Ferry Service from Fisherman's Wharf:
One of the fun things to do when visiting San Francisco is to go down to Fisherman's Wharf and take a ferry across the bay. On a good day when the sun is out, sitting on the top of one of the ferries is a great way to see the city skyline and view the Golden Gate Bridge. I just returned from a recent weekend vacation in SF with my family and we took a ferry from Pier 41 over to Sausalito and then to Tiburon on the way home. In years past I have done the Alcatraz tour and gone out to Angel Island on a ferry boat. If you want to just cruise the SF Bay then that is possible as well. San Francisco is a great city but I find that people really enjoy the small town feel of Sausalito with its shops, restaurants, and flat streets a nice break from SF. The ferry ride is roughly 30 minutes from Pier 41 over to Sausalito and when the winds are down the ride is smooth and easy. If the weather is stormy or the winds are up, you may find that some people get sea sick.
The ride from Fisherman's Wharf area is mostly relaxing and they serve snacks and drinks on board the ferry. You can either walk around up top or take a seat on the inside. A popular thing to do is to take your bike across the Bay and ride around Sausalito or Tiburon where the roads are flatter and the views are incredible. As you cross the SF Bay you see Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, the Bay Bridge, and the city skyline as you look back. My kids had a great time and the trip is short so it doesn't get boring for them. My choice has always been to take the Blue & Gold Fleet of ferries since they are the most convenient and they are located right at Pier 41. You can find other charter boats that take you on bay cruises but ferries to Sausalito and Tiburon are the most popular. The Ferry Building on The Embarcadero is another starting spot and Golden Gate Ferry Service is the name to look for. They take you between Larkspur/Sausalito and San Francisco. If the East Bay is what you want - Alameda/Oakland - then go to Eastbayferry.com for more details and information. The Alcatraz ferries pick you up at Pier 33. In all the activities I've done in San Francisco with my wife and kids, we all agreed that the ferry ride was the most enjoyable for the money. The views are everywhere you look and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from down below is amazing. The fog usually engulfs the upper portion and all you can see is the roadway almost floating in the sky.
Pier 41 Ferry to Sausalito and Tiburon:
Tours of the Bay are fairly cheap given the amount of time you are on the boat and the views you get by being out on the Bay . Pier 41 is the major hub for buying tickets and embarking. All the signs are clearly marked so you can get in the right line. Fisherman's Wharf is a busy center of street performers, restaurants, and shops, but you can clearly see the ferry building and get yourself on the proper ferry. If you only have time for a single ferry trip, go with the Sausalito ride across the bay. You will be able to see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, and the city. Mid afternoon ferries are the best since that should be at the warmest part of the day. We did a 1:45 departure from Pier 41 and arrived into Sausalito at 2:15 PM. Even if the weather is a bit overcast or windy, just sit on the inside of the ferry and stay warm. Tiburon is another excellent destination and if you have time eat a meal at Sam's - a famous restaurant located just a few steps from where the ferry stops. For a ferry map see below. You'll get a good idea of how the routes go and where the destinations are.
Tickets - Ferry Prices - Schedules:
You can buy tickets for the ferry in advance, but there is really no need unless you are going on a busy holiday. Every time I take the ferry I purchase the tickets at the main ticket booth right at Pier 41. Pricing is $9.50 each way for an adult and kids (5-11) is just $5.25. I was surprised that my 4 year old son was able to go for free which was nice. The total price for my wife, daughter, and myself was $48.50 since we did a roundtrip ticket. The boats board about 10 minutes before they actually leave and a line usually forms about 20 minutes prior to departure. They are large enough that you don't have to be in the front of the line to get good seats. Schedules for the Sausalito ferry vary from weekdays to weekends. There are 6 departure times on a weekend that leave Pier 41 and 7 return times from Sausalito. We did the Friday 1:45PM ride over to Sausalito and took the 3:50PM ferry back with a brief stopover in Tiburon to pick up more passengers. On busy days when lots of people with bikes need to get on or off it can take a while to board. The entire lower deck of the ferry is reserved for bikes with huge racks. I would say there were probably 70 passengers with bikes when we took the return ferry from Sausalito. You can see the Blue & Gold Fleet schedule here
. If you are traveling on the Golden Gate Ferry system from the San Francisco Ferry Building, then go HERE
for their online schedule of times. On Fridays there often add an extra time for later departures to Sausalito.