San Diego Bay tours provide opportunities to sightsee from the water in the form of thrill rides, Champagne cruises, drive-your-own speedboats and more. In addition, many downtown San Diego hotels are within walking distance to the embarkation points for these tours.
See also: Best Downtown San Diego Hotels
The amphibious bus-boats starts off on land and plunges into the water. This tour is a hit with kids, especially, runs 90 minutes (30 minutes on land and 60 minutes at sea) is fully-narrated and departs from two different locations. You’ll likely spot sea lions and plenty of birds while learning about San Diego’s history as a military town and snapping plenty of scenic photos along the way.
Family-owned and operated for over 100 years, this San Diego favorite offers a variety of harbor cruises. Flagship Cruises options include:
- Seasonal whale watching tours in partnership with naturalists from Birch Aquarium
- Sunday prime rib dinner cruise
- Sunday Champagne brunch cruise
- Friday Hops on the Harbour (craft beer and dinner cruise)
- Weekend sunset cocktail cruises
- Narrated sightseeing tours
You may be able to save a little by booking through aRes Travel but you’ll need to check the Flagship Cruises schedule and then input the date and time you’d like to go.
Patriot Jet Boat
The Patriot Jet Boat is a high-speed, 30-minute thrill ride with spins, tricks, and turns at speeds of up to 50 mph. It’s owned by Flagship Cruises and very popular with locals and tourists alike. You’ll laugh, scream and rock out to tunes during the journey. It’s even possible to go whale watching on the Patriot Jet Boat, too.
Need to head somewhere along the San Diego Bay? Hop into a water taxi. This private transportation seats up to 32 people and is fantastic for pickups, drop-offs and private, hourly charters between waterfront locations in Coronado, Point Loma, and downtown San Diego.
Take the 15-minute, scenic trip across the bay between Coronado and downtown San Diego. The trip is $4.75 each way and you can bring on a bicycle for free. This ferry helps tourists go carless in San Diego. It’s a way to get to the beach when staying in downtown San Diego and gives Coronado visitors easy access to restaurants and shops in the downtown area. Downtown riders catch the Coronado Ferry at the Broadway Pier or the Convention Center. Both departures arrive at the Coronado Ferry Landing. A seasonal shuttle bus between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day takes guests from the Coronado Ferry Landing to Orange Avenue (perfect for Hotel Del Coronado guests) and Silver Strand (perfect for Loews Coronado guests).
Book Hornblower Cruises for lovely narrated harbor cruises, nightly dinner cruises, Champagne brunch cruises and whale watching. Also popular are the Friday and Saturday lobster dinner cruises.
Speed Boat Adventures
Here’s a chance to drive a 13′ mini speedboat as part of a narrated group bay tour. The boats seat up to 3 people and are most appropriate for kids ages 5 and older to ride in. Drivers must be 18 years old (16 if an adult is present in the boat). Note that you would catch this over at Harbor Island, closer to the airport.
Tip: The way to pick your date and tour time at booking is to book direct through Speedboat Adventures.
Adventure RIB Rides
Rigid-hull Inflatable Boats (RIBS) have a hard fiberglass hull surrounded by inflated pontoons for extra stability. RIBs are popular for whale-watching in many other parts of the world. These boats, designed originally for military patrols, are smaller and may have a bumpier ride than larger boats. This smaller, lighter boat may provide more of an up-close experience, but it also may not be for everyone, especially those prone to seasickness. They offer three different tour options: Wildlife and Naval Heritage Cruise of San Diego Bay, Whale and Dolphin Watching (not in the Bay), and a tour of the Los Coronados Islands off the coast of Mexico (but which are visible from coastal San Diego).
Several VERY Unique Tours on Replica Ships
The Maritime Museum of San Diego maintains replica ships for unique San Diego Bay tours.
America: It’s a 139-foot ship docked at the Maritime Museum available for harbor cruises, whale watching, private charters, and more for up to 80 guests. It’s a replica of the low black schooner famous for winning the historic Royal Yacht Squadron’s 100 Guinea Cup race around the Isle of Wight. That trophy was donated to the New York Yacht Club to be held as a challenge trophy, and it came to be known as America’s Cup. It’s also reported to be one of the smoothest boat rides you’ll ever experience.
Swift Boat: What better way to tour San Diego’s military history than on the Swift Boat, PCF-816. Tours take riders under the Coronado Bay Bridge, to the Naval Base San Diego, and then the Naval Amphibious Base.
Californian: It’s the Official Tall Ship of the State of California and a replica of a gold rush era revenue cutter. You’ll be able to join the crew in sailing it while learning about San Diego’s maritime history and local marine life.
San Salvador: Sail on a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s ship that carried him to the discovery of California in 1542. This is an ideal opportunity for sailing enthusiasts to experience what it was like on a sixteenth-century galleon over a 4-hour tour.
America’s Cup Sailing on the Stars & Stripes USA-11
Be an active participant in a 3-hour, interactive cruise aboard sailing aboard Stars & Stripes USA-11, the same yacht raced by Dennis Conner in the 1992 America’s Cup. You’ll have the opportunity to participate by trimming sails and taking a turn at the helm or simply relaxing is fine, too. They can accommodate individuals, groups, and charters of up to 24 people. Book in advance as this is certainly one of the unique San Diego bay tours.
San Diego Sailing Tours
Grab some friends for a 2-hour San Diego Bay tour via sailboat. San Diego Sailing tours specializes in San Diego Micro-Brew beer and local wines that one may enjoy during the sail from the on-board bar menu. The captain is happy to narrate historic sites as the sailboat passes by. Private charters are also available.
What are your favorite San Diego Bay tours?