed my mind, imagining them looking at the sailboats and freedom. Great post, Jet.

    • Oh, that would be a fun boat ride, to see the Blue Angels. I bet that was great, Jan. Glad you’ve cruised on this fantastic bay, and yes, a good thing to dream about during this rather unrelenting rainy patch we’ve been having.

  8. Great pictures. I’ve been to San Francisco, but only for a weekend. It would be great to see more, especially by boat.

  9. Mary and I have watched Milwaukee’s fireworks display from Lake Michigan while on a friends boat.
    Their reflections on the water and the city skyline make any display even more spectacular.
    We will have to put a San Francisco fireworks display on the “ must do” list!

    • Wonderful to hear from you, Tom. Yes, fireworks on any body of water are just so fun. I can imagine the fireworks on Lake Michigan are spectacular. In SF, due to the frequent and unpredictable fog, they always have two identical sets of fireworks going simultaneously; one up high and one down low, in case the fog comes in and tries to ruin it. I hope you do make it to SF for the fireworks….

  10. Wonderful photos. It still amuses me that I paid no attention at all to the boats when I lived there. I worked, played, and studied all around the Bay, but it was just a part of the scenery. Funny, how we change. The tall ship looks wonderful. If I were to go back, that would be one of my first stops.

    • Yes, it is funny how we change, Linda. It is a great thing when we have the fortune of living a long life–we have the chance to do so many wonderful adventures. My warmest thanks….

  11. Delightful post and marvelous photos. Your love history and gathering information comes out in your posts, Jet. Very enjoyable. And, of course, this dynamic, beautiful bay is one of my favorite subjects. Hope you are surviving this wet weather ok. Poor Guernville.

    • Thanks so very much, Jane, for your thoughtful and warm comment. Your spectacular photos of this glorious bay have been much enjoyed, too. Doing well with the storms. We spent the past half year on our burned-out mountain installing erosion control, and it is all paying off as the driving rains continue, but our mountain stays in place. My thanks….

      • This storm sure put your efforts to the test. Happy your mountain is holding. 👍🏻
        Glad you enjoy my bay photos, too. Today it’s completely engulfed in fog.

  12. Excellently illustrated, and accompanied by eloquent narrative, equals, great post. As always my friend, you give your followers top notch blogging. Thank you! 🙂

    • Your kind comment has me smiling broadly, HJ, thanks so much. I think this means you are back from your trip. I’m heading over your way to see what you’ve been up to. Happy to “see” you today, my friend.

  13. Birds and boats go awesome together in my book! Lovely, enjoyable post, Jet. It so relates to our Chesapeake Bay here on the east coast. My husband and I would love to boat the San Francisco Bay and cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge. It’d be a long, far tow for us & our boat, but oh what a thrill that’d be! Be sure to book your boat ride soon to enjoy another 4th of July on the water! 🙂

    • Yes, you are surrounded by another gorgeous bay, Donna, and I so love seeing the photos you share. We are both lucky to have so much water and wildlife to frolic in. Thank you ever so much.

    • Pelagic trips are tricky. It seems half the passengers are sick from the rocking boat, and the other half are dozing from the motion sickness drugs. ha. Apparently you are one of those rare people, Sherry, that I longingly ponder at, who don’t get sick on a pelagic trip. So glad you enjoyed this boat trip to the SF Bay.

  14. Open water displays such a freedom that anyone can feel instantly. Whether they are on a freighter,
    cruise ship, jet sky, or sailboat. Fresh air blowing in your face and the rocking and rolling of the sea
    sets the mood as you float time and space away.
    Always great story and photos Jet. Enjoy a peaceful weekend

  15. What a great subject – I love being on the water (but not during stormy weather!) and always enjoy a sunny day out in the sun. Lovely photos that make me want to visit SF again!

  16. Thanks, Jet, for bringing back happy memories of watching the sailboats bobbing around in the Bay! The SF Bay area has to be one of the prettiest cities in the world. How lucky you are to be so close to it. Paddleboarders is not something I ever expected to see there however! 😀

    • Always a joy to hear from you, Gunta, thank you. Paddleboarders on the SF Bay, I know, not something you’d expect. Over on the Tiburon side there are many coves in Richardson Bay, and in the summer months we were seeing paddleboarders every week. Glad this post brought back memories of your time in SF. Heading your way to see what beauty you have found in your coastal life.

