Real McCoy: Rio Vista to Ryer Island, CA. This boat makes a three- to five-minute run across California's Cache Slough. Said to be named after one of the engineers that designed the vessel, the Real McCoy is operated by the California Department of Transportation and runs continuously, but avoid 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., when the ferry stops for operators' meal breaks. On State 84, 3 miles north of Rio Vista. FARE: Free. INFO: www.snugharbor.net or 510/286-6444.
BEST URBAN DAY TRIP
Golden Gate Ferry: San Francisco to Sausalito, CA. It's a 30-minute mini-cruise across San Francisco Bay―with views of Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the city―to a Mediterranean-style village. Once in Sausalito, ride, shop, dine, or celebrity-watch at the town's No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway; 415/332-1392). Daily service departs from behind the remodeled Ferry Building. Go early to take your bike―there's room for 25 of them. And sail late in the day for a sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge. FARE: $6.15, $3.05 ages 65 and over, $4.60 ages 6-12. On weekends, ages 12 and under free with a paying adult. INFO: www.goldengatebridge.org or 415/923-2000.
BEST DESERT VOYAGE
The Charles Hall Ferry: Hall's Crossing to Bullfrog Marina, UT. To bridge a gap in State 276, this car ferry sails over the sun-dappled waters of Lake Powell, northeast of Las Vegas. Connecting the marinas at Hall's Crossing and Bullfrog, the run passes the soaring red rock of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and covers about 3 miles in a 25- to 30-minute trip. Some lucky kids ride the ferry on their bus route to school. It runs daily, weather permitting. FARE: Passengers $3, $1 ages 5-11; vehicles from $16 (tickets sold onboard; cash only). INFO: www.nps.gov/archive/glca/ferry.htm or 435/684-7000.
Virgelle Ferry: Missouri River Crossing, MT. Since 1913 there's been regular ferry service on this stretch of the Missouri, northeast of Ft. Benton, Montana (on the Virgelle Ferry Road). Today's trip is not much changed from those early days. First you ring a buzzer to summon the two-car, 50-foot ferry. Then a cable, powered by a John Deere diesel engine, pulls you and the ferry across on a roughly five-minute trip. The ferry runs daily until the Missouri ices up (usually mid-November). FARE: Free. INFO: www.russell.visitmt.com, 800/527-5348, or 406/761-5036.
Catalina Express: Dana Point to Catalina Island, CA. From the 1910s through the '40s, Hollywood used Catalina as a stand-in for exotic islands in numerous movies. Today a one-hour cruise takes you from L.A. to this island paradise, still rich in Hollywood glamour. Stars like Errol Flynn, who shot Captain Blood here, haunted spots you can still visit, like the ballroom in the art deco-style Catalina Island Casino (now a museum and theater). You'll sail to the island in comfort on a state-of-the-art vessel at speeds of up to 37 knots (about 43 mph). Regulars say morning trips are calmest and that the Bloody Marys onboard are superb, with spicy pickled beans in place of the usual celery. You might see schools of dolphins or sea lions (the boat slows for wildlife spottings); in winter or spring, look for convoys of migrating gray whales. FARE: $49, $44 ages 55 and over, $38 ages 2-11 (round-trip only). INFO: www.russell.visitmt.com or 800/481-3470.