Summer fun tends to revolve around water. Because we live on the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas, you'd figure our Bay Area would be no exception — and you'd be right. In fact, due to our temperate weather, the bay's waterways are a potential source of aquatic amusement all year long.
And so our Golden-Gated hydro-playground has been chosen to serve as the nexus for the 2013 America's Cup Finals. In fact, two America's Cup World Series events will take place this year: one in August and another during Fleet Week in September. According to John Craig, principal race officer for this upcoming 34th America's Cup, the San Francisco Bay was an ideal choice for the Cup events for several reasons.
"First, it offers a natural amphitheater or stadium for the races," Craig explains, "which will make it easy for people on shore to see the show. Second, in the summer months, it offers incredible sailing conditions with strong winds. Third, the Bay has long been a defining feature of the city. People in San Francisco love the water and the waterfront."
For the 2013 races, Piers 27-29 on the Embarcadero will serve as a spectator-village ground zero. For this year's events, the main public area or "AC Village" will be at Marina Green, offering bleacher seating for up-close race viewing and a mega-screen showing live race coverage and event-related entertainment, plus merchandise, food and drinks, and other Cup-centric fun. (Visit americascup.com for schedules and details).
Despite recently scaled-back plans, expect the America's Cup events to have a significant impact on day-to-day Bay diversions. According to Craig, the U.S. Coast Guard is releasing a "Special Local Regulation" that will define the race area and where bay recreational and commercial activities can take place around it. The SLR also will allow floating spectators to watch the race from designated spaces along the race boundaries.
Mayor Ed Lee recently was quoted as saying, "The America's Cup will bring new life, new amenities and new excitement to San Francisco's waterfront." Yup. It also will draw some damn big crowds. In fact, with as many as 2 million people expected to visit the San Francisco waterfront during the height of America's Cup, it probably would be a good idea to beat the rush and enjoy some of the activities the bay has to offer beforehand. Here are a few suggestions.
Let's Go Fishin'
After a few years of slim pickings and abbreviated or cancelled seasons, this year's California king salmon crop is practically jumping into boats, with many the recreational fisher coming home with the two-fish limit. (Salmon have to be at least 24 inches to keep.)
"The salmon season's been phenomenal this year," says Mike Rescino, captain of the Lovely Martha, a charter boat that berths at Fisherman's Wharf. He adds that it's the best season he's seen since the early 2000s, with fish averaging a good 15 pounds.
Rescino, a fourth-generation fisherman (Lovely Martha was named after his grandmother), says he's been alternating between fishing for salmon on the open ocean and halibut and striped bass on the bay. When asked how he thought the upcoming America's Cup events might affect his charter business, Rescino says, "It shouldn't be that hard to get out in the morning, but coming home might be a problem." He added that there seemed to be plenty of area for passage around the race course, although some bay reefs where boats fish for stripers might be closed off during Cup events.
"I'm hoping (the Cup events) bring some business to the guys in San Francisco," he adds. "Hopefully, we'll take people out to watch the races. We pretty much do anything we can to make a buck. Scatterings at sea, bachelor parties, birthdays — we were out there for the Golden Gate Bridge fireworks; we had a full boat for that one."
While a fishing trip outside the Golden Gate can be a rollicking good time, discomfort can befall the unprepared. First off, most boats leave at 6:30 a.m. or earlier, and passengers are expected to show up substantially earlier. This writer once pulled that off by taking a two-hour catnap on a friend's North Beach couch, then catching a crack-of-dawn cab to Fisherman's Wharf with three companions. Once there, we witnessed two guys with a cooler full of beer already delving into their stock. Not a good idea. Guess who was yakking over the side of the boat later? In addition to the queasy people who didn't take motion-sickness medication, of course.
And this may be stating the obvious, but the S.F. Bay and Pacific Ocean can be hideously cold, foggy, and blustery, especially at the crack of dawn. Even in August. So you never can have too many layers. But once you get out on the open seas where the fish are biting, the sun often breaks through the pea-soup haze, and it's a glorious day of contemplative meditation while waiting for something to bite, peppered with adrenaline-inducing excitement as you reel in that glistening Chinook salmon at the end of the line. It can be a memorable experience well worth the hundred bucks or more you'll need to throw down. Just be sure to tip the boat hands who clean your fish.
Details and reservation information for many fishing boats based around the Bay Area can be found at www.sportfishing.com. Information for the Lovely Martha, named SF Weekly's Best Fishing last year, is at www.lovelymartha.com.
For those not quite up for the full-bore experience of a crack-of-dawn deep-sea fishing excursion, San Francisco has plenty of more laid-back ferry tours to choose from. The classic voyage ventures out from the Fisherman's Wharf area, doubles back under the Golden Gate Bridge, then circumnavigates Alcatraz, but there are plenty of other options. For example, there's a two-hour sunset cruise replete with appetizers and live guitar music, relaxing twilight cruises for more glittering skyline views, and the self-explanatory Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise. Ferry day trips to other points around the bay such as Sausalito, Tiburon and Angel Island are always a great escape option.
One of the coolest ferry jaunts of all is the upcoming Fourth of July Fireworks Cruise. This 2.5-hour boat ride parks itself on the Bay, providing an unobstructed view of the apocalyptic lightshow overhead. Check out www.redandwhite.com for reservations, especially recommended for the explosion extravaganza. You can also visit blueandgoldfleet.com for an extensive selection of sightseeing and commuter ferries. And plenty of fishing boats and entrepreneurs along the wharf are eager to take people out on the Bay for cheap.
Rocket Sled to Drenchtown
If tooling around the bay on a slow boat to nowhere doesn't sound particularly thrilling, perhaps Rocketboat is more your speed. Running seasonally from May through October, this jet craft on steroids careens around the bay while blasting a classic rock soundtrack, soaking many passengers in the process. Great views, some sightseeing points of interest, and 20 minutes of high-speed nautical roller-coaster action make for something way more fun than you'd expect from a floating tourist trap. If you want to get drenched, sit in the back. (www.rocketboatsf.com).
It has been suggested that one of the better ways to view America's Cup races would be ensconced in a sea kayak — within security parameters, of course. But nothing's stopping you from going down to Pier 40 right now and renting one from City Kayak. Sculling about McCovey Cove is always a low-key option, and especially fun during a Giants game. Who knows, you might even snag a splash hit. And a kayak is another great vantage point from which to view Independence Day fireworks. (www.citykayak.com)
Whale of a good time
One aquatic marvel most locals never get around to seeing is the Farallon Islands National Marine Sanctuary, 27 miles due west of San Francisco. This one-of-a-kind ecosystem is teeming with wildlife and an excellent place to spot migrating blue, gray, and humpback whales. Visiting this marine life haven is one of those bucket-list experiences that even the most jaded native should do at least once. For $89 or less, you can spend several hours on the open ocean, seeing some stunning vistas and maybe a whale or three. Most trips leave at 8 a.m.; check out sanfranciscowhaletours.com for current schedules and details.