Cheap Family Fun on the Golden Gate Ferry

December 18, 2007

If you're looking for an inexpensive but fun outing for the family, especially during Christmas break, the Golden Gate Ferry can be a lot of fun. Best of all, children 5 and under with an adult are free (maximum 2 children per adult). Most people think of the Larkspur ferry in terms of its commute role, but they run at all times of day and are usually pretty empty in the late morning and early afternoon, when kids can pretty much have the run of the boat. Enjoy spectacular views of the bay, Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin, as well as closer views of ships and boats on the bay and marine wildlife--we've seen all sorts of birds from brown pelicans to cormorants and even a harbor seal or two. The ferry ride is also a great way to entertain out-of-town guests.

In case anyone gets hungry there's a snack bar on board, as well as a full bar, which will probably make quite a few parents happy. The majority of the Larkspur trips are serviced by the two high speed catamarans, the M.V. Del Norte and the M.V. Mendocino. These fast boats make the trip to San Francisco's Ferry Building in about half an hour, and are fun for the zoom factor. You can go outside on both, although the Del Norte has less outside deck space than the Mendocino, and you stand a good chance of getting wet from the spray off the stern. It's all part of the fun. A few trips are still made by one of the old, slow Spaulding boats (pictured above), which take about 45 minutes to make the crossing. They're ok if you want to maximize your boat ride time, and the large outdoor decks are a lot more conducive to riding outside than the cold, wet and windy decks on the faster boats. Golden Gate also runs Spaulding boats out of Sausalito.

Of course once you get to the city there's plenty to do, with the Embarcadero and Market Street converging right outside the Ferry Building. Shop at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market, or head over to Embarcadero Center. You can also hop on an historic F Market & Wharves streetcar and head up Market Street and visit Union Square, SFMOMA, or Yerba Buena Gardens, or grab a car heading in the opposite direction and visit Fisherman's Wharf and the historic ships on Hyde Street Pier. If you arrive early enough in the morning, there are free Muni transfers good for trips both away from and back to the ferry terminal.

Getting There

The Larkspur Ferry terminal is located off East Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Larkspur Landing. Take 101 to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit and head east. The terminal parking area will be on your right. Parking is free. The lot gets full very fast in the morning. If you arrive for one of the normal commute times there shouldn't be a problem, but parking can be tight later on in the day. There's an overflow lot by the Marin Airporter and you can also park along the street on East Sir Francis Drake. Make sure you give yourself enough time to find a spot to avoid that mad dash for the boat with little kids in tow!

The ferries run every half hour or 40 minutes or so. The first boat leaves Larkspur at 5:50 am, and the last boat back to Marin departs San Francisco at 9:35 pm. Consult the official schedule at goldengateferry.org for times. Adult cash fares are $7.10 each way, seniors and youth 6–18 are $3.55, and of course kids under 6 are free.


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