Fisherman’s Wharf Neighborhood
best things to do for locals
Fisherman’s Wharf can be a fun thing to do every now and then. We know having lived only a couple of blocks away on Russian Hill. Some of the very best attractions for locals are described below. See our Fisherman’s Wharf Map for exact locations & more details.
You just need to pick and choose where to go, preferably off season but any time will work. Eating spots are often decent and fairly priced too. the tourist traps and chain stores are usually fairly obvious so just walk on by.
By the way, if you are a first-time tourist then Fisherman’s Wharf is a good place to start seeing SF’s most famous tourist attractions.
Sausalito Ferry, Pier 41
In my book this regular commuter ferry service ($8.25 each way) to Sausalito is the very best attraction in Fisherman’s Wharf. The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) agreed by voting it #2 of the world’s top 10 ferry rides in 2009; the Star Ferry in Hong Kong was #1 and Staten Island Ferry in NYC was #3.
What a great way to enjoy the beautiful San Francisco Bay. Just the 30 minute ride one-way, a quick visit to Sausalito, then back makes for a fabulous afternoon by itself. If more convenient you may want to cross the Golden Gate Bridge first and start at the Sausalito end to visit Fisherman’s Wharf.
By the way, on late summer afternoons get back to the Sausalito Pier early to avoid being bumped from the boat by the crowds of bicycle riders coming back from their ride across Golden Gate Bridge.
Hyde Street Pier National Park
Before the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges existed, Hyde Street Pier at the north end of Jefferson Street was the main automobile ferry port for crossing north to Sausalito and east to Berkeley. Across the street, at 499 Hyde St/Jefferson, is a great free Visitor Center with uniformed Park Rangers providing information along with several interesting exhibits.
On the pier itself are three rare historical vessels – the Baclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship built in 1886 which took 17 trips around Cape Horn and appeared in the film Mutiny on the Bounty, and the C.A.Thayer, a triple masted sailing schooner and fishing ship built in 1895, and the Eureka steam paddlewheel ferryboat built in 1890. The Hyde Street Pier is FREE and a boarding pass to the historic vessels is $10.
Maritime Historical Park, Pier 45
See map, directions, hours, & admissions and other information about the Maritime Historical Park.
USS Pampanito Submarine(SS-383), Pier 45 at the north end of Taylor St, SF
This submarine memorial and museum is one of the most popular historical vessels in the U.S. (110,000 visitors yearly). Its history, starting 1943, includes sinking six Japanese ships during World War II and starring in the 1996 movie Down Periscope with Kelsey Grammer. The sub is parked on Pier 45 and is open for tours seven days/week. Standing next to it on the Pier and just looking is FREE.
SS Jeremiah O’Brien, Pier 45 beyond the Pampanito, at north end of Taylor St, SF. This national historical landmark is one of only two operational Liberty cargo ships still left, of the 2,710 built to support our armed forces during World War II. This ship was built in 56 days, launched June 19, 1943, made seven WWII voyages, and did eleven crossings of the English Channel to Normandy to support the D-Day invasion. It still makes a few SF Bay area cruises each year.
Museum Mechanique, Pier 45 at north end of Taylor St, Fisherman’s Wharf. This antique penny arcade has one of the world’s largest private collections (over 200) of working coin-operated arcade machines and mechanical musical instruments. Admission is FREE but you or your kids can play most of these old machines for a few coins.
Pier 39 is the third most popular tourist attraction in the U.S., after the two Disneylands, so it is definitely both popular and tourist oriented. On the up side, it is FREE and has a lot of buzz so why not walk through and people watch. Many of the restaurants have a superb view too and make a convenient place to stop for lunch.
We usually just quickly walk straight through the middle of Pier 39 past the crowds to the far northern end with it’s beautiful Bay & Alcatraz view. Then we turn west towards Golden Gate bridge and walk along the Pier’s northern edge to see the many sea lions which, for some strange reason, have decided that this little harbor is one of the best places in the Bay to relax. Even in remote areas you will rarely so many sea lions up so close & personal.
As an aside visiting the Aquarium of the Bay non-profit marine nature center at Pier 39 is not bad if you like fish. Though not as big as the Monterey aquarium it is a much, much shorter drive. :) The 200 foot long plastic tube you walk through (under 700,000 gallons of water and 20,000 aquatic animals) gives impressive views of marine life such as sting rays, sharks, and large schools of smaller fish. Discount tickets are easy to find on the Internet or at most free newspaper stands around the Wharf.
FOOD & DRINKS
Who said locals don’t go to Fisherman’s Wharf. In fact, some of SF’s favorite restaurants and bars are located here. Since both locals and tourists like these particular restaurants they are often crowded.
