sailing san francisco

You could be setting sails after going under the Bay Bridge aboard the Topsail Schooner, Bay Lady. (Photo: Spinnaker Sailing-San Francisco. Drew Harper)

San Francisco

Hoist the Sails and Hit the Bay — Experience San Fran by Sailboat

San Francisco Bay is one of the premier sailing venues in the world thanks to unique topographical features and the brisk sea breeze blowing through the Golden Gate nearly every day from April to October. It offers a view of the city most people don’t get to see, in part because most visitors don’t realize how accessible sailing is.

As a competitive amateur sailor, I spend most weekends year-round on a sailboat, racing in the Bay, up and down the coast of California and across the Pacific to Hawaii. And no matter how many times we sail along the city front, the view never gets old.

When friends and family come to visit San Francisco, the first thing I arrange is a few hours at sea. There are opportunities for everyone to get on the water, regardless of your age or skill level. The only requirement? A sense of adventure.

America’s Cup Sailing

Known simply by its sail number, USA 76 is an 84-foot America’s Cup–class yacht used by the Oracle team in the 2003 Challenger Series. This is definitely the most thrilling option when it comes to San Francisco sailing charters. Buy a ticket for a 2 1/2-hour public sail or join the crew for an evening race. Private charters are also available for corporate events and team building.

Just stepping onto USA 76 and looking up the 155-foot mast will give you a tingle, but that’s nothing compared to sailing upwind at speeds that will make most other boats seem like they’re standing still.

Step Back in Time

Families and history buffs will enjoy an afternoon on the 80-foot Freda B, a replica of a traditional gaff-rigged schooner. Schooners date to the 1600s and were originally used as trading vessels, sailing between Europe and North America.

Freda B carries up to 49 guests and offers a variety of ticketed afternoon and evening sails throughout the year. The boat is docked in Sausalito and will take you past most of the Bay’s iconic sites: Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Fort Mason and Mount Tamalpais.

The sunset and full-moon cruises are by far the most popular. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll love the game-night cruise into McCovey Cove with gorgeous views of AT&T Park and the San Francisco nighttime skyline.

Learn to Sail

sailing san francisco
Learning the nuances of sail trim aboard a sailing lesson in San Francisco Bay. (Photo: Spinnaker Sailing-San Francisco. Drew Harper)

Rendezvous Charters is the charter arm of Spinnaker Sailing School. The staff of the two companies are not only licensed boat captains and instructors, they’re also avid racers and some of my favorite people to sail with because of how much I learn every time we go out.

“There are many trip options, from a simple sail across the Bay with a few friends, a bottle of wine and some snacks, or for the more inquisitive, a full weekend of sailing lessons that will give you a solid base of understanding,” said president Drew Harper. “Boats, wind and sails can be intimidating for younger kids, but most will love getting the chance to steer!”

They have a large fleet, from small teaching boats to their world record holder Santa Cruz 50 Yukon Jack and the schooner Bay Lady, so no matter the group or the conditions, they’re ready to go sailing.

You’ll capture unforgettable moments and memories on the Bay. (Photo: Getty Images)

Out the Gate

One of the most popular must-do items on any San Francisco visitor’s itinerary is a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, gazing down at the sailboats below. It’s a stunning view, but being on one of the sailboats gazing up at the pedestrians on the bridge is far better!

Captain Kirk’s offers several private charter options, including a four-hour trip that goes under the Golden Gate Bridge, into the ocean, and up the coast past Point Bonita, Fort Cronkite and Tennessee Valley Beach to Muir Beach, on their Santa Cruz 50 Bay Wolf.

Short on Time

The San Francisco Sailing Company offers multiple 90-minute and 2-hour tours throughout the day on their Islander Freeport 41 Privateer from Pier 39. If you don’t have much time but still want to get out on the water, this is a perfect opportunity.

The trip takes you around Alcatraz and Angel Island, over to Sausalito, along the Golden Gate Bridge and back along the city front. And at only $49 per person, this is also one of the most economical sailing opportunities on the Bay.

Join a Friday Night Race

If you’re an experienced sailboat racer, head down to South Beach Yacht Club’s (SBYC) Friday Night Series from April through August. Of the evening racing opportunities on the Bay, this is by far my favorite, for the stunning sunset views of San Francisco and the friendly atmosphere, as well as the all-you-can-eat buffet dinner for crew at the club after.

SBYC is located between Pier 40 and AT&T Park. Hang out at the marina gates around 5:00 p.m. You will want to bring full foul-weather gear, and life jackets are required. Some 30 boats participate each week, so it would be a rare occasion to not find a ride.