With world-class culture, historical landmarks and outdoor adventures, San Francisco has so much to offer. From the ports to the best cruise lines and itineraries, here’s our guide to San Francisco for clients looking to sail to the colourful California city. 

Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco has to be up there among the world’s top cruising experiences. Hopefully, the lingering fog and low cloud will lift for a perfect view. If not, they simply add to the experience as they slowly unveil the instantly recognisable red-orange Golden Gate, the infamous Alcatraz prison and the quirky 43-hill city.

This seven-by-seven-mile peninsula on the Pacific coast is a near year-round port of call, often included in Hawaii itineraries. In the summer, it welcomes passengers travelling to Alaska, while winter cruises head south to Mexico. It’s also a regular stop for repositioning and coastal voyages in spring and autumn. This means clients aren’t limited to a specific time of year.

San Francisco port

Of San Francisco’s two main cruise terminals, Pier 35 is the closer to the tourist hot-spots of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. Pier 27 (also known as the James R Herman terminal) opened for cruise ships in 2014. Other terminals, such as Pier 30, are also occasionally used.

How to get there

The port is in the Embarcadero district, about 14 miles from San Francisco International Airport, which most visitors will fly into. Taxis take approximately 25 minutes, but it’s often longer as roads are busy. Oakland International Airport is across the bay, around 20 miles away. Pier 39 is also a great spot to appreciate San Fran’s landmarks and to view wild sea lions frolicking in the bay or snoozing on the pier.

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Muir Woods is home to some of the world’s tallest trees

Who sails in?

Royal Caribbean’s seven-night Pacific Coastal cruise on Serenade of the Seas departs San Diego on 19 May 2020 and calls at San Francisco, where it ports overnight before sailing to Astoria in Oregon, then Seattle and ending in Vancouver, Canada. Cruise-only prices start at £682pp for an inside stateroom.

Silversea’s nine-day American West Coast cruise from Vancouver to San Diego, on board Silver Cloud, takes in a full day at San Francisco, with a memorable sail-out under the Golden Gate Bridge at 10pm. Prices start at £4,590pp, including economy flights, transfers, shore excursions, gratuities and premium drinks. Departing 8 October 2020.

Crystal Cruises’ 11-night Northwest Gold Rush itinerary, sailing on Crystal Symphony, includes an overnight in San Fran to enable guests to explore the city at leisure. It leaves Vancouver on 17 September 2019, calling at Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Santa Barbara before arriving in Los Angeles. Cruise-only prices start from £2,866pp.

Princess Cruises offers a Classic California Coast round-trip out of Los Angeles, including a full day at San Francisco. Other ports of call on the seven-night trip are Monterey, San Diego and Ensenada. Cruise-only prices start at £699pp, departing 19 October 2019 on Royal Princess.

Cunard’s Grand Voyage on Queen Elizabeth departs San Francisco on 3 July 2019. The 36-night trip includes calls at Los Angeles, Panama City, transiting the Panama Canal, then calling at Fort Lauderdale, New York, Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, and then Dublin and Glasgow before arriving at Southampton on 8 August. Ocean view cabins start at £6,172pp.

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A cable car is a classic way to see some of San Francisco’s 43 hills

Selling tips

Princess Cruises vice-president UK and Europe Tony Roberts advises: “With awe-inspiring views along the Pacific Coast and iconic views of San Francisco itself, there is a perfect opportunity to up-sell to a balcony stateroom so clients are guaranteed an unforgettable experience.

“In San Francisco, late night departures and overnight stays allow guests to spend more time ashore and see the sights at a pace to suit them. There’s so much to take in, so an immersive shore excursion is the best way to get the most out of shore time.

“By identifying what individual customers value most during their time ashore, agents can help them build their own bespoke itinerary and ensure they cover off their wish-list.

“For first-timers, iconic locations such as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge are must-do tours, while repeat visitors might opt for more off-the-beaten-path options, such as wine tasting in Sonoma County or a visit to the quaint town of Sausalito.”