History of Golden Gate Ferry Service


Golden Gate Transit System Established
Golden Gate Ferry Vessel Particulars
Golden Gate Ferry Improvement Project Summary

Golden Gate Ferry Ridership Statistics



January 1979, The Golden Gate Ferry System, by then Ferry Division Manager Stanley M. Kowleski (7MB PDF)

Golden Gate Transit System Established

Crossing the San Francisco Bay by ferry dates back to 1850 when ferryboats operated between San Francisco and Oakland.

In 1868, the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company purchased waterfront land in Sausalito and proceeded to lay out streets and subdivide the central waterfront into view lots. They also began to operate ferry service between Sausalito and San Francisco, in part as a promotion for real estate development. The Princess, a small steamer, was the first Sausalito ferry to serve San Francisco. A rail line also attracted people to what became a major transportation hub.

In 1875, the North Pacific Coast Railroad purchased the ferries. Then in 1907, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad purchased the railroad lines serving Marin County and the ferry service serving San Francisco. Sausalito became a hub of passenger transportation. In 1920, due to the unresponsiveness of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad to the demand for auto ferry passage, a new ferry company, the Golden Gate Ferry Co., was inaugurated and offered auto ferry service between San Francisco and Sausalito.

Prior to the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, ferry and rail service flourished. Following the opening of the Bridge in May 1937, ferry service between Marin and San Francisco declined and eventually came to an end on Friday, February 28, 1941. For the next 29 years, driving across the Bridge was the only way to travel directly between Marin and San Francisco.

Just over 3.3 million vehicles crossed the Golden Gate Bridge during the first full year of operation. By 1967, annual crossings had grown over 750 percent to 28.3 million vehicles. The Bridge was close to reaching the saturation point and the public needed an alternative to the private automobile.

As traffic congestion continued to increase, a number of studies were undertaken to identify alternate means of travel between Marin County and San Francisco. The May 1967 San Francisco-Marin Crossings, prepared by the Division of Bay Toll Crossings, State of California, explored numerous transportation solutions, including building a second bridge, a bridge to Angel Island connecting to Tiburon, and an underwater tube linking San Francisco and Marin. A number of lower deck options for the Bridge were also investigated. As a fixed, six-lane roadway, the Bridge could not be as easily expanded to accommodate traffic growth as was the case with other highways.

By the late 1960s, the span was at capacity during the morning commute. The original construction bonds were due to be retired and the District had approximately $22.8 million in reserves. An innovative solution was needed to provide much needed relief to the traffic congestion.

At the time, Greyhound provided transit between Marin County and San Francisco; it was unprofitable and management wanted to abandon it. Marin County Transit District (now known as Marin Transit) considered taking over the existing Greyhound bus system as a commute service to San Francisco.

Released in July 1969, Arthur D. Little, Inc.’s report, Feasibility Study of San Francisco-Marin Ferry System, funded by Marin County Transit District and the City and County of San Francisco, indicated that a ferry system was feasible and should be implemented and operated by the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District.

On November 10, 1969, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 584 authorizing the District to develop a transportation facility plan for implementing a mass transportation program in the U.S. Highway 101/Golden Gate Corridor. This was to include any and all forms of transit, including ferry. At that time, the word “Transportation” was added to the District name to indicate its new commitment to public transportation. The Legislature did not give the District the authority to levy taxes; nor could Bridge tolls support local transit services. Only intercounty, regional service could be subsidized by Bridge tolls. The mandate was clear  – reduce traffic congestion on the Bridge and the adjacent corridor to the north.

On January 12, 1970, the GGBHTD contracted with Philip F. Spaulding and Associates to design a commuter passenger ferry system between Marin and San Francisco. Their August 21, 1970 report, Golden Gate Commuter Ferryboat System, San Francisco – Marin Crossing, concluded that a ferry system would be successful in diverting as many as 5,800 commuters per weekday during its first year of operation, keeping up to 2,900 cars per weekday off the Bridge.

