Shore Excursion Ideas for San Francisco: Top 5 Options for Anyone Stopping by SF for the Day

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: May 25, 2022

Are you on a cruise that is stopping by SF for the day? Here you will find many shore excursion ideas for San Francisco.

One of your best options is a ride around the city on a Hop On/Hop Off Bus. You can also squeeze in both Alcatraz Island and a guided City Tour in just one day.

The Queen Victoria docked at SF's Pier 27.

Another idea is to head north for some wine tasting or to visit the beautiful Muir Woods National Park. Read on to learn more about my five favorite shore excursion ideas.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

1. Alcatraz & City Tour

If this is your first visit to San Francisco and your cruise is stopping for several hours, then you must take a closer look at this shore excursion. In one day, you will get the chance to see the famous prison of Alcatraz Island. You will spend a few hours there before returning to shore and hopping aboard a bus for the city tour.

On the city tour, you will see top attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and Chinatown. This tour also takes you past the Palace of Fine Arts, the North Beach District, and along the waterfront.

It's a lot to see in one day, but perfect for those visiting for the first time.

Learn More: Click here to visit the Alcatraz Tours page and learn more about what it will be like during your visit.

2. Hop On/Hop Off Tour

The Hop On/Hop Off Tour is the best option for those who prefer to explore the city on their own. The entire round trip takes about 2 hours without stopping, but you will want to hop off and spend more time at your top SF attractions along the way.

This tour allows you to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, the Haight Ashbury District, and Golden Gate Park. It also offers stops at the Civic Center Plaza, Union Square, and Chinatown.

You will pick up your tour just a few blocks away from Pier 27, which is the main terminal and where most cruise ships dock for the day and/or night.

Learn More: Find additional bus tour options around SF

3. San Francisco City Tour

If your stop in SF is more limited, then you might want to look at the SF City Tour. This tour only lasts 3.5 hours, which gives you plenty of time to do some exploring on your own either before or after. You will also have plenty of time to return to the ship before it leaves for the day.

A hazy day near the Golden Gate Bridge in SF.

On this tour, you will see the Golden Gate Bridge, drive through the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square, and get the chance to admire the golden dome on SF's City Hall. Weather permitting, you will also stop at Twin Peaks for one of the best views of SF and the surrounding area.

>> Find tickets for this tour

4. Muir Woods Half-Day Tour

If you have visited SF before, then I recommend checking out this half-day tour of Muir Woods National Park. This beloved forest is home to dozens of large Coastal Redwood Trees, some of which are more than 1,000 years old and stand up to 260 feet tall.

Your journey starts with a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. You will then enjoy some great views as you twist and turn on windy roads to the entrance of Muir Woods. Your trip continues with a walk through the gorgeous park as you view these amazing trees.

On the way back to SF, you will drive through the lovely seaside town of Sausalito. If you have some time before your cruise departs, you can select the option to return to SF by ferry from Sausalito, rather than crossing back over the Golden Gate Bridge. The ferry will drop you off less than a mile from Pier 27, where the ship will be waiting.

Or, you can remain on the bus, take a second ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, and return to the starting location.

Learn More: Click here to see pictures and learn more about what it's like to visit Muir Woods

5. Napa & Sonoma Full-Day Wine Tasting Tour

If you love wine, then I recommend taking a day trip just north of San Francisco. On this full-day tour, you get the chance to visit two famous wine regions: Napa Valley & Sonoma.

The trip starts with a pick-up from Pier 27. You will then ride north over the Golden Gate Bridge. The tour includes stops at three wineries where you will learn more about their wines, how wine is made, and the regions themselves. You will then get the chance to sample the wines during your stops.

Along the way, your knowledgeable guide will tell you all about Napa and Sonoma. They will also answer your questions and ensure you arrive before the ship departs from SF.

Learn More: Discover additional tours to the Northern California wine regions

Book Today: Click here to visit and learn more about these and other shore excursion options. You can also read reviews and find detailed descriptions of each option.

Explore SF on Your Own

If you prefer to explore SF on your own, I have many tools to help you with your planning. Click the links below for detailed information on how to see as much as possible during your stop.

One Day in SF: This is the ultimate day tour of SF on your own. In one day, you will visit Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Fisherman's Wharf. It's also set up so you can easily skip certain stops to ensure you arrive back to the ship on time. Click here to learn more.

Perfect Day in Fisherman's Wharf: This self-guided tour allows you to visit all of the top spots in the Fisherman's Wharf district. You will see Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, and the Hyde Street Pier. It also includes recommendations on places to grab lunch or dinner or stop for a little rest along the way. Click here for my "Perfect Day in Fisherman's Wharf" tour.

Perfect Day in Chinatown: Another interesting district to explore is Chinatown. SF is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. It's also the oldest one in North America. On my one-day tour, you will stroll around this district to see its colorful murals and temples, and get a glimpse inside life in this "city within a city." Click here to learn more.

Perfect Day in North Beach: The North Beach district is where you will find Coit Tower, amazing Italian goodies, and the history of the Beat Generation. You will start the day with a climb (or cab ride) up to Coit Tower, where you will get 360-degree views of SF and the chance to admire its historic murals. You will then sample the most amazing focaccia bread in the area, see where Joe DiMaggio learned to play baseball, and stop by the Beat Museum to read stories about key figures such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Click here for additional details.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

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You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It's a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!

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