One of the main attractions of the Bay Area is, well, the Bay. Vast and sparkling blue, those waters offer an open invitation to adventure, but they can be a little intimidating to those who haven’t quite gotten their sea legs — or a yacht.
But here are a few ways to get out on the Bay, its estuaries and lakes — no experience necessary.
1 The Schooner Freda B
This classic, meticulously maintained, 80-foot schooner is beloved by locals and tourists alike. The boat is available for public sails, as well as private charters, and offers gourmet bites and fine wines along with those breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz and, of course, the Sausalito and San Francisco skylines.
Details: Public sailing events, which range from sunset sails to holiday events, start at $99. The schooner is moored at Slip 465 at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor. Find details at schoonerfredab.com/.
2 Discovery Bay pontoons
You can explore Discovery Bay and the Delta with a captained cruise for up to six people through CB’s Pontoon Boat Rentals for no-effort sightseeing and splashy fun. Or you can DIY it here with a rental pontoon boat, water bike or stand-up paddle board.
Details: Captained cruises start at $250 per hour. Pontoon boats can be rented by experienced boaters, ages 30 and up, for $300 for two hours; water bikes and paddleboards are $50 for two hours. Find CB’s at 5901 Marina Road in Discovery Bay and at https://cbspontoonboatrentals.com.
3 A private yacht charter
You don’t need your own boat to get out on the Bay. The captain and crew at Captain Kirk’s San Francisco Sailing will take you out for a sail aboard one of their three yachts. Board the 50-foot Osprey in Alameda, for example, for a sail around the Oakland Estuary. Head for Sausalito, where the 35-foot Mahalo is berthed, or San Francisco for the 50-foot Bay Wolf. You’re welcome to try your hand at sailing, but if you’d rather kick back and leave it to the professionals, they’ve got you covered.
Details: Captain Kirk’s three-hour cruises start at $175 to $250 per hour with one to six passengers aboard. Find details about these and other charters, including harbor porpoise trips or Angel Island barbecues at www.sfbaysail.com.
4 Lake Merritt gondolas
Spend a sunny day or romantic evening Italian-style in a Venetian gondola — no passport necessary. You’ll find Dolce Vita Gondola at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, a large tidal lagoon surrounded by parkland and city neighborhoods. Board one of these light, flat-bottomed boats and enjoy the ride as your gondolier guides you across the water. Back on shore, wander up from Dolce Vita Gondola’s private dock to the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill for a post-float sip.
Details: Dolce Vita Gondola offers private rides starting at $90 per hour at 1520 Lakeside Drive on the shores of Lake Merritt, Oakland. Find details and book a ride at dolcevitagondola.com.
5 San Francisco Water Taxi
Captained cruises and private yacht charters are fabulous adventures, of course, but they do require some planning. For a more casual and affordable mini-excursion, consider San Francisco Water Taxi. Their bright yellow boats run alongside the San Francisco waterfront, offering five easy hop-on, hop-off stops. Enjoy a quick outing on the Bay that gets you right where you to need to be, without the hassle of navigating city streets or traffic jams.
Details: The Water Taxi stops at Hyde Street Fishing Harbor, Pier 39, Pier 15 (Exploratorium), Pier 40 (Oracle Ballpark) and Pier 52 (Chase Center), with $10 boat rides or a $15 day pass north of the Bay Bridge, and $15 to $35 rides to Oracle Ballpark and Chase Center. Find details at www.sfwatertaxi.net.
6 Ferry hopping
One local charm that sets the Bay Area apart from other regions is its ferries. It’s cheaper than chartering — by far — and vastly more scenic than BART. Cross the water to get from port to port or stop off at must-see destinations you simply can’t reach on foot, like Alcatraz or Angel Island. With sea breezes riffling your hair all the while, the whole trip will feel like an adventure, not a commute
Details: Ferries criss-cross the Bay from Sausalito, Tiburon, San Francisco, Richmond, Vallejo, Oakland, Alameda and more. Find Golden Gate Ferry schedules and details at www.goldengate.org, and San Francisco Bay Ferry details at sanfranciscobayferry.com/.
7 Check out a yacht club
Yes, really. It’s no surprise that the Bay Area is home to scores of yacht clubs, each distinctive in its own way. Some are more selective than others, of course, but there are several that welcome even inexperienced sailors. Take Alameda’s Aeolian Yacht Club, for example, a volunteer-driven homeport where the only requirement that matters is a shared love of the sea.
Details: Explore the Aeolian club at aeolianyc.org or try the Cal Sailing Club, which is more of boat club than a yacht one. The club’s monthly open houses — July 16, Aug. 20 and more — are open to all and include free half-hour sails; www.cal-sailing.org.