On December 10, 1971, California Assembly Bill 919 was passed requiring the District to develop a longer range transportation programs for the corridor. After extensive public outreach including 21 public hearings in six counties, a unified system of buses and ferries emerged as the best means to serve the people of Marin and Sonoma counties. This public transit network is known today as Golden Gate Transit (GGT) and Golden Gate Ferry (GGF).

On August 15, 1970, the District took its first step into the transit business by inaugurating GGF service from Sausalito, CA, in southern Marin County to San Francisco. On the same day, GGT began operation of limited bus service to/from the Sausalito Ferry Landing. GGT basic bus service from Sonoma and Marin counties to San Francisco began on Saturday, January 1, 1972, and was followed by the start of GGT commute bus service on Monday, January 3, 1972.

On Saturday, December 11, 1976, ferry service was expanded to include a second route operating between Larkspur and San Francisco. On March 31, 2000, dedicated service from Larkspur to San Francisco Giants baseball games at the newly opened waterfront ballpark located in downtown San Francisco. And on Monday, March 6, 2017, ferry service was expanded again to include a third weekday-only route between Tiburon and San Francisco.

giants ferry

The Giants Ferry docks just steps from the ballpark

The capital cost of GGT and GGF transit system infrastructure was financed by a combination of federal grants from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) and District toll reserves. For example, UMTA funded $14.3 million of the $20 million required to purchase the buses and construct bus maintenance and storage facilities in San Rafael, Novato and Santa Rosa. District toll reserves met the $5.7 million remaining balance.

Since the introduction of GGT and GGF, both systems have become an integral part of life in the North Bay counties of Marin and Sonoma. These services have been reshaped over the years to meet the changing needs of growing communities. And through its growth, GGT and GGF have continued to fulfill the mission of reducing automobile traffic and congestion while contributing to the protection of the environment with efficient, reliable and cost-effective alternatives to the private automobile. In 2008, it was estimated that without GGT and GGF, motorists would experience an increase in Bridge traffic of about 32% during the peak weekday morning commute hour.

Golden Gate Ferry Timeline

1967: Concern over increasing traffic congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge triggered the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to ask the GGBHD Board of Directors to being exploring the idea for ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County.

July 1969: Arthur D. Little, Inc. prepared a report, Feasibility Study of San Francisco-Marin Ferry System, funded by Marin County Transit District and the City and County of San Francisco, indicated that a ferry system was feasible and should be implemented and operated by the GGBHD.

November 10, 1969: California State Assembly Bill 584 authorized the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District to develop a transportation facility plan for implementing a mass transportation program in the U.S. Highway 101/Golden Gate Corridor and the agency’s name was changed to Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

January 12, 1970: GGBHTD contracted Philip F. Spaulding and Associates, Seattle, WA, to design a commuter ferry system between Marin and San Francisco. They released their report to the Board of Directors on August 1, 1970.

August 1, 1970: Spaulding and Associates released their report Golden Gate Commuter Ferry Boat System. Click here for a few excerpts of the report.

Saturday, August 15, 1970: Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry service begins.

golden gate

The original M.V. Golden Gate departing Sausalito

February 1972: The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District purchased a 25-acre site in Larkspur, CA for a future ferry terminal.

August 1972: Campbell Industries, San Diego, CA submits the low bid to construct three Spaulding Class ferry vessels for use on a second ferry route between Larkspur and San Francisco.

December 12, 1972: Construction of the first of three Spaulding Class vessels begins at Campbell Industries, San Diego.

October 1973: A long-term lease began between the San Francisco Port Commission and GGF commenced for the use of the San Francisco Golden Gate Ferry Terminal location.

September 1974: Williams & Burrows, Inc. was awarded a contract to build the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

October 1, 1974: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers authorizes GGF to undertake necessary dredging in Corte Madera Creek in preparation for Larkspur Ferry services.

May 22, 1976: The G.T. Sonoma christened at Campbell Industries, San Diego, CA.

