San Francisco/Fisherman's Wharf

Giant Crab at Pier 39

San Francisco's most popular destination among travelers, Fisherman's Wharf is the tourist center of the city. Its historic waterfront, once the hub of the city's fishing fleet, is still famous for the depth and variety of its harvest and for having some of the best seafood restaurants in the city, with scenic vistas over San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. Here you will also find numerous tourist attractions such as museums, souvenir stores, historical buildings and piers, all competing for attention with the many restaurants, tour operators, peddlers and street entertainers along the docks between Pier 39 and the Municipal Pier of Aquatic Park. The Wharf is located at the northeastern tip of San Francisco, with the main Wharf district bordered roughly by the bay to the north, Van Ness Ave to the east, and Bay St to the south, although this guide also includes attractions along the Embarcadero stretching south.

Understand

Three generations of fishermen have worked on the Wharf since the 19th century and the days of the Gold Rush. Once boasting an impressive flotilla of nearly 500 fishing vessels, the fleet’s numbers have dwindled over time. Today, the boats moored at the Wharf are only equipped to supply San Francisco's restaurants with a small portion of their seafood appetites. Most of the remaining vessels are moored at Fish Alley, close to Pier 47.

Every year the Wharf attracts millions of visitors to its numerous and eclectic attractions including; the sea lions at Pier 39, the Maritime Museum, the chocolate factory at Ghirardelli Square, Hyde St Pier, and of course the infamous Alcatraz. There are also some great vistas overlooking the Bay, and a plethora of restaurants to enjoy them from. Additionally, many people visit the Wharf to either take a ferry or a cruise around the Bay. The Wharf is also home to many events such as the Fourth of July celebrations, Crab Season, and Fleet Week. Being a tourist haven, expect to see large crowds, an abundance of t-shirt stores, novelty museums, and street performers all vying for your attention. Many locals are put off by the crowds on the Wharf, and the seemingly "tacky" nature of many of the tourist stores and attractions. However, all things considered, there is probably enough here to keep everyone happy.

Get in

Map of Fisherman's Wharf

Getting here on foot or via public transportation are certainly the best options if you are already in or near San Francisco.

By car

Driving here is easiest (but often slow) by going north on Van Ness Ave (which is part of U.S. Highway 101) up to North Point St (a block beyond Bay), turning right, and then locating a parking space after a few blocks. There are a number of smallish lots, and two major garages near Pier 39, at Stockton and Beach. If you plan to spend much time, you may want to park on a street farther away (but watch the posted limits) and take public transportation to the Wharf.

If you are so inclined and have good brakes, you can go from Van Ness Ave onto Lombard St east, up Russian Hill and down the "crookedest street" in San Francisco. Turn north on any of the streets (except Taylor, because of the cable cars) into Fisherman's Wharf. Stockton St, 2.5 blocks past Columbus Ave, gets you to the garages. Note that pedestrians and cable cars have the right of way.

From the Bay Bridge it is best to get off soon, head north and east towards the Embarcadero, and then go west into the Fisherman's Wharf area. These exits are still being reconfigured to cope with future earthquakes. You'll see the garages across the way near Pier 39.

San Francisco is small, so consider taking a taxi, at a cost of around $10 from downtown, and double the price from outlying areas.

By cable car

Both cable car lines start at Market and Powell, near the BART and Muni station there, pass Union Square, and traverse the charming hills and houses of San Francisco before reaching Fisherman's Wharf.

By streetcar

By bus

By ferry

A couple of companies offer ferries serving the piers of Fisherman's Wharf:

On foot

Due to its proximity to the Downtown area, one of the best ways to get to the Wharf is simply to walk! Eastbound through Fort Mason from the Marina (15 mins), northbound along Columbus Ave from North Beach and Chinatown (25 mins), or from either the Ferry Building or the Financial District, walk northbound along the Embarcadero promenades (25 mins).

