By Anna Pastor
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf has got more than its breathtaking views to offer. But alas, when I tell my friends who are local to the area “let’s go to Fisherman’s Wharf!”—A natural response would right away emerge from their faces, a contortion of excitement but hassled faces. I totally understand this because the truth is when many locals think of Fisherman’s Wharf, what comes to mind is a beautiful area by the bay, with crawling tourists and along with that, traffic, and parking costs and parking hunt. Beyond those impressions though, Fisherman’s Wharf is beautiful to behold (which explains the high volume of visitors from around the world).
Read below for some of the must-visits for when you’re in town:
1. Eat your Way Across the Wharf
The most intuitive thing to do here is to find the freshest seafood. This intuition is justified because, hello, you are at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Without further ado, here are some of the local food gem locations, in my humble opinion:
One, you must try the clam chowder soups served in sourdough bowls. You can get them from the classic SF Boudin (they have a delightful busy first-floor restaurant eatery and an even more delightful second-floor dine-in location. Make sure to gaze at their fine art pastry, the assorted big animal-shaped bread; sometimes it’s an alligator, sometimes something else). You can also get the crab and clam chowder soups in the marketplace food stands, where it is arguably much cheaper. There are minimal seating areas in the marketplace, so I suggest taking your food to the plaza, and people watch while enjoying your fresh San Franciscan seafood. Also, make sure to try the crab sandwiches from the marketplace food stands. It’s so good that I’d argue it’s a must-eat!
Two, you might’ve heard of the most coveted reservations for a fancy well-pampered dinner that is from Gary Danko. It is located in Fisherman’s Wharf. Get that reservation to feel pampered and taste that Michelin Star meal.
Three, there are a lot more places to find San Franciscan eats. The cioppino from Cioppino’s, crab cake and more seafood from Alioto’s, the barbecues from the Pub, the burgers from In-n-Out, the fish and chips from the Codmother’s Fish-n-Chips, the comfort Korean foods from Surisan, the great crab Louie and great calamari from Scoma’s… I can go on and on, but the point is simple: though it can be a bit pricey (because it is a touristy place), explore the Fisherman’s Wharf and have a yummy time on your stroll.
2. Pier 39
Pier 39 is just a small part of the Fisherman’s Wharf. It is like the energetic baby sibling you have that everyone who plays favorites likes to favor more than others. Pier 39 always has its lively vibe, in part because its streets are home to street performers who show off their talents (for applauses and/or for tips). It is also home to many performing artists, from soloists to group musicians. It accommodates kids and their penchant for carousels, tourists and their penchant for souvenirs, and foodies with their quest for the ultimate California seafood. Interestingly, docks at the pier are also home to sea lions playing in the harbor. Their home is the Pier 39 docks, and they just chose that specific dock and decided they’ll be permanent residents there, not kidding. If you listen carefully, you can hear the barks and grunts of the sea lions literally shoving each other off. Today SF welcomes the playful sea lions, and even have the sea lions taken care of by the naturalists from SF Aquarium of the Bay. There’s more than food and sights to see; there are residents and a whole community.
Duration: You can easily spend a leisurely two hours here at least.
Duration: You can easily spend a leisurely two hours here at least
3. Musée Méchanique
Bring your special someone, a group of friends, or your kids, and play competitive antique arcade games at Musée Méchanique (MM) for a cheap expense out of your spare change. A game can cost 1 cent to a dollar, but the value of playing with the vintage arcade games is something you cannot find just anywhere. When I come to visit MM, I make sure to challenge other people to beat me in the games, but I always win. After winning a good amount of games, food stands and restaurants awaits you from one direction, and a 75-year-old ship together with a gallant submarine—two historical vessels awaits just behind Musée Méchanique (Pier 45). One of the ships features scenes from the movie, Titanic. The fun doesn’t stop here.