Saturday, December 11, 1976: Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Terminal is dedicated and the first Spaulding Class vessel built was placed into service as the G.T. Marin. Over the opening weekend, 6,100 passengers plied the San Francisco Bay aboard Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry. See special GGF ticket from first day of service for the G.T. Marin.

Monday, December 13, 1976: Commute service commences on the Larkspur-San Francisco ferry route.

March 7, 1977: The second Spaulding Class vessel, G.T. Sonoma, enters service on the Larkspur-San Francisco route.

April 1977: Construction begins on the Golden Gate San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

September 12, 1977: The third Spaulding Class vessel is delivered to Larkspur, the G.T. San Francisco. Two ferry vessels are kept in service with the third serving as a back-up vessel.

December 11, 1977: First anniversary of service from Larkspur. During the first year of operation, 1,183,781 passengers were served.

June 17, 1978: San Francisco Golden Gate Ferry Terminal was dedicated.

April 18, 1979: First annual commemorative 1906 earthquake ferry ride is offered to survivors of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. This special event service was offered annually through 2005.

January 4 to 7, 1982: After days of constant rain, mud slides closed Highway 101 from the evening of January 4 through the evening of January 6. The Larkspur Ferry system carried a record number of commuters, reaching a high of 12,028 on January 6. On January 6 and 7, three additional vessels were chartered to assist with the high passenger demand.

December 12, 1983:G.T. San Francisco is the first of the three Spaulding vessels returned to San Diego to undergo conversion from gas turbine propulsion to diesel. By converting to diesel fuel, there was a 60% reduction in fuel costs and additional reductions in maintenance costs.

December 24, 1984: The G.T. San Francisco returns to service on the Larkspur route, now designated as the M.S. (Motor Ship) San Francisco.

January 2, 1985: The G.T. Marin left Larkspur bound for San Diego to undergo conversion to diesel propulsion.

May 26, 1985: The G.T. Marin delivered back to San Francisco.

June 3, 1985: The G.T. Marin returns to service on the Larkspur route.

June 1985: The G.T. Sonoma goes to San Diego for conversion to diesel. Larkspur Ferry resumes year-round midday and weekend ferry service using the remaining two ferry vessels.

Sunday, November 17, 1985: The three Spaulding Class vessels (M.S. San Francisco, M.S. Marin, M.S. Sonoma) rechristened with their new Motor Ship (M.S.) designation after undergoing engine conversion from gas turbine to diesel propulsion in San Diego.

Monday, November 18, 1985: A third ferry vessel was added to the Larkspur route to increase the frequency of service using all three Spaulding Class vessels for the first time.

March 1986: A covered passenger waiting area was added within the existing “space frame” structure at Larkspur Ferry Terminal.


larkspur waiting area

Covered waiting area added for passengers


larkspur waiting area 2

Larkspur Terminal's "space" frame

May 1992: Golden Gate Ferry adds service for the first time to the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco.

June 1994: A construction project to add a fourth berth at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal was completed.

July 1995 through November 1995: An Initial Study and Environmental Assessment for the proposed acquisition of a new ferry vessel and the expansion of the Larkspur Ferry service schedule was circulated for public and agency comment. A negative declaration was adopted by the GGBHTD Board.

March 28, 1997: The name M.V. Del Norte was approved by the Board of Directors to adorn the first high-speed catamaran soon to be added to the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry fleet.

October 30, 1997: M.V. Del Norte was christened in Anacortes, WA.

July 23 and 24, 1998: M.V. Del Norte makes a stop in Crescent City, CA for welcoming and christening ceremonies in her namesake County of Del Norte on the way to Larkspur, CA.

July 25, 1998: M.V. Del Norte arrives under the Golden Gate Bridge from Anacortes, WA.

Tuesday, September 8, 1998: Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry expands service schedules between San Francisco and Larkspur with the launch of the new high-speed catamaran, M.V. Del Norte.

