Waiting to board your cruise ship is so exciting, if you have some time to spare before you board, why not make the most of your time in San Francisco and start your cruise vacation early? In this San Francisco Cruise Port Guide, I share some ideas of things to do before or after your cruise.
San Francisco Cruise Port
The port of San Francisco is a popular West Coast embarkation port for many cruises out of the United States. Cruise ship itineraries from San Francisco visit Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico, with around 80 cruise calls each year. Some of the largest cruise companies like Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean use the port’s cruise terminals.
The cruise port terminal is located in west end San Francisco between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Bay Bridge at Pier 27, also known as James R. Herman Cruise Terminal (and Pier 35 occasionally).
How to get to the Cruise Port
From San Francisco International Airport, you’re looking at around a 45 minute drive to Pier 27 on the Embarcadero. Be aware that traffic from San Francisco airport can get pretty busy along this road (especially during rush hour) so make sure you leave plenty of time to arrive. A taxi ride will cost approximately $60-70 but Uber and Lyft operate in San Francisco and are likely to be a cheaper option.
If you are driving to the port, the closest and most affordable long term parking is IMPark on Francisco Road. The Waterfront Parking Lot at 80 Francisco Road offers long term cruise passenger parking for $20 per day. There is a short term car park at Pier 27 but this is not available on days when cruise ships are docked.
Rental car services can be found near Fisherman’s Wharf, which is easy walking distance to the San Francisco cruise terminal.
Places to eat near San Francisco cruise port
The first place you will come across near Pier 27 is the Pier 23 Café but be aware that it doesn’t open for breakfast. Fog City is conveniently located across the Embarcadero from Pier 27 and offers some great lunch options including salads, fried chicken and wood-fire pizzas. If you’re in search of a sophisticated setting for a pre-cruise lunch, Hillstone restaurant is located near Pier 33.
If you head to the San Francisco Ferry Building, (6 minute taxi ride), you will have a good choice of places to eat and get coffee. We enjoyed brunch at the Boulettes Larder but there are so many great options here including bagels, doughnuts, Vietnamese and hot sandwiches.
Generally, embarkation at the San Francisco cruise port starts between 11.00am and 1.00pm. Timings will also depend on the cruise line. With new embarkation procedures post-Coronavirus, it will be even more important that cruise passengers stick to allocated embarkation slots.
One of the most spectacular things about cruising from San Francisco is passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a sailaway you cannot afford to miss! Whatever time you embark the ship, make sure you are on the lido deck for the sailaway party. It’s certainly a ‘hold your breath’ moment as the ship sails under the bridge.
Top Things to do near San Francisco Cruise Port
If you have the time, I’d definitely recommend spending a day or two in San Francisco to explore the city’s nearby attractions. We stayed for an extra two nights after our cruise and made the most of our time.
1. Visit Alcatraz
1.25 miles off shore from San Francisco is Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary housed notorious prisoners such as Al Capone, George Celino Barnes (Machine Gun Kelly) and the Frank Morris (who escaped in 1962).
Book your tickets for directly from the official Alcatraz website that includes a boat trip to the island with entry to the buildings. Boats depart from Pier 33 on the hour with return trips running 20 minutes later.
I’d recommend booking for the morning or early afternoon. We made the mistake of taking the 3pm boat to Alcatraz, which meant we had no choice but to take the last boat to San Francisco at 5.40pm. Give yourself plenty of time to explore and speak to the staff, who can provide interesting insights into life on Alcatraz.
We found ourselves quietly trying to imagine what life must have been like as an inmate in Alcatraz. The buildings are left as they were, as if one day they just packed up and left.
2. See the Sea Lions at Pier 39
To see the California Sea Lions, head to Pier 39 in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. They can be found sunbathing in big groups on the docks and draw quite a crowd of onlookers.
It’s thought that the sea lions were initially attracted to the docks because of its plentiful herring and protective environment. They’ve now become ‘sea-lebrities’ of San Francisco.
Pier 39 is a hub of activity with shops, bars and restaurants so whilst your there, I’d recommend eating at one of the restaurants at the end of the pier.
We enjoyed some of the best chicken wings ever at Hana Zen Sushi and Yakitori Restaurant. It also has some unobstructed views of the Bay so ask if there is a table by the window available when you arrive.
3. Eat Clam Chowder from a Sourdough Bread Bowl
San Francisco is well-known for serving clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. My advice would be to avoid the shiny Boudin Bakery Cafes and head to the clam chowder and crab stalls on Jefferson Street, at the foot of Taylor Street, in Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a no frills option but it’s the real deal.
4. Ride a Trolley
A historic symbol of San Francisco is the cable cars system that transports passengers up and down the steep hills. One-way fares cost around $7 per person. The California Line that is around an 18 minute walk from the cruise terminal.
This cable car map by SF To Do is really useful for planning your trip. If you have time, it’s a great way to travel.
Our hotel was nearest to the Powell/Hyde cable car line and so we opted to get on at Market Street. It was a novel experience as we weren’t quite sure how it worked but you can simply get on and pay the cable car operator.
5. Visit Chinatown and Little Italy
You can easily combine a visit to Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy) by foot during your time in San Francisco. Both are within a short walk of each other. We opted to take our own route and stop when we came across interesting shops and sights but you can take organised food tours.
Seek out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley, where they make up to 10,000 fortune cookies a day!
6. The Crookedest Street in the World
Lombard Street is in fact not the ‘crookedest street in the world’ or San Francisco but is still a great landmark to visit to watch the cars snake from side to side. It has 8 hairpin turns that attracts hundred of drivers each hour.
You can easily incorporate the view of Lombard Street on your visit to North Beach. In all honesty, we accidentally came across it during our walk around Chinatown and Little Italy. If you’re around that area, it’s worth seeing from the lower section, looking upwards.
Other Places to Visit near the San Francisco main cruise terminals
- Nob Hill
- Downtown San Francisco
- Golden Gate Park
- Telegraph Hill
- Bay Street
- Fremont Street
- Laguna Street
San Francisco is an exciting West Coast cruise port in Northern California that justifies a pre-cruise or post-cruise stay. The city is very accommodating of cruise ship passengers because the cruise ship calls are important to the city’s economy.
Getting in and out of the cruise port is relatively easy. Just leave yourself plenty of time to avoid rushing.
There are a number of events that take place throughout the year. We happened to visit during Fleet Week, which celebrates the Bay Area’s naval tradition and we were fortunate to see the Blue Angels air show. The weekend also coincided with Columbus Day so the streets were extra busy but the parade was a welcome surprise.
I’d advise that you wear comfortable shoes for the inevitable amount of walking that you’ll do. The area can be quite windy so a lightweight jacket or jumper is advisable. As soon as the sun starts to go down, it can get a bit chilly.
Whatever you do, do not miss the sailaway from San Francisco to experience passing under the Golden Gate Bridge!