Get around

Fisherman's Wharf is best seen on foot, but there are also pedicabs, horse-drawn carriages, and of course the F-Line streetcar, all of which will take you up and down the Wharf. There are also several companies in the district that rent bikes out to tourists by the hour or for the day, including Bay City Bike, Bike and Roll, and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals. Any of these bike services is highly recommended as you get the opportunity to see a lot of the city in a relatively short-amount of time. One of Blazing Saddle's stations is located near the Ben and Jerry's stand and the trail leads you over the Golden Gate Bridge and to Sausalito where you can catch a ferry back to the piers or continue to the redwoods on an "extended" ride. Regardless of what company you choose, just prepare for leg soreness the following day. The California Welcome Center is located on the second level of PIER 39, and they offer visitor maps and information on Fisherman's Wharf which will help you navigate your way around.

See

The Wharf is a very compact area and attractions are centered mainly along the half-mile stretch of Jefferson Street. So, ambling from east to west you’ll discover:

  •   Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39 (at the foot of Pier 39, on the eastern side),  +1 415 623-5300, fax: +1 415 623-5324, e-mail: . Open daily except Dec. 25. Summer hours: 9AM-8PM daily. Most other times M-Th 10AM-6PM, F-Su 10AM-7PM. A nice place and the right size for kids, with an underwater tunnel, where the fish swim above you as you gaze at them, and ponds where you can touch various live marine animals. It's a perfectly decent aquarium, but many locals would recommend you save your money for the fantastic California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. $19.95 adults; $11.95 seniors (age 65+) and children (ages 4-12); $64 family (2 adults, 2 children). children 3 and under free.
  • Marina, West and East Marinas (on both sides of Pier 39), e-mail: . Don't get lost among all the tourist stores, and forget that Pier 39 is a pier after all so why not check out the impressive flotilla of vessels moored at its 11 docks on either side of the pier. Free.
  •   Sea lions, Pier 39's West Marina. A short time after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck, these sea lions moved bag-and-baggage into the west marina at Pier 39. There can be as many as 900 sea lions there during the winter months. In the summertime many of them migrate but there is always a steady population at Pier 39's K-Dock all year round. Free.
  •   Sea Lion Center, Second Level, West Marina, Pier 39,  +1 415 262-4734. Daily 10AM-5PM. A small free center with limited information and sea lion merchandise. Naturalists from the Aquarium of the Bay are on hand at the center as well as on the dock overlooking the sea lions to answer questions and give presentations about the sea lions. Free.
  •   Street performers, the Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water Center Stage (at the end of Pier 39). Daily Show Times: 12PM, 1:20PM, 2:40PM, 4PM, 5:20PM, 6:30PM, 7:40PM & 8:50PM. Colorful jugglers, magicians, clowns, mimes, and comedians of all descriptions entertain Pier 39 visitors throughout the day. Free.
  •   Visitor Center, The Cannery, Del Monte Square (at Hyde and Jefferson, across the street from the bridge),  +1 415 447-5000. 9:30AM-5PM. The Visitor Center has an information desk and a bunch of small craft and hands-on exhibits that depict San Francisco's rich maritime heritage. It provides some information about the boats that line Hyde St Pier. Free.
  •   Hyde St Pier (at the foot of Hyde St). 9:30AM-5PM (last entry 4:30PM). Prior to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, this historic ferry-pier was the primary automobile ferry terminal that connected San Francisco with both Marin County and the East Bay. Free.
Balclutha on the Hyde St Pier
  • Fleet of Historic Vessels, moored at Hyde St Pier (at the foot of Hyde St). Six major ships are on display on the Hyde St Pier. Some are available for a self-guided tour, others by docent-led tours. On payment of the $5 National Park Service fee several can be boarded, depending on tides; kids can join for free. Among the ships you can see are the Balclutha, an 1886 steel-hulled square rigged sailing ship, the Eureka, an 1890 steam ferryboat (which also has an exhibit of antique cars on board), the C.A. Thayer, an 1895 lumber schooner, and the Hercules, a 1907 steam tug. Boarding pass for historic vessels: $5 adults, supervised children under 16 free.
  •   Maritime Museum (located in Aquatic Park at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf),  +1 415 556-3002. Daily 10AM-4PM. Shaped like a ship, this historic building was originally built by the WPA as a bathhouse and served as the Maritime Museum for many years before a recent renovation. The maritime exhibits have been moved to storage and the Visitor Center, but you can enter and view the beautiful underwater-themed murals. Free.
  •   Aquatic Park and Municipal Pier (located at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf). This area was once part of Fort Mason but is now a complex for museums and artisans, and a great place to take a break from the bustle of Fisherman's Wharf. There is a small beach at the foot of the park where you'll see kayakers, kite fliers, swimmers from the nearby Polar Bear Club, and even rock sculptors at work. At the end of the park is Municipal Pier the closest you can get to Alcatraz on foot or bike. After dark it can be a bit desolate. Free.

