One of the draws of San Francisco is its proximity to the water and the rich maritime history that goes along with it being a seaport city during the Gold Rush and beyond. A great example of this is Fisherman’s Wharf, known for its popular tourist attractions, like Pier 39 and Hyde Street Pier with its historic ships. Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.
16+ Best Things To Do In Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
First, stop by the Visitor’s Center in the brick cannery warehouse and learn about the area’s history through interactive exhibits. The information desk is where park rangers can help you with any questions and where you find scheduled programs within the park, including ranger-led tours of the ships. Complimentary Junior Rangers activity booklets for kids 7-12 years old can also be found here.
The Hyde Street Pier is home to a fleet of historic ships that you can visit and learn more about seafaring in the late 19th – early 20th century. The Balclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship built in 1886, is one of the most famous with its towering three masts. Learn more about maintaining these historical vessels at the Small Boat Shop, where volunteers and employees help preserve the park’s collection of 100 watercraft vessels.
Head over to Aquatic Park, where you can wade in the bay or have lunch on the steps nearby with a view of the cove. Walk along the Aquatic Park Pier (Muni Pier) which rewards with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. The Maritime Museum which is housed in a 1939 bathhouse is also a worthwhile place to stop by and learn more about the local maritime history of the area.
Please note due to the current COVID pandemic (7/20/22) the following attractions are temporarily closed: Maritime Museum, Visitor Center, Balclutha (tween deck), and Maritime Museum Visitor Center, Ships: Eureka, Balclutha (tween deck).
SS Jeremiah O’Brien
This Liberty ship is one of the only ones remaining out of 2,710 that were built during World War II and is the only ship of its kind to be preserved in its original state. It is permanently docked on Pier 45 and is open for tours as well as events like the Fourth of July dockside firework viewing and SF fleet week cruises in early October.
General tour admission is $20, senior (62+) is $15 and junior (5-12) is $10. Children 4 and under are free. There are also discounts for families with two adults/two children, students, and active military.
This wartime submarine allows visitors to glimpse how life at sea was during World War II when the vessel completed six patrols in the Pacific. After the submarine was retired, it was restored to its 1945 state to reflect the height of WWII submarine development. The Pampanito is open every day from 10 am -6 pm.
Tickets are $25 for adults (14-61), seniors (62+) are $15, youth (5-13) is $10, and children 4 and under are free. There are discounts for students, active military, and families with two adults/two youths.
If there’s one thing that San Francisco is synonymous with, cable cars are at the top of the list. There is nothing quite like riding these national historic monuments over steep hills and being treated to views of the bay and downtown. Fisherman’s Wharf has a cable car turnaround that is home to the Powell-Hyde line and the Powell-Mason line. Both of them end in downtown SF’s Union Square.
Tickets cost $8 each for a single ride for an adult/youth (5 years old and older), seniors (65 or older)/disabled riders are $8 each ride from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m it is $4 per ride. Cash or ticket only. The 1 Day Visitor Passport is available for youth/adult riders for $13 if you use the Muni Mobile app and load it onto a Clipper card.
Aquarium of the Bay (Pier 39)
Located on the most famous Fisherman’s Wharf pier, this aquarium features local marine life from around the San Francisco Bay and all the way to rivers of the Sierra Nevadas. Exhibits include the Sea Lion Center,
Under the Bay with immersive tunnels filled with rays and sharks, as well as tanks full of Moon Jellies, and river otters. Keep your eyes out for the bright orange Garibaldi (the California state marine fish).
The aquarium is located on Pier 39, on The Embarcadero and Beach Street. It is open daily from 11 am – 6 pm. Tickets for general admission are $29.75 for adults (13-64), $24.75 for seniors (65+), 19.75 for youth (4-12), and children 3 and under are free. The CityPASS is accepted here, where you can save up to 45% on top SF attractions.
You will hear these local celebrities (and smell them) before you see them. They have called Pier 39 home since the early 1900s and quickly grew In population due to the abundant herring supply and protected dock area. The sea lions are at Pier 39 in the winter and migrate to the Channel Islands for the summertime for breeding season, though a small group stays behind.
The options for fresh seafood in Fisherman’s Wharf is abundant. There are plentiful sidewalk food carts that serve up steaming bowls of clam chowder in a freshly baked sourdough bread bowl, as well as generous servings of Dungeness crab.
