San Francisco helicopter tours – prices, timings, pickups

Lisa-Blue / Getty Images

San Francisco offers fantastic vistas for those who are willing to strap on the seatbelt and go up on a helicopter tour.

After all, landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay Area are best seen from a helicopter.

This is the reason why helicopter rides and seaplane flights are one of the most popular tourist activities in SFO.

In this article, we share everything you must know before you book your San Francisco helicopter tour.

1. Departure spot
2. Pick Up & drop
3. Tour timings
4. No. of Passengers
5. Cost of tour
6. Helicopter tours
7. Seaplane tours

Helicopter departure point

All San Francisco helicopter tours we have recommended below take off from:

SFO Executive Terminal
San Francisco, CA  94128
(650) 635-4500

There are multiple take-offs daily, so if you book early you are sure to get your preferred timing.

Where do the helicopter return?

After your sightseeing trip is over, you will land at the same place from where the helicopter took off.


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Free pick up & drop

If you are staying far from SFO Executive Terminal, don’t worry.

The best part about this San Francisco air tour provider is that they have three convenient pick-up locations within the city.

On the day of your helicopter ride over SF, be at one of these locations and their shuttle will pick you up.

Image: Viator.com

If you decide to change your location last minute, you can always coordinate with the agency’s local contact.

Tourists in San Francisco or even locals can make use of the below given three picks up points:

1. Fairmont Hotel

The pick up happens in front of the entrance on Mason Street.

This shuttle pick up spot is most suited for tourists staying in Nob Hill and Financial District areas. Get Directions

2. Hotel Zephyr

This pick up happens in Fisherman’s Wharf at 250 Beach Street.

If you are staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area this is the best place to be picked up for your helicopter flight. Get Directions

This was earlier known as the Radisson Hotel.

3. Hilton Hotel

For this shuttle, you need to be on the Mason Street side at the corner of Ellis. Get Directions

If your accommodation is in and around Union Square or South of Market Street areas, you can opt to get picked up from this spot.


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What time do helicopters take off?

San Francisco’s skyline from a helicopter. Image: Gagliardi Photography

All tourist helicopters take off from the Executive terminal between 10 am to 3.30 pm.

Depending on the tour you opt for, you will have different time slots to choose from.

However, if you opt for the sunset helicopter ride over San Francisco during summer, the take-off will be around 5 pm.

Helicopter take-off times are approximate and are subject to weather conditions.

Check out the best sunset helicopter tours in the world.


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Number of passengers

Bell Jet helicopters, which are used to fly tourists over San Francisco come in two configurations – the four-seaters and six-seaters.

Depending on the tour you opt for, and the number of passengers booked on the helicopter ride you may get a four or a six-seater. 

Therefore, sometimes a minimum of two and sometimes four passengers are required for the heli tour to be confirmed.

Note: The weight restriction for these flights is 300lbs (136 kg).


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Cost of San Francisco helicopter tours

A helicopter hovers over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Image: Lisa-Blue / Getty

Prices of helicopter rides in SFO depend on numerous factors.

The cheapest helicopter tour will cost you approximately $205 per person.

And at the best helicopter tour in San Francisco costs approximately $460 per person.

The helicopter tour’s cost depends on three factors:

  • Amount of air time
  • Stoppages if any. For instance, if you get down at Napa or Sonoma for wine tasting
  • Is the ride clubbed with another activity? For instance, a trip to Alcatraz later or a dinner cruise.

Exclusions

Two items are never included in the helicopter tour price in SF – Gratuities (optional) and food and drinks.

There are exceptions to this of course, for instance, if you go on the wine tasting heli tour, you will get free wine to taste as part of the package.

What’s included in the price

Besides the helicopter tour, for the price mentioned you also get free pick up and drop from a pre-determined location in the city.

The inflight narration in English comes for free.

All taxes, fuel surcharges and service fees are also included in the tour cost.

Depending on the tour you opt for, there may be additional inclusions.

For instance, if it is a wine tasting tour the wine would be included, if it’s an Alcatraz & helicopter combo tour, tickets to the infamous prison will be included in the tour cost.


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Best San Francisco helicopter tours

Before we share our selection of the five best helicopter tours in SFO, check out these important instructions for all travelers –

  1. All passengers must carry a valid photo ID
  2. Wear comfortable shoes
  3. Carry an extra layer of warm clothes
  4. It is better NOT to take along large bags and backpacks
  5. For security reasons, everything being carried onboard will be searched
  6. The helicopter ride’s route can be changed last minute due to bad weather

Confirmation of the helicopter tour

If you are booking more than three days before the helicopter ride, you will get instant confirmation.

If you book a helicopter tour within the next 3 days, the confirmation will be received within 48 hours, subject to availability.

Before your travel date, passenger height, weight and contact details must be shared. If you miss sharing this info during the booking process, please call up the tour operator and inform them.

You will get the operator’s contact details once your booking is confirmed.

1. San Francisco Vista Grande helicopter tour

This is the most popular SFO helicopter tour.