Do

"Now that's gotta be heavy"... workers manually turn around a cable car at Hyde and Beach Sts
  •   Frequent Flyers, Pier 39 (near the end of Pier 39),  +1 415 981-6300. Su-Th 11AM-8PM, F-Sa 10AM-10PM. This is an exciting bungee/trampoline combination, suitable for all ages, which allows you to experiment with the dare-devil acrobat inside of you. It's possible to reach heights of up to 20 feet in the air. $10 per session.
  •   Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, Pier 39,  +1 415 835-0019. Opens daily at 10AM. A fun house maze where you can lose yourself in infinite hallways and dead-ends, complete with psychedelic lighting. $5, children 5 and under free.
  •   Players Arcade, Pier 39 M-3 (at the end of Pier 39),  +1 415 981-6300, fax: +1 415 981-6308, e-mail: . Su 10AM-10PM, M-F 11:30AM-10PM, Sa 9AM-11PM. Have some fun in the largest games arcade in San Francisco. Free admission, price of games varies.
  •   San Francisco Carousel (first level at the Bay end of Pier 39). Crafted in Europe, this fun carousel is famous as the only one of its kind in the US that has artistic depictions of its native town hand-painted onto its frame. $3 per ride.

Bay cruises and ferries

From Fisherman's Wharf, one has a wide variety of options to explore the city and the Bay by water.

Serenity at Angel Island

The following companies provide cruises or ferry service from Fisherman's Wharf.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz during Fleet Week

  Alcatraz Cruises, Pier 33, Alcatraz Landing,  +1 415 981-7625, fax: +1 415 986-1721, e-mail: . Cruises start at 8:45AM and continue throughout the day. Ten to 14 daily departures depending on the time of year. Evening tours offered. Information on the island can be found on the National Park Service's website. $30 adults, $18.25 children (5-11), seniors $28.25, children 4 and under free, family (2 adults and 2 children) $90.25. Evening tours cost extra.

Alcatraz is a decommissioned island federal penitentiary nestled beautifully in the bay. Before it was a prison it served first as a lighthouse (the West Coast's first lighthouse), then a military outpost, and then a military prison. After this, it served as a federal prison for 29 years between 1934 and 1963. Its location was near perfect due to its isolation and the frigid waters and hazardous currents of the bay, which made escape attempts difficult to say the least. Known by its nickname "The Rock", this prison was once home to some of the most notorious inmates in U.S. history. Famous inmates included Al Capone, who served four and a half years here, and Robert Stroud "The Birdman of Alcatraz," who spent a long 17 years here. The notorious gangster and bootlegger, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, also served time at the Rock. It was claimed (by the penitentiary) that no one ever escaped from the prison alive.

