Go across the Golden Gate Bridge on any given day, and you’ll see the fleets of ferries shuttling tourists around San Francisco Bay. These boats take tourists to all the regular must-see bay attractions–Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, Sausalito.

The Sausalito ferry dock is a simple affair, shared by both ferry companies. The boat tied up in this picture is the San Francisco, the ferry we took is her sister ship, Marin.

The Sausalito waterfront is served by two different ferry lines. The first, Blue and Gold Fleet, is aimed squarely at tourtists. But I was interested in the other ferry service. The public one, that’s aimed at commuters, not tourists. I set out to see whether the Golden Gate Ferry is a practical way of getting to San Francisco, or if it was just another Marin County gimmick.

The ferry is operated by the Golden Gate Transportation District, which also operates buses all over the North Bay.

The first thing that struck me was just how expensive the ferry is. An adult one-way fare is $8.25, and there’s no discount for purchasing a round trip ticket. Regular commuters will want a clipper card, the Bay Area’s “All in one transit card,” according the its Web site. With a clipper card, the fare is reduced to $4.40 each way. Complete fare prices are available here.

But of course, this being Sausalito, there are hidden costs as well, namely parking. Although there is a large parking lot right by the ferry dock in downtown Sausalito, it’s costs a staggering $3.00 per hour. Not too bad if you’re just shopping for the day, but over the course of an 8-hour workday, that’s over $25 a day, once the transit time of the ferry is taken into account.

Finally, it was time to get on the ferry. Except that it wasn’t. As we were walking down the dock, we all had to wait again, because apparently the boat hadn’t been “cleared” yet. After standing in limbo on the dock for a few minutes, “All clear” crackled over the unfriendly dock guy’s radio, and he let us continue.

The first step once on the boat was to buy a ticket, which would have been easier if the ticket lady had been more friendly. As passengers came aboard and went to the ticket counter, the woman would simply reply “I’ll be open in 10 minutes,” without even looking up. She said it over and over again to anyone who would listen. One passenger even asked if he was on the right boat. The answer he got? “I’ll be open in 10 minutes.”

Finally, with tickets purchased, we were underway. The boat itself was very nice on the inside, there’s even a small snack counter that sells alcoholic drinks as well, should you be inclined to booze it up en route to the office.

But the passengers on my boat we’re not en route the the office. Granted, it was 2:00 p.m. on a Monday. Overwhelmingly, they were tourists. Outside on the bow, everyone snapped pictures of pretty much anything they could aim their cameras at. Our captain even slowed down as the boat passed Alcatraz–a nice touch for tourists, but probably annoying if I was trying to commute to work.

But the sights are definitely worth seeing. The short ride gives great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Bay Bridge, not to mention all the yachts and working boats the constantly crowd the bay.

The San Francisco skyline. When you see this view, you've made it.

Alcatraz Island. Our captain slowed down for the photo op.

Alcatraz island. Our captain slowed the boat down for the photo op.

The Golden Gate Bridge, looking West toward the Pacific.

A short 20 minutes later and we were disembarking at the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. And in my case, getting right back on the boat.

The return trip was very different. For one, there was actually a commuter this time! While he wouldn’t speak on the record due to his large company’s media policy, he said that he appreciates not having to drive. It’s more about being able to relax with his cup of coffee on the boat then fight it out in traffic, he said.

The other big difference was that on the return trip, we were heading more-or-less upwind, and the ride was wet, windy, and cold if you stood outside. A few tourists braved the outdoors at first, but eventually moved to the warm comfort of the cabin. As someone who’s sailed boats since I was a kid, I didn’t get seasick, but I would imagine that it’s a real possibility for those with weaker stomachs.

This man, a visiting tourist, braved the winds and spray to get his photo. His kids, right, headed for the warmth of the cabin shortly after this picture was taken.

The verdict? For a few people, the ferry is probably an efficient way to get to work. If you work in downtown San Francisco and live in Sausalito–within walking distance of the ferry–then it really could be cheaper and faster than driving to (and parking in) San Francisco.

But for everyone else, it’s just not practical. The parking in Sausalito is too expensive, and unless you’re going to downtown San Francisco, you’ll have to link up with Muni in the city to finish your journey.

In short, then, ride the ferry with your friends when they’re in town, and take the bus or your car if you’re trying to get something done. But, if you’re an avid biker, by all means take the ferry–there’s a bike parking area inside the boat, and bikes ride for free.

The aft area of the lower deck is reserved for bicycles. It's just was well--the ships engines are right behind it, and it's loud.

Note: There weren’t any big events in Sausalito last weekend, but stay tuned. Sunday September 26th is the Chili Cook Off, and Sunday October 3rd is the Sausalito Classic Car Show. We’ll be there, just in case you can’t make it.