Ferry services between San Francisco and Sausalito have existed much longer than Golden Gate Ferry, with the first service taking place in 1868 when the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company purchased waterfront land and laid out roadways to develop the town. The North Pacific Coast Railroad then purchased the ferries in 1875, and in 1907, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad purchased the Marin County railroads and Sausalito ferry service, making Sausalito a major transportation hub. However, due to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad being unable to cope with a growing demand for auto ferry crossings, the Golden Gate Ferry Company was formed in 1920 to provide auto ferry service between Sausalito and San Francisco. When the Golden Gate Bridge was built, however, ferry ridership declined to a point that it ceased the Sausalito-San Francisco crossing in February 1941. Nearly 30 years later, in August 1970, Golden Gate Ferry resumed service in its current form, as part of the larger Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District.
The Golden Gate Ferry operates four catamaran vessels and three Spaulding vessels that operate ferry crossings between San Francisco Ferry Building and two Marin County ports: Sausalito and Larkspur. The ferry crossing between San Francisco and Sausalito has been ranked by a travel writers guild as the second best in the world, only to be beaten by the Star Ferry in Hong Kong, and Golden Gate Ferry offers multiple crossings between the three points daily, with a limited service weekends between San Francisco and Larkspur.
- MS San Francisco
- MS Marin
- MS Sonoma
These operate daily on the Sausalito-San Francisco service, and these are also used on select trips from Larkspur, especially on weekends and event trips to and from AT&T Park (especially during the baseball season). Originally delivered between 1976 and 1977, MS Marin can carry up to 750 passengers and 100 bikes, while MS Marin and MS Marin can carry up to 630 passengers and 25 bikes each.
- MV Mendocino (delivered September 2001)
- MV Del Norte (delivered July 1998)
- MV Napa (delivered May 2009)
- MV Golden Gate (delivered March 2011)
These are mainly used on the fast crossings between Larkspur and San Francisco (30 minutes on the catamaran versus 45 on the Spaulding). MV Del Norte can carry up to 400 passengers, while the other three vessels can carry up to 450 people, and all of these catamarans can carry up to 15 bikes each.