  17. Enjoyed this post – and the sweet memories it evoked! You always capture the diverse features of your beloved city in beautiful and interesting ways. Really enjoyed the bridge map at the end, too.

    • I really appreciated this thoughtful comment, Nan, thank you. And sweet memories, yes, of our boat trip together on this bay. I liked that bridge map, too, it narrows down the complicated bay and bridge system into one simple little graphic. Always a joy, dear Nan, thank you.

    • Glad you enjoyed the SF Bay photos, Steve. It can be cold on this bay, especially in summer. We always dress for winter and that works fine. Yes, Willie McCovey was a highly celebrated Giants player. He just died last November.

  18. Beautiful post, Jet! You should have heard how many sighs I emitted as I read and viewed this post. Here I am looking at snow and you have the blue skies and blue waters with all those gorgeous boats. *sigh* Loved every single picture ….. THANK YOU! And I am wishing you all the luck to plan for the 4th of July! Happy boating!! 🦋

  19. i love San Francisco and we have been many times, but the only boat ride I have ever taken was one from Sausalito to an island that I cannot remember the name of? How fun to take a boat to a baseball stadium and I had to laugh at all the boats waiting to catch stray balls. Which made me think of my very first baseball game in America (in Cincinnati) when a ball landed under MY seat! All of a sudden, everyone around me was grabbing at my legs and spilling beer and as a South African girl who was clueless about baseball, I had no idea of what was going on haha.

    There are also all those fabulous houseboats in Sausalito and other places. We enjoyed seeing the different ones and how they have been made into homes and a houseboat community.

    Great pics!


    • I am delighted you’ve had a boat ride on the SF Bay, Peta. Probably the boat you took from Sausalito to an island was Angel Island, it is a park, and a beautiful one. And I got a good chuckle out of your baseball story. What are the odds that the ball would land under your seat? What a scene it is when the ball lands, and oh what a chaotic surprise you must’ve encountered. Great stories. Thanks so much.

  20. So many wonderful things to do in the Bay Area. I think the only water experience we have had was our tour out to Alcatraz. I do recall the views looking back at the city to be extraordinary. I think we will have to return for more!

    • Definitely a good place to visit over and over, especially with family nearby. Glad you enjoyed the SF boat post, Sue. Thanks for your visit…am sending my warmest regards.

    • Glad you enjoyed the SF boats post, Lloyd. The Balclutha was a star…literally. She was once named the Star of Alaska in 1904. She was used to transport salmon, fishermen, cannery workers and supplies from SF to Alaska and back; also other commercial ventures like lumber and grain. Was also a star in a movie, which I think you will appreciate Lloyd: Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, in 1935. Thanks for your interest, my friend.

  21. Pingback: Boats on the San Francisco Bay — Jet Eliot – Elizabeth Karlsson

  22. Loved the Boats on the Bay and am looking forward to when the ice melts here and our lakes return! Beautiful selection of photos and boats and I would love to see a Giants game in the stadium and from the home run “splash hits” seats. Spectacular fireworks photos from your cruise and the view from Angel Island is splendid.

    • It is easy for me to picture you in your kayak outside the Giants stadium, ACI, waiting for a homerun with all the diehards. Views, however, from inside the stadium are really picturesque. I have the feeling you’ll be out in your kayak very soon…I sure hope so. Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • Yes, always great to see right-side-up boats, eh, David? And you’re right, oh how this bay is enjoyed by so many. A joy to share it with you, thanks so much.

    • I have heard about how wonderful your boat is, Wayne (from plaidcamper), and see from your photos what great opportunities it provides. No, we don’t own a boat. We live on an inland mountaintop, and it would be more work than anything else to have one at this juncture. However, more and more in the last few years we have both been enjoying boats, so it may be a part of our future. Terrific, as always Wayne, to share thoughts with you…thank you.

    • Glad you enjoyed the SF Bay Boats post, Bertie. That no. 5 photo that you liked was taken on a gorgeous January day when we were on a birding boat. The water was relatively calm that day, so the captain took us for an unscheduled course under the GG Bridge…a real treat. Many thanks.

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