You have the choice of booking this helicopter ride for 10.30 am, 1 pm or 3.30 pm.

You will be picked up 30 minutes before your scheduled flight and taken to the Airport.

You will see all the sites that San Francisco is known for including Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Coastline, Tiburon, Marine Headlands, Angel Island, Sausalito, etc.

This is a 56 Mile (90 KMs) long helicopter flight and lasts approximately 25 to 30 minutes.

Interestingly, an accompanying musical soundtrack will play all through your trip.

Cancellation: For a full refund, cancel at least 24 hours before the date of your tour.

Cost of the tour: $265

2. San Francisco Vista Helicopter tour

This helicopter tour is everything that the Grand Vista tour, described above is, except for the duration.

While the Grand Vista tour lasts 30 minutes, the Vista helicopter tour lasts only 20 minutes.

The helicopter travels 37 Miles (60 KMs) during its flight.

However, all the major SFO sites and landmarks are covered.

Cancellation: If you cancel at least 24 hours before your tour date, you qualify for a 100% refund.

Cost of the tour: $205

Insider Tip: The Vista tour costs only $60 less than the Grand Vista tour described above. We feel, paying $60 extra for 10 more minutes in the helicopter isn’t bad a bad deal.

3. San Francisco Helicopter and Alcatraz tour

This heli tour is one of the best ways to secure an Alcatraz Island visit at the last minute. Image: Trip.com

Every tourist who visits San Francisco wants to visit Alcatraz as well.

This is a combo tour that combines a 20-minute flight over SF and a visit to Alcatraz Island.

Alcatraz tours get sold out a couple of months in advance and this helicopter tour is a great way to book a last-minute visit to the prison island.

While booking this helicopter tour you can choose one of the two slots – 10.30 am or 12.30 pm.

If you want, you can have the helicopter tour on day 1 and visit Alcatraz Island the next day.

Cancellation: Once booked, you can’t cancel this tour. This is because it is very difficult to cancel Alcatraz tour tickets.

Cost of the tour: $243

*If you prefer a Seaplane over a helicopter, check out this Seaplane over San Francisco + Alcatraz visit combo tour.

4. Helicopter tour – from SFO to wine country

This is the best helicopter tour in San Francisco and hence also the costliest.

For this tour, your flight takes off from Sausalito at 10.30 am.

In this 3-hour long tour, you get onto a helicopter and see spectacular aerial views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge etc before heading out to the wine country.

You then land near one of Napa or Sonoma region’s best wineries for a guided tour, tastings and pairings.

Once you are happy high from the wine, you get back to your helicopter for the flight back to SFO.

To be part of this wine tasting helicopter tour, all guests must be 21 years or older with valid photo ID proof.

Cancellation: For a 100% refund, you must cancel three days before the day of the scheduled departure. If you cancel within two days of departure, 100% percent cancellation fee is applicable.

Cost of the tour: $460

5. SFO helicopter tour and sunset dinner cruise

If you are a romantic couple out for a good time in San Francisco, look no further than this 4-hour long helicopter combo tour.

During winters (Oct to Mar), you can book this tour on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and in Summers (Apr to Sept), it is available on all days except Monday.

The pick-up is at 3 pm and the helicopter takes off at 3.30 pm.

After your 20-minute flight over the Silicon Valley, a shuttle drops you near the yacht for your two and half hours’ dinner cruise.

You enjoy a 4-course dinner, taking in the San Francisco skyline even as live music entertains you.

Your romantic evening ends at Pier 3.

Cancellation: For a 100% refund, you must cancel three days before the day of the scheduled departure. If you cancel within two days of departure, a 100 percent cancellation fee is applicable.

Cost of the tour: $395

If you don’t want a dinner cruise, but want to up the romance quotient of your time in the air, check out this 40-minute seaplane flight with Champagne.


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Seaplane tours over San Francisco

If you prefer Seaplanes over helicopters, SFO offers them as well.

Check out some of the best seaplane flights available for tourists. These seaplane trips guarantee a window seat.

1. Seaplane flight with Champagne

This is a 40-minute trip over SFO in an Alaskan Bush plane.

If you want some romance in the air but would prefer a seaplane, this tour is your best bet.

At least two people are needed for this trip to be confirmed.

Cost of heli tour: $249

2. Seaplane over SFO + Alcatraz visit

This very highly rated combination tour of two of the most popular tourist activities in San Francisco.

You fly over Alcatraz and other SFO attractions in the morning and in the afternoon, get onto a ferry from Pier 33 and visit Alcatraz Island.

Cost of heli tour: $230

3. Golden Gate Bridge from the air

In this 30-minute Seaplane flight, you fly directly over the Golden Gate Bridge for stunning photo opportunities.

The large windows of the Alaska Bush Seaplane make for good sightseeing.

Cost of heli tour: $189

Recommended Reading

# How to prepare for first helicopter flight
# What to wear for helicopter tour?
# How to overcome fear of flying?
Helicopter tour – how long to wait after scuba diving?
Why helicopter tours are an excellent tourist activity
FAQs about Helicopter tours

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