Take a tour and listen to an audio tape in English, Japanese, Chinese, or other languages. The most interesting aspect of the tour is that you can go into the prison and see what it was like to be imprisoned. The tour takes you all around the interior of the prison, including into some of the tiny cells, the segregated cells, the old barber shop and mess hall, and then out into the parade grounds and exercise yard. It might be more interesting if you've watched the movie Escape from Alcatraz and seen what happened in Alcatraz when it was operating as a prison. Tickets for the Ferry to Alcatraz are available at the Alcatraz Cruises website, but they sell out fast so buy in advance. Only one company is allowed exclusive access to dock at Alcatraz.

In 2015, twice a week, a former inmate who wrote about his criminal life will be in the island's main bookstore and will be available for questions and book signings.

Events and festivals

Dungeness Crabs at the Wharf

Buy

There are five principal shopping centers in Fisherman's Wharf. However, all along the Wharf and its side streets you will find an abundance of souvenir stores, T-shirt stores ("I'm with stupid" and "Alcatraz Outpatient"), electronic stores (digital cameras etc.), candy and sweet stores, jewelry stores, craft stores, and various other specialty stores of all descriptions.

Three of the major shopping centers of Fisherman's Wharf are also attractions in their own right: Pier 39, The Cannery, and Ghirardelli Square, which are all listed under the See section above. Each one has multiple shops to explore.

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget $10 or less
Mid-range $10 - 20
Splurge $20 or more

Many of the restaurants here are seafood restaurants, so if you're not into seafood at all, it's best to go to any other section of town. North Beach (Italian) and even Chinatown are within healthy walking distances. Many of the older established restaurants have Italian names like "Castagnola's" and "Alioto's" a reflection on the fact that many of the Wharf's first fishermen were immigrant Italians. Alas, much of the fare available is overpriced, but not all, there are still plenty of places on the Wharf where you can fill up on the cheap. If you're tired of the manic crowds, get take out and bring it up to Aquatic Park where there is lots of room to sit and enjoy your food in peace.

Budget

A Wharf specialty... Clam Chowder in a bread bowl

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Bars

The Wharf is not particularly well known for its nightlife scene. Most of what is there is of the "smart casual" variety, in restaurant bars and hotel bars. As the Wharf is primarily commercial, and not residential, the clientele consist mostly of either tourists, or workers from the local businesses. There are still some interesting watering holes however, including:

A simple meal... an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe

Coffee

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget under $200
Mid-range $200 - 274
Splurge $275 and over

Many of the nation-wide chains have hotels in the area but the prices can be very high, so expect to pay a premium. There are very few budget options here, so if you're traveling on a shoestring and need somewhere for under $100, you'll have to either go south a bit towards North Beach, or west towards the Marina. Either way you'll just be a 10 minute or so walk from the action. If you are insistent on staying within the Wharf area, do check for the actual location if you want to be right in Fisherman's Wharf the names of the accommodations can be confusing.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

The Fisherman's Wharf Deli and Taqueria, listed under the Eat section above, has internet facilities. Other options include:

Stay safe

Fisherman's Wharf sometimes attracts an unsavory element; with questionable charitable organizations, timeshare marketers, and 'Three Cup Shuffle' scam artists. It's wise to steer clear of these traps, and be mindful of how you spend your money.

Beware of pickpocketing, it is a common occurrence at Fisherman's Wharf. Follow the usual steps for avoiding being pickpocketed, such as keeping your wallet inside your front pocket or an inside jacket pocket.

While not necessarily a danger, the Wharf (being the major tourist destination it is) is home to a huge number of buskers, and some of them get pretty creative in order to coax you out of a few bucks. Particularly well-known is the infamous "Bushman," who sits behind a pair of eucalyptus branches and harmlessly scares passing pedestrians. It's always best to take such antics with a sense of humor and hey, if you enjoy it, why not drop a few bucks and stick around to see the next unknowing person get scared/entertained?

Go next

The Marina If you are interested in boats in general, why not take a 15 minute walk over through Fort Mason and into the Marina District. There you will find some impressive yacht clubs with both sail and power boats.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, September 23, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.