Fisherman's Wharf is the most popular San Francisco attraction. Then why do the natives avoid it like the plague?
This place has some kind of magnetic effect on our visitors that has us San Franciscans scratching our heads. We only come here when we have guests from out of town who drag us down here. But there are so many people from all over the world really love Fisherman's Wharf. What's the truth about this place?
Originally Fisherman's Wharf was the dock where the Italian fishermen brought their daily catch to be sold on the waterfront. This was the best place to get fresh seafood, right out of the bay. Clams, oysters, mussels and many different kinds of fish were brought in on the small fishing boats to supply the residents with food. Part of the catch was boiled, grilled or steamed right here on the wharf for hungry citizens.
And that part is still true. You can still enjoy some great fresh seafood at the stands along the wharf. Clam chowder, crab legs, steamed mussels, just pulled out of the water...delicious!
Fisherman's Wharf has become a playground for tourists, and that's OK. The tacky T-shirt and souvenir shops are there, of course, but there's also a lot of really fun things to do. The wharf area has a festive atmosphere that is rather contagious and I've actually been having a great time doing "research" for this site!
Pretty much everything is located along a few blocks of Jefferson Street, the main drag of Fisherman's Wharf.
There are rows of stands where you can buy fresh seafood - crabs, fried fish, mussels, and more. Keep an eye out for the thieving sea gulls if you walk around with it.
You wouldn't think restaurants geared for serving large large numbers of tourists would be very good, but there are actually some with excellent food.
A couple of my favorites:
Cioppino's, serving a delicious version of their signature dish, cioppino (seafood stew in a tomato base). I had the best polenta I've ever had there, and the spaghetti carbonara was wonderfully rich and tasty as well. 400 Jefferson Street.
Scomas: expensive, often a wait, but the food is scrumptious and they have a gorgeous view of the bay. From Jefferson Street next to Castanola's restaurant (near Jones Street), go down Al Scoma Way (looks like an alley next to the marina) to Pier 47. They validate parking for the Triangle Parking Lot at Taylor and Jefferson: 2 hours free 10 to 6, 3 hours free 6 pm till midnight. Reserve online at scomas.com, or call 415 771-4384.
These are great fun: a perfect way to see the bay, sail out under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island. One of my favorite things to do at the wharf.
Both the Red and White Ferries and the Blue and Gold Ferries leave from piers at Fisherman's Wharf, as do the small fishing boats.
For lots more information and tips about getting out on the water, see SF Bay Cruises.
Pier 39, the last pier in the Fisherman's Wharf area, is a mecca for shopping, entertainment and eating, and the goofy sea lions are there. Created for visitors, it is touristy, but it's got lots to offer. I've spent many enjoyable hours there.
The sea lions have colonized the marina right next to Pier 39; get a close-up view of them lolling on the docks!
For tips on what to see and do there, see Pier 39.
San Francisco's aquarium at Pier 39 focuses on the wildlife of SF Bay, the folks living just off the dock. It's located at the entrance to Pier 39, and worth a visit. Sharks, otter colonies, and more. (The other SF aquarium is in the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.)
We're not talking high-brow; this is the waterfront, after all.
Museé Mechanique is my favorite. Over 100 vintage mechanical games from the turn of the century, and some familiar electronic arcade games from the 1980's; you can play them for a quarter. An amazing collection and lots of fun. For all the details about the museum, see Museé Mechanique.
There are also these three, all in the 100 block of Jefferson Street:
It wouldn't be San Francisco without some serious oddballs.
This is actually Bush Man II. The original Bush Man of San Francisco, Gregory Jacobs, passed away in February of 2014, after entertaining (and scaring) people at Fisherman's Wharf for over 30 years.
The current Bush Man, David Johnson, is carrying on the tradition. Schadenfreude lives. Watch out for a bush that shouldn't be there!
There are two piers with historic ships you can climb around on for a modest entry price.