Gary Dankos, 800 North Point/Hyde, SF
Local foodies generally regard this as one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in San Francisco. It is also one of the most expensive. As for crowds, no problem. It typically takes over a month to get a reservation anyway so go any time of year. :) Gary Dankos has over 2000 highly rated reviews on Yelp, the most of any restaurant according to our waiter.
The Buena Vista Cafe, 2765 Hyde/Bay St
On a quiet rainy morning this is definitely the place to drink an exceptionally tasty Irish Coffee or Ramos Gin Fizz. They serve up to 2,000 cups of their world-famous Irish Coffees every day. It is also an interesting place to eat a basic breakfast with the tourists. Later in the day the bar will often be too packed so we just look in when walking by to see if a seat can be found.
Scomas, Pier 47, Al Scoma Way
We haven’t been here for decades because of the crowds and difficult access (they do have complimentary valet parking which helps). However, Scoma’s is certainly the destination sea food restaurant of choice for many SF Bay area residents who don’t get into the City often.
Lori’s Diner, at Ghiradelli Square, is an inexpensive 50’s style local SF hamburger chain store with a great Bay view and reasonable shakes & burgers. For treats try the original Ghiradelli Square Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop also at Ghiradelli Square or Norman’s Ice Cream in The Cannery.
Fog Harbor Fish House (pleasant, nice view & bar) and Eagle Cafe (nifty decor and outside view, casual) on Pier 39 are also worth checking out.
As for other less fancy places for a bite to eat you might try a bowl of chowder from one of the street stands on Taylor St just north of Jefferson St. The nearby sit-down restaurants (see above) are not haute cuisine but many do have good views, reasonable prices, and are usually not crowded. Just check them out for ambiance and prices; the chowder and fresh bread are usually very tasty.
LOCAL HAUNTS NEARBY
Tourists usually congregate between Ghiradelli Square and Pier 39. But immediately adjacent Fisherman’s Wharf are several famous neighborhoods you can easily walk to … North Beach, The Marina, Russian Hill and The Embarcadero. We usually take in at least a couple on the same day.
Aquatic Park, Beach St/Hyde St, Fisherman’s Wharf
Some consider this the best swimming beach in San Francisco because of the close in location, sandy beach and protected harbor. Any time of year, you will can see swimmers from the Dolphin and South Bay Clubs practicing their open water swimming in these cold, cold waters. For places to hang out there are several pleasant grassy knolls behind the Cable Car turnaround and a big cement ampitheater on the beach where local drummers will often play for hours.
Fort Mason, 1 Fort Mason, Bay St/Franklin St, SF
Starting near the beach, at the end of Van Ness Ave and a long block west of Ghiradelli Square, there is a nice paved walkway (McDowell Ave SW) going west along the low hill underneath Fort Mason. Up above the walkway and below the Fort Mason Youth Hostel, are some small dirt walkways and nice quiet places to sit.
Walking a little further west into the Marina neighborhood you get to the pleasant grassy knolls of Fort Mason Park (northeast corner at Bay St/Laguna St). This is a favorite local spot for just sitting on the grass or walking your dog. Nearby, to the east of the park grass, you can also discover the nifty Fort Mason Community Garden. It has a 5+ year waiting list of local gardeners who want a small 5’x25′ plot there. These little flower & vegetable gardens are hidden, funky, beautiful and peaceful; it’s nice of them to usually leave the gates unlocked for public viewing.
Fort Mason Center, Marina Blvd/Buchanan St, SF
Located just north of the park on the water is a large old military port with its many piers & warehouses. Now this port provides unpolished facilities for a wide variety of resident non-profit organizations including Greens Restaurant(a famous & beautiful vegetarian restaurant), dance companies, theater groups, ItaloAmericano & Mexican museums, environmental organizations, and much more. In fact the Center has over 15,000 events/year by about 2000 different organizations … so there is usually something funky going on. Historically, for over 100 years it served as army post and was the Port of Demarcation for most Pacific-bound military cargo during World War II.
Levi Plaza Park, 1270 Battery St, SF
This little oasis of a park is beautifully maintained by Levi Strauss. It is located just off The Embarcadero about 4 blocks southeast of Pier 39. See The Embarcadero for some more details.
As you can see there are many ways locals enjoyably spend time in and around the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. In fact most tourists will never even notice several of the spots mentioned above.
- North Beach and North Beach map: North Beach is only a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. We recommend you double your pleasure by seeing the best of both at the same time. This way you will only have to park once.
- Walking The Marina & map: Another fabulous walk is west from Fisherman’s Wharf along the Bay shoreline through the Marina and the Presidio’s Golden Gate Promenade and Crissy Field to Fort Point.
- The Embarcadero & map: You can walk east from Fisherman’s Wharf along The Embarcadero
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