When visiting San Francisco, one of the top 20 attractions to see is Fisherman’s Wharf. Encompassing the northern waterfront area of San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf extends from Ghirardelli Square ( Van Ness Avenue) east to Pier 35 (Kearny Street). The neighborhood gets its name and characteristics from San Francisco’s early days when Italian fishermen immigrated to the city by the bay to take advantage of the influx of people due to the gold rush. These fishermen settled in the North Beach area close to the wharf and fished for local delicacies including the Dungeness crab that Fisherman’s Wharf is now known for. From then until the present day the area has remained the home base for San Francisco’s fishing fleet. Fisherman’s Wharf went through a major redevelopment during the 1970s and 80s transforming it into a tourist attraction yet the area is still home to many active fishermen and their fleets. In 2010, another $15,000,000 was invested in the area to further revitalize its appearance for tourists and to reverse the area’s downward trend in popularity among the locals.
Today Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the busiest and well known tourist attractions in the western United States. Fisherman’s Wharf is home to Pier 39, Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Aquarium of the Bay, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
A food lover’s haven, Fisherman’s Wharf boasts some of the best dining in the world. Try the fresh Dungeness crab served steaming hot at outdoor stands or in a variety of gourmet recipes at the Wharf’s many seafood restaurants. Some of the restaurants, including Fishermen’s Grotto, Pompei’s Grotto and Alioto’s, go back to three generations of ownership by the same family. You will also find several famous chain restaurants including Joe’s Crab Shack and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
During the day, you will find several street performers including magicians, mimes, musicians, jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters. At night the wharf offers live music, theater, dancing, comedy clubs and much more.
Other attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf include Alcatraz, Hyde Street Pier, Angel Island, the colony of sea lions on Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay, the National Liberty Ship Memorial (SS. Jeremiah O’Brien), and Red and White Fleet – San Francisco Cruises. And let’s not forget the cable cars which San Francisco is famous for! Refurbished and equipped with new tracks, cables, turntables and cable propulsion machinery, San Francisco’s famed cable cars operate much as they did on August 2, 1873. The F Market streetcar runs through the area, the Powell-Hyde cable car lines runs to Aquatic Park, at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Powell-Mason cable car line runs a few blocks away.
Alcatraz, known as “The Rock”, has served as a Civil War fortress, an infamous federal prison,a bird sanctuary, and the first lighthouse on the West Coast. Today, more than a million people come to Alcatraz each year to learn about the island’s human history and to see its birds, tide pools and gardens. The Rock is visible from just about anywhere along the Wharf’s shoreline and numerous cruises take you around and to the island.
Hyde Street Pier (part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park) is home of the world’s largest collection of historic ships by tonnage such as the USS Pampanito, a decommissioned World War II era submarine, and the Balclutha, a 19th-century cargo ship. Here visitors can board several National Landmark vessels, including the schooner Alma and the 1890 ferryboat Eureka. Hyde Street Pier also offers regular ranger guided tours, special programs and hands-on demonstrations for all ages. The nearby Pier 45 has a chapel in memory of the “Lost Fishermen” of San Francisco and Northern California.
There is another island which you can see from Fisherman’s Wharf called Angel Island. It is one of the last undeveloped islands left in the San Francisco Bay. It is maintained by the National Park Service and can be used for biking, hiking and picnics.
One of Fisherman’s Wharf’s most popular attractions, the sea lions of PIER 39 hold huge appeal for visitors of all ages. The creatures took-up residence in the area right after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. The sea lions lie on wooden docks that were originally meant for docking boats. Their numbers vary depending on time of year, but their distinct barks can always be heard from blocks away.
The Aquarium of the Bay located at PIER 39, The Embarcadero at Beach (www.aquariumofthebay.org ) is a unique marine nature center featuring over 20,000 aquatic animals from the San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters. Visitors can walk through 300 feet of crystal clear tunnels just inches from sharks, skates, octopus, bat rays and other amazing marine animals. The aquarium is open year round except for December 25. Summer and holiday hours are 9 am to 8 pm; other times of year the Aquarium is open from 10 am to 6 pm.
The National Liberty Ship Memorial (SS. Jeremiah O’Brien) located at Pier 45 (www.ssjeremiahobrien.org) is one of two remaining fully functional Liberty Ships of the 2,710 built and launched during WWII. It has the distinction of being the last unaltered Liberty Ship and remains historically accurate. It is open to visitors daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day).
The Red and White Fleet – San Francisco Cruises located at Pier 43 1/2 (www.redandwhite.com) was founded in 1892 and offers 1-hour cruises featuring a sail around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge. They just recently added a 90-minute Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise, which takes guests on a journey along San Francisco’s entire waterfront, from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Bay Bridge.
Summer temperatures in the area range in the low 60’s to the mid 80’s; winter temperatures average 10-20 degrees cooler. It’s not unusual for a warm sunny day to turn foggy with gusty winds so always be prepared when you visit San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a wonderful example of how a bygone era still influences the culture, events, sights, sounds and food of a waterfront community and an experience one must share at least once in a lifetime.