Thursday, March 31, 2000: Direct service to the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium in San Francisco begins.

April 14, 2000: Board of Directors awarded a contract to Nichols Bros. Boat Builders, Inc., Freeland, WA to construct GGF’s second high-speed catamaran, the M.V. Mendocino.

Friday, July 20, 2001: Golden Gate Ferry’s second high-speed catamaran, M.V. Mendocino, makes a stopover at Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, CA, in her namesake County of Mendocino, and christening ceremonies are held.

July 22, 2001: M.V. Mendocino arrives under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Friday, August 24, 2001: M.V. Mendocino was christened and the SFFT was rededicated as the Stephan C. Leonoudakis San Francisco Ferry Terminal. A welcoming ceremony for the M.V. Mendocino is also held that same day at LFT.

Monday, September 10, 2001: M.V. Mendocino is placed into service between Larkspur and San Francisco.

2001 and 2002: All three Spaulding Class vessels are repowered with new more modern and efficient diesel engines.

March 26, 2004: The original Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry vessel, the M.V. Golden Gate, was retired from the fleet. Since the Golden Gate’s retirement, the Sausalito-San Francisco route has been served by M.S. Marin.

October 27, 2006: A contract was awarded for the refurbishment of the interior of the Spaulding Class vessel M.S. Marin.

November 2006 to July 2007: M.S. Marin undergoes extensive refurbishment including new seating, paint, deck covering, carpeting, ceiling and wall paneling, lighting, public address system, restrooms, refreshment stands, security cameras, windows, bicycle racks, and modern handicap lift. New generator and electrical systems are also installed.



The M.S. Marin's new snack bar



The refurbished M.S. Marin



Friendly passenger seating

May 11, 2009: The first of the two vessels purchased from Washington State Ferry, the M.V. Snohomish, arrived in Larkspur from Washington State.

May 28, 2009: The M.V. Snohomish entered into service on the Larkspur/San Francisco route to provide customers continuity with reliable high-speed catamaran service during the extensive repowering of the M.V. Del Norte.

June 10, 2009: The M.V. Snohomish was renamed as the M.V. Napa at a ceremony on the Napa River in Napa County.

March 26, 2010: The GGBHTD Board of Directors authorized that the M.V. Chinook, one of two Washington State Ferry vessels purchased by GGF in January 2009, be officially renamed the M.V. Golden Gate following its refurbishment.

April 2010 to March 2011: The M.V. Chinook, now known as the M.V. Golden Gate, underwent rehabilitation in Washington State.

March 29, 2011: The fully refurbished M.V. Golden Gate (formerly the M.V. Chinook) was delivered to Larkspur.

June 10, 2011: The M.V. Chinook was officially renamed as the M.V. Golden Gate at a ceremony at LFT.

October 31, 2012: Bay Area baseball fans welcomed home the World Champion San Francisco Giants team with a special parade and celebration held in San Francisco. Golden Gate Ferry fans made their enthusiasm known—with record-breaking ridership reaching 14,099 for the day, the highest single ridership day on the Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry route!

April 19, 2013: A project to install new bikes racks at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the San Rafael Transit Center was completed. At the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, work included modifications to existing planters in the paid waiting area and installation of new bicycle racks. At the San Rafael Transit Center, in addition to bike racks, the work included installation of map cases, informational kiosks, and signposts.

June 27, 2013: A contract was awarded to Marine Group Boat Works, LLC, San Diego, CA for the refurbishment of Golden Gate Ferry’s Spaulding vessel—M.S. San Francisco. The refurbishment will involve all vessel components with the exception of the original hull and two generators that were replaced as part of an earlier Carl Moyer emissions reduction grant. The work is being funded entirely with grant funds from the Federal Transit Administration and the State of California under the Public Transportation Modernization, Improvement and Service Enhance Account program. The M.S. San Francisco is the second of Golden Gate Ferry’s three Spaulding vessels to undergo a complete refurbishment. The M.S. Marin was the first of the Spaulding vessels to be refurbished several years ago. It was returned to service July 28, 2007, where it now operates on the Golden Gate Ferry’s Sausalito route.

