If there’s one thing all San Francisco Bay charters have in common, it’s that they are so different. From the bay, you could just as easily find yourself in an urban marina walking to a Giants game as you could a picturesque Napa Valley dock walking to a wine tasting. Strong breezes, fog, commercial traffic, a bustling race scene and multiple bridges make this an ideal region for seasoned salts, especially those seeking mild weather year-round.
The “San Francisco Bay Area” refers to the estuary spanning 50 miles north-south between San Jose and San Pablo Bay, with an east-west span of between three and 12 miles. To the east, the bay transitions into the Delta, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers wind through 1,100 miles of cruiseable grounds. Each of these areas offers a distinct sailing experience.
THE URBAN: During the day, take in the astounding views under sail. In the evening, tuck into South Beach Harbor. This bustling marina puts you in the heart of the city. You can walk to AT&T Park or dinghy to McCovey Cove, where fans have been known to catch a fly ball. Stroll along the historic Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where you’ll find a collection of artisanal foods, flowers, clothing and wares—all regionally sourced. Pier 39 has a lively assortment of art, music and food. Fisherman’s Wharf offers renowned seafood restaurants and ferry rides to Alcatraz—one of the most interesting tours you may ever experience.
THE FAMILY: After a night in Sausalito, make the sail to Angel Island State Park. Porpoises have returned to these waters following a 60-year hiatus, so keep a lookout. The docks on Angel Island are $15 a day, first-come-first-served. A four-mile trail wraps around the hills providing great hiking. A café and oyster cantina offer delicious eats and live entertainment, and there are barbecue pits galore. Before nightfall, when the ferries schlep the masses back to the mainland, make your way to the mooring field, also first-come-first-serve.
THE OENOPHILE: As you sail north through San Pablo Bay, the urban center makes way for the rolling, temperate hills of Napa. On the motorsail to Petaluma, you will pass the Petaluma Marsh Wildlife Area, home to an impressive number of migratory birds. Dockage in this quaint town is limited, but locals are welcoming. Petaluma is also home to the Lagunitas Brewery, so be sure to sample a pint of their “Somethin Somethin.” Another option is to sail beneath the San Rafael Bridge and up the Napa River to the Napa Valley Marina. This trip requires bridge openings and tricky navigating, but will land you at the front door of warm, scenic and serene wine county.
THE DOWN-HOME: Traveling up the delta, you’ll experience a great following breeze. The Central Valley, source of California’s renowned harvest, is split between the San Joaquin River to the south and the Sacramento River to the north. This is a different type of sailing—with bridge openings, tight channels and tricky navigation. Stock up on pool toys and bug spray before you go, and stick to the charts—it’s common for newcomers to run aground. Downtown Benicia offers down-home charm, with a great farmers’ market and live music through the high season. Old Sacramento offers 1,000 feet of riverfront docking, right in the Old West historic center. If you’re looking for a shady spot to kick back, Steamboat Slough is for you.
THE RIVERIA: Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the seaside towns of Marin County offer the feel of a European Riviera. After spending your day sailing the bay and perhaps dipping under the Bridge for a taste of the roaring Pacific, you’ll be happy to snug back ashore. Sausalito is great for shopping, strolling and eating, and Tiburon is home to the beloved Sam’s Anchor Café, which boasts a superb view of the Golden Gate.
For highlights, advice and charter company links go to:Five Charter Destinations in the United States