Fisherman’s Wharf is a mile in length, starting at Aquatic Park and ending at Pier 39. Along with its variety of restaurants, the pulse of the neighborhood appeals to visitors of all persuasions, because of the myriad of activities, including the Wax Museum, Guinness Museum of World Records, Boudin Bakery and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. Additionally, the Red and White Fleet runs tour boats around Alcatraz and to the Golden Gate Bridge, both popular tours. Two shopping areas, The Anchorage and The Cannery, are located in the central area. Each is filled with unique stores, selling boutique items not available elsewhere.
Few visitors realize that the area known as Fisherman’s Wharf extends to Aquatic Park, a popular attraction where residents and visitors alike have always enjoyed the opportunity to picnic, promenade or play bocce ball. The Maritime Museum, once the park’s palatial bathhouse, exhibits memorabilia from the West Coast’s seafaring days and includes giant masts, painted figureheads and detailed ship models. The building itself resembles a cruise ship, perfect for taking a break from explorations to sit on the outside deck and listen to the waves break on shore.
Rising on a hill across the street are the brick buildings of Ghirardelli Square, once a chocolate factory. Historical plaques tell the history of Domingo Ghirardelli who came to California to prospect gold but ended up becoming the king of chocolate. The Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain still makes chocolate with the original old
fashioned machines and few can resist enjoying a luscious ice cream sundae with chocolate on top or a cup of hot chocolate.
Ghirardelli Square is also filled with shops, selling everything from apparel to folk art. With their hilltop location, the restaurants are known for million dollar views as well as spectacular cuisine.
Riding a cable car is another popular option. The turnaround for the Powell/Hyde Cable Car is located in Victorian Park across the street from Ghirardelli Square, while the Mason/Powell Cable Car line is conveniently located right across from the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Back on the bay is Hyde Street Pier, a U.S. National Park located on the water and exhibiting historic ships from the past. Visitors can board the Eureka, one of the last auto ferries on the bay, or the schooner, the C.A. Thayer, which transported lumber between 1895 and 1912. There is also an Italian felucca, almost unseen because of its small size. Queen of the pier is the Balclutha with its square-rigged masts. Built in 1887, the ship carried coal regularly around Cape Horn to San Francisco before becoming a lumber ship and then a transporter of men and supplies to Alaska. She was also the star of the 1930s movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
The views of the bay, the wharf, Golden Gate Bridge and the city from the far end of Hyde Street Pier are magnificent. At Pier 43½, near the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf signare the Red and White Fleet, which cruises to various ports around the bay and San Francisco Seaplane Tours, which offers 30 minute flightseeing tours. Plus, there are pedicabs, motorized cable cars and horse-drawn carriages, all available for memorable excursions.
Another unique feature at Fisherman’s Wharf is the Boudin Bakery, where bakers make bread with a recipe the company has nurtured since 1849, making it San Francisco’s oldest continuously running company. The renovated facility boasts a Bakery & Cafe in Baker’s Hall, gourmet gifts in the marketplace, a comprehensive museum to learn about Boudin’s history, the full-service Bistro Boudin and the Bistro bar.
Serendipitous entertainment is what Fisherman’s Wharf is all about. Street performers are found everywhere, on the streets, at the shopping centers and on the piers. Some are worth watching, others not, depending on your taste. A rap singer might compose a rap song about you as you walk by, or a human mannequin may stand frozen in one position, hoping you will toss a coin into his hat. A few of the street performers have even become highly paid entertainers on television.