August-October 2013: America's Cup fans rode Golden Gate Ferry and added Golden Gate Transit services to San Francisco to watch the United States bring home the America's Cup. The two waterfront venues—the America's Cup Village at Marina Green and the America's Cup Park at Piers 27 and 29—were the perfect settings to experience this oldest international sporting event.

September 2013: A free ferry shuttle to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal—dubbed "The Wave" in beautifully branded buses—was introduced as a 9-month demonstration project to help alleviate a parking shortage in the Terminal parking lot. Ferry riders coming from the Ross valley communities of Fairfax, San Anselmo, Ross, Kentfield, and Greenbrae could leave their cars at home and enjoy a complimentary, hassle-free ride directly to the Terminal. The service was made permanent in June 2014, based on strong ridership.

October 2013: Golden Gate Ferry provided two vessels to San Francisco Bay Ferry during the Fall 2013 BART strike and operated between Oakland and San Francisco during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.

February 2014: A paid parking program was introduced on weekdays only at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Using the Parkmobile system, Ferry customers can purchase a $20 monthly permit or pay a $2 daily fee conveniently online, using a mobile app, or over the phone. The new program is projected to generate about $400,000 per year and will help offset general ferry operating expenses.

December 2014: Due to the success of ferry shuttle Route 25, a new Larkspur Ferry shuttle Route 37 was introduced as a demonstration project, serving the Smith Ranch Park & Ride and the Terra Linda/Freitas Parkway and North San Pedro bus pad stops. The service was cancelled in June 2016 due to low ridership.

July 2015: During the weekend closure of Doyle Drive, Golden Gate Ferry added service from Larkspur and Sausalito, including late night service from Larkspur.

September 2015: Due to the success of ferry shuttle Route 25, a new Larkspur Ferry shuttle Route 31 was introduced as a 9-month demonstration project, serving San Rafael's Fourth Street and the downtown San Rafael Transit Center. The service was cancelled in June 2016 due to low ridership.

Fall 2015: The District conducted a regional bus and ferry passenger survey to collect information to better serve our customers.

January-February 2016: Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry added mid-day and evening service to the week-long celebration in downtown San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, which included a free outdoor fan village centered around Justin Herman Plaza and a football theme park at the Moscone Center.

January 21, 2017: Golden Gate Ferry added service from Larkspur for the inaugural Women's March Bay Area march, carrying over 6,300 riders—40% more than the average Saturday riderhip.

March 6, 2017: For the first time in forty years, Golden Gate Ferry expanded its Marin County service area, by adding a third route between downtown Tiburon and the Golden Gate San Francisco Ferry Terminal. Service runs weekday mornings and evenings.

April 2017: The District rolls out a new anti-jaywalking safety campaign at its Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Riders were reminded to use crosswalks and sidewalks, and to cross with the light when walking between the ferry terminal and the overflow parking lot.

September 2017: With the start of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train service between Sonoma County and downtown San Rafael, the District resurrected ferry shuttle Route 31 to connect train riders from the San Rafael Transit Center with departing ferries at the Larkspur Terminal. This free shuttle service runs daily, connecting seven trips in each direction on weekdays and three trips in each direction on weekends. The shuttle will operate while SMART works on extending its tracks and service from downtown San Rafael to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

December 2017: Golden Gate Ferry performed major inspection work of the Sausalito Ferry Landing, requiring full and half-day shutdowns of ferry operation between Sausalito and San Francisco. Golden Gate Transit added bus service during the shutdowns to accommodate displaced riders.

January 20, 2018: Golden Gate Ferry added service from Larkspur for the second Women's March Bay Area march, carrying nearly 6,000 riders—33% more than the average Saturday riderhip.


Golden Gate Ferry Vessel Particulars

Golden Gate Ferry Current Capital Project Summary