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Boat Tours & Harbor Cruises in San Diego

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is a city in symbiosis with the ocean. From the first impression you get from the city, you'll notice that most of the activities you can do in San Diego are ocean-related.

San Diego runs north-south along the coast and around a natural bay that has become its port, plus miles of sandy coastline beloved by Californian surfers. The coast faces west and is perfect for watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean.

Explore the San Diego coastline on a sailboat tour or enjoy a harbor bay cruise.

What are the best boat tours from San Diego?

Harbor cruise

Explore San Diego Bay on a live commentary cruise. The crew will explain the history of the city, focusing on the military history of the port.

The Port of San Diego has always been of extraordinary importance to the history of the United States because it is one of the largest naval bases of the US Navy: it is the headquarters of the US Navy's Pacific Fleet. The famous Navy Seals are also based in San Diego. There are two historic military ships anchored in the harbor: the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Midway.

The cruise will pass San Diego's port landmarks, including warships, Coronado Bay Bridge and Seaport Village.

The cruise is not only a tourist boat tour, but also an ecological one. San Diego Bay is home to several animal species that can be observed from the cruise, such as sea lions, pelicans and the blue heron. In particular, you will notice a colony of Californian sea lions that usually settle on Point Loma barges. The cruise will pass by the sea lions and you will be able to see them jump into the water or rest on the barges.

The boat has outdoor and indoor seating. Therefore, it is possible to take a cruise even if the outside temperature is not high or the weather is rainy.

The cruise is definitely the best way to visit the Port of San Diego.

Whale watching cruise

San Diego has become one of the best places in the world for whale watching. San Diego's location is geographically perfect for year-round viewing as it is on the migration route used by gray whales. The whales move from Alaska's cold waters in the winter and spring to reach Guerrero Negro Bay in Baja California to give birth and then return. During the summer, whales stay off San Diego to feed.

By booking a whale-watching boat tour, you will be sure to see them! In fact, if you don't see a whale or a dolphin on the boat tour, you'll get a free ticket for one of the following days. Compare all whale watching boat tours from San Diego!

Whale watching boat trips aim to spot both whales and pods of dolphins. The latter are the most playful and loved by children. Dolphins interact with the boat by swimming very close and playing with the boat itself. You can easily spot different species of dolphins such as the common dolphin, the Risso's dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin and the slanted-toothed dolphin.

Among the whales, you can spot gray whales and blue whales, humpback whales and fin whales. Other wild ocean animals such as sunfish, sea lions, seals or sea birds (herons, gulls, pelicans) can be spotted on the boat tour. Take advantage of the captain's live commentary to spot all of these marine animals.

Dinner Cruise

Enjoy a 3-hour cruise that combines exquisite food with views of San Diego Bay. The cruise will move into the San Diego Harbor Bay and you will have the opportunity to stroll the deck of the boat and enjoy the sunset over the bay before dinner.

Dinner consists of 3 courses, which include salads, vegetables, cheeses, whiskey braised beef ribs, baked salmon and dessert. Of course, drinks are included.

Some cruises offer a special dinner, which includes a tasting of six local craft beers.

Each reservation corresponds to a private table. After dinner, there will be time for music and dancing.

Patriot jet boat tour

Get your adrenaline pumping on this speedboat tour of San Diego Bay. The Patriot is a powerful speedboat that can reach remarkable speeds and make sharp turns. Get ready for the adrenaline-pumping thrill of this tour and get plenty of water mist.

Along the way, you will see the most iconic sights of the bay, such as the USS Midway, Coronado Island, Seaport Village and the city skyline.

Driving a motorboat

Enjoy driving a speedboat in San Diego Bay. You can drive the boat yourself, following the advice of an expert guide who will always be connected via radio. Follow commentary from your guide as he walks you through the route and tells you about the history of attractions you see along the way, such as the USS Midway or the Russian submarine of the San Diego State Maritime. You will also be able to see the sea lions that are grouping on the Point Loma barges.

This tour is an excellent choice for those who do not want to participate in the classic sightseeing cruise and prefer a more adrenaline-fueled version of the sightseeing boat tour.

Sail catamaran cruise

Enjoy a sailing trip on a catamaran or Catalina-style boat with a small group of 6 or 12 people. Experience the thrill of sailing along the shores of San Diego. The boat excursion will last approximately 3 hours. Many sailing tours depart in the late afternoon, so you can see the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the boat.

