The two-hour program on USA 76 serves up sea spray and America's Cup history // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
Ferries, like the Pisces, ply the San Francisco Bay // (c) 2011 Barrie Rokeach/WETA
The Red & White Fleets sails under the Golden Gate Bridge // (c) Red & White Fleet
Scow Schooner Alma sails past the San Francisco skyline // (c) National Park Service
RocketBoats power their way around the bay // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
Arguably one of the most scenic locations in the world, the San Francisco Bay, with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge standing sentinel, is about to celebrate several milestones in the coming year.
Most notably, the Golden Gate Bridge turns 75 on May 27, marking the day in 1937 when “the bridge that couldn’t be built” officially opened to worldwide acclaim.
Furthermore, the city will welcome the U.S. return of the America’s Cup in 2013, with the first of the qualifying matches occurring on the San Francisco Bay this August. This is the first time the race has taken place in San Francisco, and race officials have taken advantage of the bay’s unique geography so that, for the first time ever, the competition can be seen from land.
In conjunction with the America’s Cup, the City of San Francisco is about to begin construction on the new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal located at Pier 27. The facility will serve as the home of the America's Cup Village through Sept. 2013, after which it will be completed and opened up to cruise lines by 2014.
Although there are plenty of ways to soak in the scenic beauty of the San Francisco Bay — both on and off the water — for people who like to enjoy a little sea spray in their sightseeing, here are a number of great ways to get on the water.
San Francisco Bay Ferry Rides
On a budget? No problem, just hop on any of the ferries that ply the San Francisco waterfront. The Alameda/Oakland Ferry, for example, costs just $6.25 for a one-way ticket and conveniently departs from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, with occasional departures from Pier 41 (adjacent to famed Pier 39), taking passengers to Oakland’s Jack London Square. The ferry also services AT&T Park during Giants games as well as the Angel Island nature conservancy.
The trip takes just about 25 minutes to Oakland, providing a unique vantage as it sails under the Oakland Bay Bridge. Visitors can poke around Jack London Square — or catch their Amtrak connection —before taking a late afternoon ferry back to the city in time to watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Red & White Fleet
For a more formalized tour, complete with narrative in 12 languages, visitors won’t want to miss the Red & White Fleet. The family-owned fleet started operation in 1892 and is still going strong today. Red & White Fleet offers a number of passenger sailings, all departing from Pier 43 ½, including the original, one-hour Golden Gate Bay Cruise, which starts at $26 per person. Passengers can also enjoy longer excursions, like the “Bridge 2 Bridge” sailings, sunset cruises and twilight cruises, as well as seasonal programs like the Fourth of July Fireworks Cruise. Still, nothing beats the original, and experiencing the bay’s notorious winds while sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Scow Schooner Alma
Long before the Golden Gate Bridge welcomed visitors to San Francisco, scow schooners traversed the bay, hauling goods and passengers. Today, the 60-foot Alma, the last schooner of her kind, makes her home at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. This national landmark, was built in 1891 to transport cargo, and made her living hauling hay, lumber, salt and oyster shells. Today, she is a Coast Guard-certified vessel and makes regular sailings during summer and fall, with sailings starting at $40 per person.
From the moment passengers step on board, they are transported back in time. While the vessel passes along San Francisco’s modern, scenic skyline, a National Park Service guide recounts the city’s early history, bringing to life the Spanish explorers, the Gold Rush, the Barbary Coast and the great earthquake of 1906.
If high-speed thrills are more to your liking, the San Francisco Bay can accommodate. In 2009, the city welcomed the launch of the 127-passenger RocketBoat, a dual-engine, speed boat that tops out at about 44 knots. The 30-minute thrill ride includes some narration by the captain, but is largely punctuated by a classic rock soundtrack. This self-proclaimed “rollercoaster, but on water” provides a completely unique experience on the San Francisco Bay. Admittedly dubious when I stepped on board, I found that the ride brought out my inner adrenaline junkie, and I soon found myself screaming and laughing as we zipped by AT&T Park and Alcatraz. RocketBoats launch daily between May and October; tickets start at $24 per person.
With San Francisco caught in the grip of America’s Cup fever, a welcome addition to the waterfront is the opportunity to sail on the USA 76, an America’s Cup-class racing yacht. Not just any racing yacht, the USA 76 was used by Oracle Racing during the 2003 America’s Cup challenge matches and won 21 of 33 races on her way through the Louis Vuitton challenger series.
After her retirement from pro racing, the vessel was purchased by Brad Webb, a member of Oracle Racing, and brought to San Francisco in order to create a public connection to the America’s Cup. USA 76 was converted into a Coast Guard-approved vessel and made her first public sailing in 2010. She now sets sail four times a week, at 10:30 a.m. from Pier 39. The 2 ½-hour experience costs $129 for adults, and is worth every penny.
This is an adrenaline rush at its finest, while bringing guests into intimate contact with the water.
A professional, four-member crew lets passengers take as active a role as they like, including hoisting the sail and taking a turn at the yacht’s helm. But even guests who opt to sit back and relax will enjoy an exhilarating ride. The creaking of the hull, as the vessel leans into the waves and powers its way to the Golden Gate Bridge, is one that can’t easily be replicated.
When the crew isn’t going head-to-head with the San Francisco Bay’s notorious winds, they share America’s Cup stories and San Francisco Bay history.
The USA 76 will be offering a combination of public and semi-private sailings during America’s Cup matches, and these sailings are sure to sell out, so book early.