Boating in San Francisco

By Kimball Livingston
Published: June/July 2013

San Francisco is the hot spot this August, as the America's Cup races bring the international sailing world to the West Coast. Here's a boater's inside guide to the bay, to river hideaways and wine country, and to the main event.

Photo of a powerboat passes beneath the Oakland-Bay Bridge with the San Francisco skyline beyond Photo: Abner Kingman

A powerboat passes beneath the Oakland-Bay Bridge with the San Francisco skyline beyond.

The beauty of San Francisco Bay packs a visceral punch that you won't find just anywhere. There are times when the currents run strong against the sea breeze, driving the bay to a white-capped froth. There are times when the fog cascades over the north shore headlands, and roils and rebounds in a raw display of the power and indifference of nature, all at the doorstep of a major city. There are also calm, still mornings when the waters mirror the slanting sun, and the storied hills of San Francisco soar above the waters, and above the hills the towers of the city shoot up, brash and unapologetic. Those are hills that, a mere century-and-a-half ago, lay bare. Many people are drawn to this young but "most European" of American cities. San Francisco sprang up out of a gold rush that is more than a lingering memory. Some people come here for a new beginning, others for a getaway. At the moment, flush young techies rule, but there is more than meets the eye at a glance.

Connected to the bay are a thousand miles of inland waterways, marshy rivers, and sloughs with something for everyone, whether you're looking for bass country or the wine country. The ocean waters beyond the Golden Gate are prime salmon fishing. And for something completely different, the waterfront of San Francisco, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the new Cruise Ship Terminal at the foot of Telegraph Hill, is home in 2013 to the sailing world's greatest gathering, the America's Cup sailboat races.

Photo of Spectators crowding the bleachers for America's Cup racing Photo: Kimball Livingston

Spectators crowd the bleachers for America's Cup racing.

As one of the world's top tourist destinations, the San Francisco Bay Area draws people from every corner of the globe and from every state and county in the USA. It's a big, surprisingly (even strangely) varied region. People who live here, in the space of a morning's drive, can experience something entirely different — in views, open space, forest, altitude, and even weather — from what they have at home. In 2013, many people will visit for the sake of viewing the America's Cup, now transformed from the slow, social-set game of old to a new beyond-the-X-Games gamble, multiplied exponentially in terms of money and speed in 72-foot catamarans entirely capable of instant self-destruction. For the first time ever, an America's Cup match will be sailed in view of an audience ashore, with a television production that makes the racing understandable to all. No one visiting the region, whether here for this purpose or not, will be able to ignore the world-class event that carries so much history and so much freight and is happening in an entirely new way.

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