Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco Travel Guide

Fisherman's Wharf Summary

Pros

  • Departure point for ferries to Alcatraz, sightseeing tours, and high-speed boat tours of the bay
  • Tons of attractions, like the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, Aquarium of the Bay, and Boudin Sourdough Museum
  • Powell-Hyde cable car line and F-Market light rail provide transportation to Union Square, the Castro, and other neighborhoods
  • Famous sea lions on Pier 39
  • Great views of the Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Clean
  • Many restaurants serving local seafood

Cons

  • Crowded with tourists
  • Disney-ish depiction of working waterfront past may strike some as inauthentic
  • Street performers can be annoying
  • Few nearby hotels that aren't chains

What It's Like

Once a thriving waterfront pulling in clams and Dungeness crab by the boatload, Fisherman's Wharf today is more of a family-friendly amusement park and shopping mall than anything else. But taken for what it is, the wharf has a lot to offer. It's the departure point for ferries to Alcatraz and a number of other sightseeing tours, from leisurely cruises to high-speed boat tours of the bay. Ghirardelli Square features the famous chocolatier's ice cream and chocolate shop, while historic ships at Hyde Street Pier pay tribute to the wharf's industrious past. Since the area is so geared toward families, nightlife is minimal, but there is some action (blues bands, standup comedy) to be found in the bars and seafood restaurants along Jefferson Street.

Pier 39 is tourist central, with two tiers of shopping, dining and attractions. It's crowded and squeaky clean, packed with souvenir and gift shops, seafood shacks, and chains like Hard Rock Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., as well as waterfront restaurants like Neptune's Palace. It's home to Aquarium of the Bay, with shark feeding presentations and a giant octopus, and sea lions that congregate on the pier's west side.

It all adds up to two things: a genuinely great family destination and a place that locals understandably avoid for its Disney-ish depiction of a working class past. On the one hand, there's that beautiful view of the bay and boats at rest at twilight; on the other, there's that street performer pretending to be a robot. And then, there's the notorious "Bushman," who hides behind tree branches and then leaps out to terrify unsuspecting passersby (for years, local newspapers have chronicled the Bushman's shaky relationship with local business owners and law enforcement).

Where To Stay

A group of chain hotels vie for tourists' business on or near Fisherman's Wharf. Standouts include the Radisson, with its great outdoor pool and direct access to the wharf (it's also the cheapest); and the Hyatt, which has a quality sports bar and 24-hour fitness center. On the higher end, the Argonaut Hotel and the residential-style Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square offer full-service luxury accommodations.

 

View all Fisherman's Wharf Hotels

Facts

Languages: English
Airports: San Francisco Int'l Airport (SFO)
Peak: June 21 - Sept. 22
Vaccines: No
Currency: U.S. Dollar
Electricity: 120 V, 60 Hz
Tipping: 15-20% at restaurants

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