Many tours include free soft drinks, beer, wine, and snacks to enjoy along the way.

Sunset boat tour from Mission Bay

Set sail from the shores of Mission Bay for a sunset cruise. You'll cross Mission Bay as the sun goes down to watch the sunset over the Pacific off the coast. Take advantage of the bar on the boat to have a few drinks while enjoying the spectacle of nature.

What are the best places to visit on a boat tour from San Diego?

Port of San Diego

Any visitor to San Diego should spend a day in its harbor. Several attractions are located in the harbor, including the USS Midway, the Maritime Museum, the Embarcadero Marina Park and the Seaport Village.

Sightseeing cruises are an ideal way to find your way around the port's various attractions and receive an introduction to their history. The USS Midway Museum is definitely a must-see. The San Diego Maritime Museum hosts several historic merchant and passenger ships moored on the docks.

You can also stroll along the promenade and try one of the exquisite fish restaurants.

USS Midway

The USS Midway is one of the largest aircraft carriers in the United States Navy. Coming into operation shortly after the end of the Second World War, the aircraft carrier was used in various missions, including in Vietnam and Iraq. Decommissioned in 1992, the USS Midway is now docked in the port of San Diego and is used as a museum. It is possible to buy the tickets for the USS Midway here. Inside, you can see many sections of the aircraft carrier and learn a lot about sailors' lives and the functioning of a warship of this size.

All boat tours that cross the San Diego Bay pass by the aircraft carrier. You will be quite impressed with the size!

Mission Bay

Mission Bay is an artificial bay created from a wetland area of San Diego. The whole area is now dedicated to recreational activities. Several sections of Mission Bay are dedicated to sports lovers such as sailing, kite surfing, stand-up paddle, and sport fishing. There are also areas dedicated to the family with facilities for barbecues, picnics and the possibility of renting a bicycle.

The famous SeaWorld San Diego is located within Mission Bay.

Some boat tours depart from Mission Bay and cross the entire bay. The sunset is particularly interesting from the bay as the natural landscape with palm trees and trees is quite different from the typical San Diego skyline.

What types of boat tours are available in San Diego?

Group boat tour

Group cruises are the most common in San Diego. Sightseeing cruises and cruise dinners belong to this category. Each cruise can accommodate a few dozen participants.

There are also group boat tours with a much smaller number of participants, such as sailing excursions, where the maximum number of the group is 6, 8 or 12 people.

Private boat tours

Private sailing tours offer a higher quality experience. They are undoubtedly ideal for a group of friends, a family or a couple looking for a more private experience. With private cruises, you will have a boat reserved for you and a skipper who will lead the boat.

Boat rental

If you are capable of driving a boat, it may be a good idea to charter one. There are motorboats or sailing yachts available for a day trip on the open sea.

How much do boat tours cost from San Diego?

Boat trips from San Diego have a price that varies depending on the type:

  • Port of San Diego Bay Sightseeing Cruises cost around $ 30.
  • Evening dinner cruises cost between $ 110 and $ 120.
  • Renting a speedboat for a couple of hours costs around $ 80.
  • Whale watching cruises cost between $ 45 and $ 105.
  • Group sailing tours cost around $ 100 per person.
  • Private sailing tours cost between $ 400 and $ 1000 for a whole group.

Where do boat trips leave from San Diego?

Most boat tours depart from the Port of San Diego, especially sightseeing cruises and dinner cruises included.

Some sailing excursions may depart from other smaller ports in the city, such as Mission Bay or Shelter Island. Read the tour information carefully to see where the boat tour starts.

What is the duration of a boat excursion from San Diego?

Boat trips from San Diego take a few hours. Sightseeing cruises last approximately one hour while those with dinner included last approximately 3 hours. Sailboat excursions and whale watching cruises last approximately 3 hours.

When is the best time for a boat tour from San Diego?

The best time to enjoy a day on a boat in the Pacific Ocean is definitely the summer (June-September). Spring and autumn are quite warm and, therefore, suitable for a boat tour. In winter, sailing excursions are not recommended while sightseeing cruises and whale watching tours operate as they have large indoor spaces.

Travel tips

Here are some travel tips to better enjoy your boat experience

  • If the day is sunny, take some sunscreen with you to prevent sunburn.
  • Please be at the tour meeting point half an hour early to avoid unexpected events and have time to board.
  • Book as early as possible to make sure your desired boat tour is available.
  • Bring a camera to take unforgettable photos.