WITH ITS ASSOCIATION TO all things maritime you should be sure to see San Diego by boat. U.S. News identified 10 of the best boat tours available in the city by consulting both traveler opinion and expert input. The tall ships and naval vessels will whisk visitors across the city's waters, while experienced guides point out the whales, dolphins and sea lions that call the city's waters home. Keep an eye on the coast to pick out San Diego's top attractions during your tour.
Flagship Cruises & Events – San Diego Harbor Cruise Full Bay Tour
This two-hour, comprehensive trip takes travelers to see the top sights in San Diego Bay, including the Star of India ship, the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the Coronado Bridge and more. The ship comes equipped with a full-service bar that sells drinks (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) and snacks. Tour-takers generally appreciate the guides' narration, which they frequently call both entertaining and informative. Tickets to ride the triple-decker boats start at $33 for adults and $16.50 for children 4 to 12. If you're short on time, you can opt to take an hourlong cruise of either the north or south section of the bay
La Jolla Kayak – Sunset Original Kayak Tour
La Jolla Kayak's Sunset Original Kayak Tour pairs the waters of the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve with the colorful twilight sky. During the approximately two-hour tour (which includes check-in and instruction time), guides provide narration, which tour-takers generally find entertaining and informative. Tickets start at $54 for a single kayak and $84 for a double kayak, but pricing may vary depending on the day and time you book. Participants ages 6 to 14 must ride with an adult in a tandem kayak; patrons 15 and older can opt for a single kayak. Excursions depart each evening at 5 and 5:20 p.m. La Jolla Kayak also conducts kayak tours of the area's sea caves as well as snorkeling tours and bicycling tours.
Hornblower Cruises & Events – Whale & Dolphin Watching Tours
Depending on the time of year, you could see gray, blue, pilot or fin whales during this four-hour excursion with Hornblower. Captains and volunteer naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum provide commentary about the whales and other local marine life, which tour-takers tend to deem valuable. If no whales are sighted, tour-takers will receive a pass for another cruise. Tickets start at $55 for adults and $27.50 for children 4 to 12. Snacks and beverages are available for purchase on board. Not crazy about whales? Hornblower also operates sea lion-focused tours.
Sail San Diego – Three Hour Sail
Sail San Diego's Three-Hour Sails can be tailored to focus on San Diego Bay or head out the Pacific Ocean: it's the passengers' choice. Captains double as tour guides, and tourgoers consistently call them capable, knowledgeable and amusing. Sightings of dolphins and other sea creatures are common. The approximately $95 ticket price covers the tour itself, parking and use of jackets and binoculars. You'll also get complimentary snacks and beverages (including beer and wine). The tours, which start around 1 p.m. daily, typically have no more than six patrons at a time. Sail San Diego also offers a Rum Runner sail and private excursions.
San Diego Sailing Tours – Signature Daytime Sailing Tour
This two-hour tour aboard a restored yacht sets sail from Harbor Island several times each day. The sailing yacht glides across the water and provides tourgoers with stellar views of the city's skyline, Coronado Island and Point Loma. Passengers give the captains high marks for being informative and friendly. Tickets start at $99 per person and include a glass of white wine or craft beer. Group sizes are limited to six people. San Diego Sailing Tours also sails evening boat rides as well as private tours.
Adventure R.I.B. Rides – Whale Watching
Adventure R.I.B. Rides' Whale Watching tours give people the chance to see a variety of different whale types depending on the season. Travelers can generally see gray, fin and humpback whales from January to April, and blue, minke, fin and humpback whales from May to December. Captains piloting the rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) are also naturalists who provide facts about marine life during the three-hour outings. The captains typically win praise from passengers for their knowledge and professionalism. Tours occur twice daily starting at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets cost approximately $85 for adults and $70 for children 5 to 12. Tours are limited to six passengers. Adventure R.I.B. Rides also offers private tours.
Speed Boat Adventures – Speed Boat Adventure Tour
Speed Boat Adventure Tours permit visitors to take the helm of a speedboat on this guided tour of San Diego Bay. After providing instructions on how to operate the boats, which can accommodate up to three people, travelers take the wheel while guides provide information and observations via a two-way radio. You'll see the downtown skyline, Navy ships, the USS Midway Museum, Seaport Village and Coronado Bridge as well as various marine animals. Tour-takers regularly describe the guides' commentary as both entertaining and informative. Tours last roughly 90 minutes and cover 13 miles. Prices vary depending on the number of tour participants; a couple can expect to pay approximately $140. Speed Boat Adventures also offers a tour combining the boat ride with the use of electric scooters and access to the USS Midway Museum.
Duffy of San Diego – Captained Public Wine Cruise
Sip a bottle of wine and snack on cheese and crackers as you cruise through Mission Bay on this tour. In addition to city sights, you may also get to see dolphins, migratory birds and other marine life. Sightseeing oenophiles tend to describe the captains as hospitable and informative and find the cruise to be a relaxing part of their vacations. The 90-minute journeys accommodate up to six passengers. Tickets are sold in multiples of two and cost approximately $200 for two people. You can get an extra bottle of wine or upgrade your snack to a charcuterie board for an additional fee. Duffy also offers private cruises, as well as boat rentals.
Everyday California – La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak Tour
During these approximately 90-minute journeys, paddlers will explore the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve, where they can see the area's seven sea caves. Kayakers may also glimpse sharks, whales or sea lions, among other marine wildlife. (The area’s inhabitants change with the seasons.) You'll also get to see the beauty of La Jolla Cove. Visitors generally say they enjoy the experience and their helpful guides, but some kayakers warn that the sea caves may be inaccessible due to unsafe water conditions. Tours depart multiple times daily and are limited to 20 kayakers (all of whom must be at least 5 years old). Prices vary depending on the day and time you book, though you can expect to pay around $45 to $75 for a single kayak and about $85 to $105 for a double. Everyday California also offers tours combining kayaking and snorkeling.
Sail Stars & Stripes USA-11 – Public Sail
Stars & Stripes USA-11 swiftly glides across San Diego Bay, while visitors aboard the restored America's Cup racing yacht take in the stunning views. The crew consistently receives accolades for being knowledgeable and personable. Reviewers often report learning a great deal about sailing and the boat itself in addition to seeing spectacular sights of the city. Passengers may take turns at the helm, but no sailing experience is necessary. The three-hour tours typically depart at 1 p.m. on weekends and Wednesdays. Tickets start at about $125 for adults and $75 for participants ages 5 to 18. Private sailing tours and team-building races are also available.