At the western end of Fisherman's Wharf is the Hyde Street Pier, with it's row of vintage ships. The three-masted Schooner is an interesting one to explore; you can see it in the photo at the top of this page.
At Pier 45, two U.S. Navy ships used in World War II are open to the public: a submarine, the USS Pampanito, and the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of the only two liberty ships still in existence.
It's fascinating to crawl through the submarine and see the small quarters men lived in for weeks at a time.
This is part of why Fisherman's Wharf gets a bad reputation:
But look the other way and you see a different world:
Fisherman's Wharf is very accessible via public transportation; given the parking situation, that may be the best way to come.
Jefferson Street is where most of the action is.
The F-line vintage street cars that run all along the surface of Market street through the downtown go all the way out to Fisherman's Wharf. There are several stops along Jefferson Street, starting at Pier 39. Takes about 15 minutes from the end of Market Street, the Embarcadero stop.
From Union Square you can walk down Powell Street to Market and catch it there.
(Also see Map of F-Market Line and Bart Stations for the entire F-Line route).
The F-line streetcars at Fisherman's Wharf can get extremely crowded, especially during the summer months. Leaving Fisherman's Wharf heading back towards Market Street or the Alcatraz Ferry?
The stop at Jones Street just off Jefferson is the end of the line, and the beginning as well. Everyone has to get off there, then it pulls forward a little and people can get on. That's the best spot to catch the trolley. If you try and get on at a later stop, there is a good chance the tram will be full and you won't be able to get on, or at best you will be really jammed in.
The two cable car lines that end at Fisherman's Wharf both start at Powell and Market.
The Powell-Hyde line ends at Beach Street near Aquatic Park and the Buena Vista Cafe, and the Powell-Mason line ends on Bay Street, about three blocks above the wharf (see map above).
There are four bus lines (19, 30, 47 and 49) that go to Fisherman's Wharf from different spots on Market Street. See maps links below.
If you want the complete transportation picture, check out the transit map for bus, streetcar, BART and cable car routes in the downtown and Fisherman's Wharf areas. You can download the map at Downtown Transportation Map.
To check out the route for a specific bus, streetcar or cable car route, including live info on where the buses are on the route, go to route maps, click on "Live Map", and scroll down to the route you are interested in. Pretty cool!
A very handy website for getting around on public transportation in the Bay Area is 511.org. See how to get from point A to point B on their trip planner. Just plug in your beginning and ending locations. Also, you can get all the bus schedules here. Note: SFMTA is the bus and streetcar system.
If you are coming in on BART, it's easy to get to Fisherman's Wharf. Get off at any of the stops along Market Street (Embarcadero stop would be the most efficient), come up to the surface of Market Street and find the nearest trolley (F-line streetcar) stop. There's a streetcar stop at Embarcadero.
Fare for adults on the F-line is $2.75, exact change required. For ages 5-18, and 65+, it's $1.35.
Driving to the wharf is pretty easy, but parking is a bear anywhere near this area. Forget street parking. There are several parking garages at the wharf; they are expensive, but the one next to Pier 39 does give one or two free hours with validation, as do the coupons available at Pier 39 (see the Pier 39 page for details).
There are quite a few parking lots and garages a short walking distance away along the Embarcadero; see Embarcadero parking a map and details.
Parking tip #1: parking apps like Parking Panda and Spot Hero are handy tools that allows you to view the parking garages near Fisherman's Wharf and reserve a guaranteed space ahead of time. You can check online for the best prices and availability, and not have to worry about the garage being full or paying an arm and leg once you get there. The Fisherman's Wharf area garages can fill up during the high season.
Parking tip #2: park free at Fort Mason next door to the wharf (west side, towards the Golden Gate). Some are two-hour and others are four-hour spots. There aren't a lot of spaces, so it's sort of hit or miss, but sometimes it can work out. It's about a fifteen minute walk to the wharf. Entry on Bay Street near Van Ness Avenue.
Also, both publications are full of coupons to save money on lots of the attractions and tours associated with Fisherman's Wharf (and beyond).