Eat at one of the nearby standing tables which offer a front-row seat to people-watching and the street performers that never disappoint. The clam chowder and crab stands are located on Jefferson Street (the main thoroughfare) right next to Pier 45.
Fog Harbor Fish House
If you want to treat yourself to something fancier, this local seafood institution is hard to beat with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and bay. Choose from an impressive menu that includes fresh oysters, seared scallops with crab risotto, and cioppino (fish, crab, shrimp, mussels, and clams stewed in a seafood tomato broth).
There is an extensive cocktail list including the Alcatraz Escape with coconut rum, white rum, grenadine, pineapple, and orange juice, and a float of dark rum.
The restaurant is fancy casual (shorts and t-shirts are fine) and reservations are recommended.
Franciscan Crab Restaurant
This Fisherman’s Wharf long-standing establishment specializes in fresh Dungeness crabs. There are also other popular crab-centric dishes like crab cakes, crab alfredo, and crab chowder. There are also other seafood offerings like seafood antipasto, fresh oysters, and steamed mussels. The bay views are unparallel, especially when the fog begins to roll over the Golden Gate.
There is 2-hour validated parking in the lot across the street as well as at Pier 45. Reservations are recommended.
For a peek into the process of what it takes to make a loaf of this iconic SF sourdough, make your way over to this flagship store and factory. Watch bakers craft loaves through a 30-foot window and where you can ask them any burning questions through a two-way intercom.
There are plenty of opportunities to sample sourdough, including Bakers Hall where there is a marketplace and cafe (pick up breakfast or a fresh loaf of bread). Bistro Boudin is a full-service restaurant on the property serving locally-sourced meals.
There is also a Boudin cafe located on Pier 39 that serves sandwiches, soups, and salads.
The Buena Vista Cafe
Located right to the left of the Powell-Hyde Cable Car Turnaround, this restaurant is known for introducing Irish coffee (Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey, Peerless Organic Coffee, heavy cream, and C&H sugar) to the U.S. Come for brunch or lunch/dinner with dishes that include the Dungeness Crab Omelet, and Corned Beef and Cabbage.
They have recently added a covered outdoor area and they also have the option to get an Irish coffee to go.
If you are a fan of chocolate, you cannot miss this modern-day chocolate factory in Ghirardelli Square. Browse the shops for edible souvenirs in the Ghiradelli On-The-Go and then treat yourself to a large-as-your-head ice cream fudge sundae at the Original Ghiradelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop.
Afterward, take a self-guided tour of how this iconic chocolate is made with historic chocolate-making equipment. For more take-home treats, visit the Ghiradelli Chocolate Experience, which features a Chocolatier Station where you watch homemade fudge, chocolate, and waffle cones being made in real-time.
Travel back in time to the world of antique pinball machines and penny arcade games of the 20th century, where you can measure your admiration on the Love Tester or try your luck on the Arm Wrestling machine. This whimsical museum of over 300 mechanical machines has been a beloved family-owned establishment since 1933.
Keep on the lookout for Laffing Sal, a towering animatronic character with a distinct laugh that was created for amusement parks in the 1930s. There are also more modern games to play, like Skee Ball and video arcade games like Robotron.
The museum is located on Pier 45. Admission is free. All games are a quarter.
This wax museum is a great place to drop by and see lifelike celebrities of all kinds, from politicians to movie stars and musicians. The Janis Joplin statue gives a nod to her San Francisco roots, complete with a groovy VW van.
Other local stars include Golden State Warrior player Stephen Curry, Zendaya, Carlos Santana, Former SF Mayor Ed Lee, and Harvey Milk. The backdrops for each statue make them a fun photo opp, where you can take a photo with your favorite star.
Tickets are $29.99 for visitors aged 3+. City Pass is accepted here.
Fisherman’s Wharf has no shortage of shops to pick up souvenirs, most leaning towards being tourist traps selling the ubiquitous SF sweatshirts, shot glass, and postcards. Here are a few memorable ones:
- The Shell Cellar – shells of all shapes and sizes can be found in this charming shop, along with shell-centric artwork and sea-themed trinkets that make a unique souvenir
- The Cable Car Store – if you are looking to buy an SF sweatshirt or anything cable car themed, this store is well-stocked and feels a step up from the other tacky souvenir shops. Located on Pier 39.
