Sunday Drive: S.F. waterfront by ferry

From: San Francisco Chronicle - Written by Tom Stienstra November 29, 2015 

Why it works: You can beat the driving nightmare to visit the San Francisco waterfront with a ferry ride into the Port of San Francisco and end up with a stress-free holiday walk and bay boat tour.

Location: The Port of San Francisco entry and Ferry Plaza are on the docks along the Embarcadero, north of the Bay Bridge.

Departure: Ferries are available from Sausalito, Larkspur, Tiburon, Oakland, Alameda and Vallejo.

When you arrive: The ferryboats are spacious and fast. You can ride in the bay breeze outside, or sit inside at a table with a water view. As you approach San Francisco, you get a great view of the city skyline and the Ferry Building clock tower. Despite that, it’s amazing to me how many people have their faces instead buried in phones. From the dock, you walk through a maze of restaurants and people to make it to the sidewalk on the Embarcadero.

The walk: It’s 1.6 miles along a wide sidewalk from the port plaza to Fisherman’s Wharf. To your left is Coit Tower, and then Pier 39, with its come-and-go sea lions, is on your right. You’ll pass the landings for the Blue and Gold Fleet at Pier 39 and the Red and White Fleet at Pier 43½.

Fishing boat tours: No reservations are needed for bay tours on fishing boats; you just show up at Fisherman’s Wharf and board a 40- to 50-foot sportfishing boat. You cruise along the waterfront to Pier 39 and then out toward Alcatraz. The tour then runs west across the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge, then circles back along the bay’s shore at Crissy Field and to the Wharf. Along the way, the skippers tell a lot of great personal yarns.

The boats: Lovely Martha, (415) 509-5552; Chucky's Pride, (415) 564-5515; Wacky Jacky, (415) 586-9800; Bass-Tub, (415) 456-9055; Silver Fox, (415) 367-5600; Amigo, (510) 816-3474; and Happy Days, (415) 752-5886.

Formal tours: The vessels used by the Red and White and the Blue and Gold fleets are first class with the option of going below, and with picture windows, to get out of the bay breeze. The operations are world-renowned and reservations are advised on weekends and during holiday periods. Trips to Alcatraz are also available.

Cost: $15 for informal bay boat tours on fishing boats; $30 on Blue and Gold or Red and White boats.

The fleets: Red and White: (415) 673-2900, www.redandwhite.com; Blue and Gold: (415) 705-8200, www.blueandgoldfleet.com.

Ferries: Sausalito/Larkspur, www.goldengateferry.com; Sausalito/Tiburon,www.blueandgoldfleet.com; Oakland/Alameda/Vallejo, http://sanfranciscobayferry.com.

Contacts: San Francisco Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St. (415) 391-2000,www.sanfrancisco.travel.