Everything you need when planing a vacation trip to San Francisco
There really are fishing boats at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf

FISHERMAN'S WHARF

A vintage streetcar rolls through Fisherman's Wharf

In a Nutshell...

This popular tourist district is located on the eastern end of San Francisco’s northern waterfront. As the name implies, it is the home of the city’s fishing fleet, although today, the fleet is just a fraction of its historic size, and tourism is the predominate neighborhood industry.


The district runs about one mile along the waterfront between the Maritime Museum eastward to Pier 39. It extends inland three blocks as the tourist shops and attractions peter out.


It has gained a reputation for being a garish tourist trap. Some would even argue that it proudly revels in the fact. While this would be hard to deny, the offerings are quite diverse and it could well be that there is something there for everyone. Perhaps even you.

 

Some Fisherman’s Wharf highlights…

 

Ghirardelli Square

The clock tower of Ghirardelli Square

This landmark building started life as a chocolate factory in 1893. In the early 1960’s the chocolate manufacturing operations were moved to another city and the building was sold. The new owners converted it to the shopping, dinning and lodging use while keeping its historic charm. This conversion is considered to be the first successful such in the US. The complex covers a full city block and is filled with specialty shops and restaurants such as the fine dinning restaurant of McCormick & Kuleto's.


It is located on the Western end of Fisherman’s Wharf, just one block from the Cable Car turnaround at 900 North Point Street
.

 

Shopping

Wonderful things awaite you at Fisherman's Wharf

 

If you are of the belief that your life is not filled with enough things and stuff, Fisherman’s Wharf is just the ticket. There are countless shops with an ample supply of things and stuff, with the added bonus of having the words “San” and “Francisco” emblazoned on them for the benefit of those of us whose memories are not what they once were. The greatest concentration of these shops are at Pier 39 and along Jefferson Street. If that does not sound as appetizing to you as it apparently does to the crowds at Pier 39, consider visiting the better shops in Ghirardelli Square and the Cannery.

 

Pier 39

Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf

 

Pier 39 is the epicenter of San Francisco’s tourist trade. This once dilapidated commercial pier was converted into its present form of two levels of water front restaurants, souvenir shops and tourist attractions, surrounding a promenade.  It was built in a style to remind one of a New England-ish fishing village, albeit one that is massively overrun with a population of very non New English fishing villager types.

 

Aquarium of the Bay

The Aquarium of the Bay at Fisherman's Wharf


This mid sized aquarium at Pier 39 specializes in the sea life of San Francisco Bay. Its main attraction is a long tunnel that allows visitors to walk through and under the main aquarium as fish swim all around you. We gave the aquarium its own page, which you can see at: Aquarium of the Bay in a Nutshell.

 

Boat Tours

Riding the Rocket Boat for cheap thrills

 

One of the great and good tourist things to do in San Francisco is going on a boat tour of the bay. This gives you memorable views of the city and the surrounding hills and there are several interesting islands in the bay to sail around. Of course, the biggest attraction is sailing out of the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. The view from underneath it, from the middle of the straights, is nothing short of spectacular.

 

There are two arch rival tourist boat operators that battle each other daily for their share of the tourist trade: The Red and White Fleet and the larger Blue and Gold Fleet. Both disembark from the Fisherman's Wharf district and have comparable tours but the Blue and Gold Fleet also has ferries that go across the bay to Sausalito, Tiburon and Angel Island. And for adrenalin junkies, they have the RocketBoat that adds high speed turns, accompanied with blasting classic rock music. Hang on tight folks.

 

Food

Dig in

 

Being a major tourist district, Fisherman’s Wharf is home to every kind of eatery, from hotdog street venders to white linen tablecloth dining with a waterfront view. The cuisines are just as varied, but it is seafood restaurants that capture the flavor of the place. There are two seafood dishes that have a long and popular tradition here, one pricey and the other quite reasonable. On the pricey side is Dungeness crab served with garlic butter. As you wander the district, you will see there are dozens of establishments to choose from. We like The Crab House, upstairs at Pier 39, but it is hard to go wrong with these tasty little fellows.


The other quintessential Fisherman’s Wharf dish is clam chowder served in a sourdough bowl. If you are budget minded and want a hearty seafood meal, this is hard to beat. This dish is on all the seafood restaurants’ menus, but you might consider Boudin’s on Jefferson Street. The prices are quite reasonable if you eat downstairs and since it is also a famous bakery (they have a large bakery window opened onto the street for those who find watching the making of bread interesting) so you know the bread bowl will be warm out of the oven.


There is one more Fisherman’s Wharf specialty worth mentioning. Across the street from the cable car turnaround is The Buena Vista. This is where not only was Irish coffee invented, but where it was also perfected. Those who study such things report that over the many decades The Buena Vista has been serving it, they have not lost their touch. In fact, they are even getting better at it. You can prove this to yourself by comparing your third drink to the first.