- The San Francisco Sock Market – rows upon rows of any sock you could fancy, this is a great store to buy a gift for family or friends
- Christmas in San Francisco – find a unique SF ornament that you can add to your holiday collection and some of the ornaments are available to personalize.
One of the popular attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf is taking a bay cruise, where you can view up close the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, and Alcatraz Island. One of the most popular is the Blue & Gold Fleet, where you can book a one-hour cruise SF Bay Cruise that takes you under the bridge and gives you detailed narration about surrounding landmarks. There is also an Alcatraz-based cruise as well as a sunset one. Cruises start at $37 for adults (18+).
There is also the Sausalito Ferry run by Blue & Gold Fleet, which is a scenic and slightly cheaper way to experience the thrill of being on the water and will drop you off in a charming seaside town in Marin. All cruises and ferries depart at Pier 41. Single trip tickets for adults (11+) are $14.25.
The Red and White Fleet, a family-owned business since 1892, is a solid choice as well. Cruises include Golden Gate Bay Cruise, a one-hour cruise around the bay, under the bridge, and around Alcatraz. Other cruises include Bridge2Bridge which goes under both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge and a sunset cruise. Sixteen languages are offered. Cruises start at $38 for adults (18+) and depart from Pier 43 1/2.
Where to park in Fisherman’s Wharf
Parking in Fisherman’s Wharf is especially difficult, but here are some tips for securing a spot.
The best places to park are off-street in parking lots if you want a secure and convenient option. The Pier 39 Garage is the main parking garage that is located across the street from Pier 39. It’s open 24/7, but overnight parking is not permitted. It’s $10/per hour on weekdays and $12/per hour on weekends and holidays, with a five-hour limit for everyone.
There are two ways to get a discount for the Pier 39 Garage: make advanced reservations for a flat rate of $15 on weekdays and $20 on weekends or get a free hour of validated parking from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Crab House, Fog Harbor Fish House, Hard Rock Cafe, Lorenzo’s Pizzeria, Luau Lounge Tiki Bar, Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, Players Sports Grill & Arcade, Swiss Louis Italian & Seafood Restaurant, and Wipeout Bar & Grill.
Propark Beach and Hyde is another great option for a parking garage. It’s located near Aquatic Park and advanced reservations are available.
For residential parking, make sure to read the signs since in Residential Parking Zone A you can only park for two hours if you do not have a permit. If you are up for a bit of a walk, you can park on Van Ness Avenue in Aquatic Park if you get there early enough.
You can also park up in the Fort Mason parking lot (entrance is Bay Street and next to Patrick’s Park) and walk past the Hostel International – Fort Mason and down the hill to Aquatic Park.
Public Transportation To Fisherman’s Wharf
A great alternative to driving is taking advantage of SF’s extensive public transportation system (MUNI). A scenic option is the historic F-Line Streetcar that runs along The Embarcadero from Market Street.
The 47 Van Ness bus also is a great option if you are coming from the Civic Center area or can transfer on Van Ness Avenue from another bus line. You can also take a cable car if you’re coming from downtown or anywhere that the cable cars stop.
Best Time To Visit
The summer naturally brings the most crowds, but the weather is actually pretty chilly due to the dense fog that rolls off the Pacific Ocean from June to August. One of the best times weather-wise is late summer-early autumn (September-October), when it’s warm and the crowds have lessened.
Another fun (but crowded) time to visit is during the holidays when a giant Christmas tree appears at the entrance of Pier 39 and is lit up to the nines.
Annual Events at Fisherman’s Wharf
- 4th of July– fireworks are shot off from two barges in the bay at 9:30, no matter the weather. Bring a warm jacket, since it can get cold once the fog rolls in, and make sure to get there extra early since it gets crowded quickly. Restaurants, shops, and activities will be open on the holiday. The Blue and Gold Fleet and Red and White Fleet both offer a 4th of July cruise complete with a full bar and snacks, and one of the best ways to view the fireworks from the water.
- Fleet Week – taking place on the first weekend of October, catch the Blue Angels dip and soar over the bay in honor of the U.S. Armed Forces. Watch from one of the piers or if you want a unique experience you can take a cruise and watch the planes roar overhead. The Blue Angels perform 3-4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with a practice run on Thursday. The Parade of Ships takes place on Friday, with the San Francisco Fire Department boat leading the way.
Photo source: Balclutha, USS Pampanito, clam chowder bread bowl, Musée Mécanique, souvenir shop
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