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American Boating Association....


Boaters who love the water will love the waters (and streets) of San Francisco. Quite simply, this waterlogged city welcomes H2O-oriented visitors with a hearty permission to come aboard!

Surrounded on three sides by water and featuring more than 20 miles of shoreline, San Francisco has always been a legendary port of call. Ever since classic clipper ships transported hordes of 49ers to her shores, San Francisco has been best approached from the water. When gold fever swept the nation in the late-1940s, the tiny trading post known as Yerbe Buena (now San Francisco), welcomed more than 700 ships to her shores--and, the city’s population soared from 400 to 25,000 in 1949 alone. The port’s border eventually expanded six blocks east from the natural shoreline and four blocks north to today’s Fisherman’s Wharf, including the use of abandoned ships as landfill and the creation of the notorious Barbary Coast (now a tourist destination that includes an excellent 3.8-mile walking tour called the Barbary Coast Trail).

This area once harbored the world’s largest ferry fleet, with more than 50 varied ferries carrying more than 50 million passengers daily. The opening of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 ended this golden era of ferry travel, but 39 ferries still carry Marin County commuters and smart visitors looking for an inexpensive way to see San Francisco and more by water--one person’s commute can be a boater’s water-based tour.

The San Francisco Convention & Visitors bureau recently listed a dozen ways to embark on a briny lark (many of these trips can be repeated by experienced boaters visiting the city aboard their own vessels):

*Catch a Hornblower carrier at Pier 43, Fisherman’s Wharf, out to Alcatraz for a variety of touring options.

*Board a sightseeing boat at Pier 43 ½ for Red & White Fleet’s one-hour Golden Gate cruise.

*Take a Blue & Gold Fleet ferry-and-shuttle package out to Muir Woods, with 560 acres of ancient redwoods.

*Take the Golden Gate Ferry at the Ferry Building (see below) over to Sausalito.

*Cast off with the Blue & Gold Fleet from Pier 41 for an excursion to Cape Cod-like Tiburon, with its mix of masts, open-deck cafes, and bay front.

*Pack a picnic and catch a Blue & Gold ferry from Pier 41 to Angel Island, a 740-acre recreation area with sandy coves, hiking trails, and spectacular sea and city views.

*Connect with the East Bay by catching the Oakland-Alameda ferry from either the Ferry Building or Pier 41. This goes to bustling Jack London Square in Oakland or to the Alameda Ferry Terminal near the Alameda Ferry Base.

*Golden Gate ferries leave from the Ferry Building, including the 15-mile, 45-minute commute to Larkspur, past Alcatraz and Angel Island to the terminal near Point San Quentin--where a pedestrian bridge links the terminal to Larkspur Landing Shopping Center and more than 50 shops and restaurants.

*Hornblower Yachts specializes in nightly dinner-dance cruises aboard their flagship, California Hornblower. The eight-vessel fleet also features lunch and brunch cruises daily from Pier 3.

*Both Hornblower and Red & White also operate seasonal night dinner cruises with dancing and entertainment.

*For families who boat together, direct service via high-speed catamaran to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is offered by Blue & Gold Fleet from Pier 41 (summer package service including round-trip ferry, shuttle bus, and admission).

On land, the Convention & Visitors Bureau also lists “must see” attractions for both first-time and veteran visitors. Depending on interests, this can include: riding a cable car (Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street are the three most famous lines); crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by foot, car, bike, or tour bus (there’s even a fire engine tour!); Alcatraz; Chinatown; Union Square; North Beach; Haight Ashbury; and Golden Gate Park. For boaters, Fisherman’s Wharf (don’t miss the sourdough bread bowls filled with chowder), the Ferry Building (fresh seafood and much more), and all of San Francisco Maritime Historical Park (including Hyde Street Pier and the Maritime Museum) are also must-sees.

Located at the western end of Fisherman’s Wharf, Hyde Street Pier boasts the largest collection of historic ships in the world (by tonnage). Many of the ships docked here played a role in San Francisco’s watery history, with highlights including the 301-foot Balclutha square-rigger, the 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer, the tugboat Hercules, and the scow schooner Alma. The museum contains a huge collection of large-scale model ships and larger-than-life figureheads from the bows of Gold Rush-era clippers.

Visiting boaters have several options for visiting the city. The best bet is to contact the Port of San Francisco www.sfport.com. There’s information about the various guest berthing opportunities (Hyde Street Pier highly recommended), boater facilities, and more.

For general information, contact the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, 900 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-391-2000, www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.