Although the term “Fisherman’s Wharf” is common to describe a district of loading docs to process fish arriving on boats from the ocean, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is unlike any in the world. San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is a cacophony of hundreds of boats, docks, smells (bay mixed with fish) bars, restaurants, cable cars, street cars and arriving and departing ferries full of tourists. With this exciting and chaotic scene is a back drop of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Although full of energy and at times overwhelming, so much of San Francisco’s history is in this district and there are activities for all kinds of travelers-from families to solo backpackers. It is Fisherman’s Wharf that ferry boats depart for Alcatraz, cruises on San Francisco Bay, Sausalito and Tiburon. The wharf is also a major departure point (in addition to Union Square) for the many San Francisco tour bus expeditions, bike rentals and bike tours of the wharf and across the Golden Gate Bridge, Segaway tours and go cart rentals. If nothing else there are plenty of seating areas around the wharf where visitors can just sit and be entertained by the many street acts, people and action of the fish markets. Although Fisherman's Wharf can be over done in terms of how it caters to tourists, as well as the huge proportion of visitors in relation to locals-this is without a doubt a must see when visiting San Francisco. The vibe of being by the waterfront with hundreds of fishing boats, the smells of the fresh fish markets and depth of history will make any visitor feel engaged and want to stay.
Jefferson Street Between Hyde and Pier 41
Fisherman’s Wharf begins around the Aquatic Park area of San Francisco and extends to about Pier 39. This stretch is about ½ mile and is lined with seafood restaurants, souvineir shops, fish markets and of course docs housing hundreds of boats. From Aquatic Park to Pier 41 the main street to walk is Jefferson Street. It is on the north side of the street (closest to the bay) that all the seafood restaurants and fish markets can be found. If you are looking to try one of San Francisco’s famous clam chowder soups in a bowl of sour dough bread, look no further, it is along Jefferson Street and extending all the way to Pier 39 that there are dozens of restaurants and kiosks serving up this creamy and delicious treat.
The fish markets consist of the daily freshest catch from the Pacific Ocean beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. Every morning at pre-dawn (like 4am) the boats leave Fisherman’s wharf only to arrive with their latest catch around 7 for display and sale at the market. Dungeness Crab is one of the more popular catches and are constant display throughout the day on platforms of ice. Often times fisherman can be seen slicing up their catch from the boats below (just standing on Jefferson Blvd and watching the boats is a sight to be had).
Pier 41/Pier 43 to Pier 39
Where Jefferson Street terminates and becomes the Embarcadero is where visitors will find Pier 41 and Pier 43. Pier 41/43 serve as the main departure points for visitors looking to board a ferry for either a cruise on San Francisco Bay or a trip to either Sausalito, Angel Island or Tiburon. The two main cruise companies operating out of this area are the Red White Fleet and Blue and Gold Fleet. The colors of the boats reflect which boat company is which. Blue/Gold Fleet departs and arrives out of Pier 41 while Red/White Fleet departs and arrives out of Pier 43. This area of Fisherman’s Wharf is also the main staging area for a variety of multi level seafood restaurants that give diners unobstructed views of the wharf and bay over a seafood meal. They include 9 Fisherman’s Grotto, Alliotos and the Franciscan. All of these places can be heavy with the tourist crowd but serve up hearty dishes against a backdrop of good sights.
Pier 39 is perhaps the jewel of Fisherman’s Wharf. Extending out into San Francisco Bay there are countless shopping, dining and entertainment attractions all along the pier. Pier 39 is famous for its chocolate shops, art galleries and constant live performances that enthrall and excite crowds. There is a Merry Go Round at the end of the pier that is a perfect resting spot and thrill for those traveling with children. Pier 39 is a two story lay out with shops and attractions on both floors. Pier 39 is home to the aquarium of the bay that gives visitors to San Francisco a detailed look into the marine wildlife that live out in San Francisco bay that include sting rays and sharks. For the past 20 years Pier 39 has become a popular resting spots for hundreds of sea lions that perch on the docks just north of the pier. Numerous observation decks give visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal to these loud and interesting sea animals. For the sea lions being watched on the docs and barking for the crowd seems just as amusing to them as it is for the visitors to the wharf and Pier 39.