Price: $(1-10); your cents literally have a place in this store
Duration: Depends on how much fun you find your company; I’d say half an hour at least
4. Historical Exhibits and Traditions
Preserve history, celebrate our heritage, and learn more about the grand vessels when you visit SF Maritime National Historical Park, which is located in SF Fisherman’s Wharf. Smell the fresh ocean breeze while learning something about history or maritime crafts and skills. It’s great for couples, families, kids, and even if you’re touring solo. The Wharf is a great spot to watch the annual Fleet Week when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels showcase their flairs to wow the public. Let me go in more detail:
The Maritime National Historical Park is located in what used to be the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building. It is an elongated white structure that looks minimalistic and modern, but was actually built in the 1930s. It features a fleet of historic vessels, including two that are docked in Pier 45 (more on this below). The Maritime National Historical Park also showcases the skills and techniques of sailor’s trade, such as different kinds of nautical knots, like the clover and reef, the parts and interiors of the vessel, and more.
Pier 45: SS Jeremiah O’Brien & USS Pampanito
When I visited Pier 45, I got to see and learn about the history of SS Jeremiah O’Brien (a ship) and USS Pampanito (a submarine). Both of them are located at Pier 45, and both vessels are war-veterans in some respect as they were both deployed back in WWII. Today, they now function as a museum and tourist attraction. It might interest you to know that the SS Jeremiah O’Brien is one of the two remaining ships that still operates to this day, out of 2,710 others built and launched during WWII! The vessels still sail regularly, venturing on exciting cruises for special events. Both ships are national historic landmarks and are popular among its kind throughout the country.
Price: $$-$$$ (adults), Free (kids age 4 under)
Duration: At least an hour
Fleet Week - Fleet Week is an annual event where highly talented pilots from the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels fly in tandem with Canadian Snowbirds to showcase beautiful air and sea power executed with precision. It’s such a sight to see, and Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the prime places to be for a good view.
5. Ghirardelli Square
Especially lovely at night, watch and learn how Ghirardelli chocolates are made. Take a look into the chocolate fountain (located inside the restaurant), and make sure to collect the free samples! After a beautiful day of strolling around San Francisco, get a nice hot cup of coffee or hot cocoa, or a hot fudge on top of ice cream on your favorite Ghirardelli smoothie.
Price: Approximately $5 per hot cocoa/smoothie, more or less. There are multiple stores, so don’t get stuck waiting in line at one location.
6. On the immediate outskirts of Fisherman’s Wharf
Just outside the Fisherman’s Wharf limits, the Lombard street is nearby, as well as the Ferry Building Marketplace. Also check out the SF Old Chinatown two blocks away and Little Italy right beside it. Or, if you’re not seasick, take the ferry to see Alcatraz or a boat ride around the bay, and even see SF from far away via Treasure Island. But make sure to take the historic cable cars, they’re iconic!
7. (Tips) Here are some of my unsolicited advice:
If you’re local, take your visiting friends here! That’s a no-brainer. If you’re visiting SF, ask your local buddies to bring you here.
Check the weather! Short-shorts are excellent in the summer, but it gets cold here year round.
If you see the haze, know that the fog’s name is ‘Karl’—people will get the impression that you’re local, because only locals know who “Karl the Fog” is.
Find the Bushman (the old Bushman (rip), had a prodigy. And he’s around town scaring people for kicks)! Scare your spouses and children for fun.
Some pretty spectacular acts and entertainment happen right there on the sidewalk, so keep your eyes peeled!
Paying a lot of money for overpriced souvenirs is easy. Restrain yourself and please just walk a few more blocks away and you'll see the prices drop. Do not get junk; there is enough of that in the world! But I guess get the funny T-shirts!
Sure parking is expensive, and traffic can be a hassle. So, thank God Uber/Lyft exists.
If you do drive and decide to park your car, caution: SFPD closely monitors parking.
You can park your car in a parking garages nearby and get your ticket validated for one hour in participating restaurants.