San Francisco Bay Cruises with Views of Alcatraz
We have pages that discuss Alcatraz ferries that bring you to Alcatraz to visit and tour the old prison.
We also discuss special cruises with dramatic soundtracks that sail around Alcatraz and let you see parts of the island that you can’t see from the ground. If you’d like to see Alcatraz as part of another trip but don’t want to spend half a day focused on the island, here are some other choices.
Bay Cruises Through the Golden Gate and Around Alcatraz
This was one of the first dates I planned with my wife when we first started going out and I wanted her to see the beauty of San Francisco Bay.
Different services offer a variety of cruises, with durations ranging from about an hour to several hours. You can tour the Bay by day, at twilight and by night. The boat may be a ferry that simply shows you the sights, or a floating venue with two different restaurants, bands and dancing. All of them pass by Alcatraz as part of their itinerary due to its popularity with visitors.
Choices are (in alphabetical order):
Blue and Gold Fleet — Offers a variety of cruises as well as ferries to destinations around the Bay. Some ferries (including Sausalito’s) pass near Alcatraz and others do not, but all of the cruises except the speeding “Rocketboat” include Alcatraz as a major focus. They depart from Pier 41 at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Hornblower Cruises — Hornblower has larger boats, some of them converted historic ferries, and its headline services are nighttime dinner cruises with a variety of cuisines and music. During “daylight savings time months” of the year those trips leave at twilight and passengers get to see the sun go down on the Bay beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. We have enjoyed these events, although they can be expensive. They depart from their own dock at Pier 3, near the San Francisco Ferry Building.
Red and White Fleet — The oldest of these services, Red and White also offers the greatest variety of daytime tour cruises with different lengths and itineraries. They depart from Pier 43 1/2 at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
Ferry Services that Pass By Alcatraz
Unlike Bay cruises, which will take the time to focus on Alcatraz, ferries’ mission is to take people from one place to another by the most efficient route. They pass by Alcatraz in a straight line, although they may come relatively close to the old prison.
Depending on weather and other ship traffic, they may pass close to the island or farther away on different days. Different directions of service often pass on different sides of the island, so a round trip ride can give you two different perspectives on the old prison.
The two services that provide the closest views of Alcatraz are:
The Sausalito Ferries — These are operated by two different services, Golden Gate Ferry and Blue and Gold Fleet. The Golden Gate Ferries tend to pass a little closer to Alcatraz en route to the Ferry Building than Blue and Gold’s trips to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Vallejo Ferry — Operated by the Government-owned San Francisco Bay Ferries, this service likewise passes close to Alcatraz.