 

Powell-Hyde Cable Car Turnaround

The Powell Street Turnaround

 

If you are staying in downtown San Francisco, the classy way to make your entry onto the Fisherman’s Wharf scene is to take the Powell Street cable car (that’s the one that runs next to Union Square). It will haul you up Nob Hill, stop along the way for some breath-taking views before dropping down the hill to Fisherman’s Wharf and stopping at the turnaround. The insider's tip to keep in mind is not to pick up the cable car at the turnaround. The lines there are long, but the conductors always leave some room for picking up riders along the way. Better to be one of those riders. So, just walk up the line for a block or two and wait for the cable car to come to you.

 

To get back to downtown, you can take the cable car back, or alternatively, hop on one of the vintage trolley cars that run through the Fisherman’s Wharf district (don’t worry, you will see them).  The trolleys go along the Embarcadero (the waterfront street) and turn down Market Street. Keep you eyes open and you will see the Powell Street cable car turnaround (it will be on your right between the Gap and Forever 21). Hop off there and you will be back to where the cable car started.

 

 

USS Pampanito

One of the better attractions at Fisherman's Wharf

 

The USS Pampanito (named after a kind of marine fish) is a WWII submarine docked on Pier 45, which is opened to the public daily. The sub served in the Pacific and went on a total of six war patrols during 1944 and 1945. It torpedoed ten Japanese ships, having sunk four of them. Sadly, one of those ships was a POW ship carrying 900 Allied prisoners. The next day it was able to pick up 73 of them and other ships also rescued some survives. The USS Pampanito was damaged by, but survived, a depth charge attack and narrowly missed being sunk during a torpedo attack from a Japanese submarine.


Admission:

self-guided tour $2;

guided tour - $10 for adults; $4 for kids (6-12); $6 for seniors and $20 for families (2 adults and up to four children under 18). It opens daily at 9:00 am but closing times vary, so please call (415) 775-1943. Web site:Maritime.org/PampHome

 

SS Jeremiah O'Brien

One more thing you can see at Fisherman's Wharf

 

Also docked on Pier 45, is the WWII liberty ship, SS Jeremiah O' Brien. Of the 2,751 liberty ships built during WWII, the SSJOB is one of only two operational ships left. The story of their production and the revolutionary industrial methods that is implied is astounding. At the start of their production run, it took about 230 days to produce one. By 1943 that number had dropped to 42 days, with three leaving US shipyards every day. Once, in a show of what was possible, in an all out concentrated effort, one liberty ship was assembled from keel laying to launch in four days, 15 and a half hours.


The ship is open for daily tours 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (Adults $10, seniors (62+) and juniors (6-14) $5, kids under 6 free, families with children $25).


Every month or so, they take the ship out for a cruise around the Bay and up the Sacramento River. Check their web site for details:

 

SSJeremiahOBrien.org

 

Fisherman's Wharf

See, there really are fishing boats at Fisherman's Wharf

 

Yes, despite all the tee shirt shops and San Francisco-themed-key-chain shops, there is still a real fisherman’s wharf at Fisherman’s Wharf. The above photo is there to prove it. The gold rush of 1848 brought Italian fishermen who established the city’s fishing fleet as they fished the bay for Dungeness crab. Later, sea food restaurants opened to serve the crab to visitors. And then shops opened to sell souvenirs of the experience to tourists. And then, well, the wheels of commerce kept turning until the area ended up being what it is today.

 

The Cannery

The courtyard of the Cannery at Fisherman's Wharf

 

Not long after the successful conversion of Ghirardelli Square, the nearby Del Monte fruit and vegetable cannery buildings were also converted into mixed commercial use, catering mostly to the gowning tourist traffic. Visitors can browse through boutiques and specialty shops, dine indoors in its restaurants or outdoors in its courtyard and, in general, enjoy the ambiences of this turn of the century brick warehouse.

 

World Famous Bushman

Be careful when you walk past the bush


Well, that is what he and Wikipedia claim he is.  His name is David Johnson and since 1980 he has been hiding behind a sidewalk trash can and covering himself with branches. When unsuspecting passerbyers pass by, especially young female passerbyers, he jumps out and startles them.  When enough of a crowd collects to see what the heck is going on, he jumps out with a collection bucket to monetize the ruckus he has caused. He claims to net $60,000 per year (tax free, one suspects). I have never tried it out, so I can't say if that is true.

 

California Sea Lions

The California Sea Lions at Pier 39

 

Starting in 1989, the sea lions from Seal Rock (just off shore from the historic Cliff House restaurant) started moving into the marina next to Pier 39. They slowly elbowed out the boats docked there to where, they now have it all to themselves.  Their population has grown to about 1,500, but it often drops in late fall and does not rebound till spring. Belching, barking, snorting and giving every appearance of being seriously hung-over, they make quite a spectacle. It is a good place to take your alcoholic cousin and show him the direction in life he is headed.

 

Hyde Street Pier

Old ships docked at the Hyde Street Pier

 

Near the Western end of the Fisherman’s Wharf district there are seven historic ships moored at the Hyde Street Pier. History lovers will find all the ships interesting, but most notable of these is San Francisco’s only square rigger, the Balclutha of 1886. Also the giant tortoise of a ship, the 1890 side-wheel paddle steam ferry, the Eureka is a standout.


Open daily, June-Aug. 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Sept-May 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year Day. Tickets allowing entry to the pier and all of its ships is only $5 (free for those under 16) and are good for seven days. Such a deal!

 

 


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