Recently, the F-Line was completed, transporting passengers on historic trolleys along the waterfront from the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Fisherman’s Wharf Attraction/Activity Options
Check out all the fun and exciting events to discover why Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s #1 visitor destination
Enjoy a bay cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge
Climb half way to the stars aboard the legendary cable cars
Experience world famous Ghirardelli chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
Explore the National Maritime Museum (www.maritime.org) and the USS Pampanito Submarine Museum http://www.maritime.org/pamphome.htm
Take a roller coaster ride at an exhibit tracing the fascinating history of Amusement Attractions in America, now open at Pier 45
Browse Fort Mason, a former military installation and port of embarkation
Walk the decks of the tall ships and stroll along the Hyde Street Pier, home of the world’s largest collection of historic ships by tonnage, where visitors can board several National Landmark vessels
Browse through the flagship Boudin Bakery and enjoy a freshly baked loaf of sourdough
Enjoy an Irish coffee at Buena Vista Café, the beverage’s origin
Get a work out rollerblading, bicycling or walking over the Golden Gate Bridge
A food lover’s haven, Fisherman’s Wharf boasts some of the best dining in the world. Savor Ghirardelli chocolate, fresh sourdough bread, fresh Dungeness crab and the myriad of restaurant options, an eclectic mix of international cuisine
Raise a toast at San Francisco’s Best Sports Bar, Knuckles
During the day, street performers entertain onlookers with a number of different acts, including talented magicians, human robots, musicians, jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters, while at night enjoy live music, dancing and comedy clubs as well
Exploring Fisherman’s Wharf
Those who are privileged to visit San Francisco never fail to recall with pleasure their stroll along this city’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf. Here they can peer down at the fishing craft gently riding in the calm water or pause to watch fishermen mending a net and listen to shouted Latin-tongued exchanges between the followers of the sea. Most of the boats in view belong to a “third generation” of fishing craft, which have made history at the “Wharf.”
From the days of the Gold Rush until the turn of the Century, the San Francisco fishing fleet was composed of lateen-rigged sailboats. They were copies of the craft, which the Italian fishermen knew in their native land. Green was the prevailing color of the tiny boats and the name of a patron saint appeared on the hull. The fishermen themselves were as colorful as their craft. Their natural talent for song was to be heard in renditions of arias from Verdi, lusty if not always true to the ear. In the fog-shrouded waters outside the Golden Gate, the singing was a means of communication. You could not see a companion boat, but you knew it was there.
The “second-generation” of fishing boats came with the introduction of gasoline engines, small but dependable “put-puts.” What became known as the Monterey Hull boats came into general use. The gas engine made it possible to fish more days of the year, gave a wider range for their operation in the ocean water and provided power to haul in the nets or lines.
Even today, several hundred of the Monterey-type boats remain as a part of the fishing fleet. Often likened to the “vintage” automobiles of the Model-T era, the Monterey Hull craft ride at harbor alongside a “‘third generation” of commercial fishing boats, diesel-powered craft which overshadow them in size, cruising capacity and are often equipped with two-way radio telephones and “sonar” depth-finders.
In those older days, the fishermen got their news about the weather from nature instead of a radio report. If the moon was in the east, the tide was coming in or if in the west, the tide was flowing out the Golden Gate. A circle around the moon meant rain. Porpoises playing around the boat indicated a bad wind was brewing.
Old timers around Fisherman’s Wharf have other tales to tell, recalled from the period of the last sailboats. It was hard work. If the boat was becalmed, they waited long hours for a breeze, or got out the oars and rowed. Sometimes they would throw a grappling hook into the rudder chain of a passing steamer and get an easy ride home. When the steamer crews called out imprecations against these marine hitchhikers, the Italian fishermen screamed right back in words that soon became a part of waterfront “lingo.”
In those earlier periods, the favorite fishing spots were outside the Golden Gate, just beyond the waves breaking on the rocks and sandy beaches. It took great skill to manage the boats so they did not drift ashore and become shipwrecked. In terms of money, the rewards were very low, if today’s standards of value are to serve as a measure. The average fisherman made $2 or $3 a week, sometimes as much as $5. But, on the other hand a loaf of bread could be bought for less than five cents and good red wine came from grapes that could be purchased for $5 a ton.
Today, as in the past, it is the fishing fleet, operated by the grandsons and great-grandsons of these past generations, which make Fisherman’s Wharf a place of activity, the center of an ocean-oriented industry beloved by natives and visitors alike.