Fisherman's Wharf

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on November 12, 2011

Fisherman’s Wharf is the area of San Francisco that lines the sea front. It is extremely popular with tourists and it is this popularity that has made it what it is – a haven of restaurants, shops and tourist traps that some may find gaudy and not in keeping with the rest of the laid back city, but that I found engaging and fun as long as you look past the tat!

The main strip is Jefferson Street and the area runs from around Pier 39 on one end and to the beginning of the Golden Gate Promenade at the other end. There are a number of tourist attractions here that will draw people in such as a large aquarium and restaurants like The Rainforest Cafe, but these are the kind of thing that you kind find pretty much anywhere. If you look a little deeper you’ll find a lot of things that are unique to this city and these are the things that make it such an enjoyable place to be.

Pier 39 is just like any other pleasure pier in that it is lined with shops selling souvenirs and generic gifts, but there are fascinating placards scattered around it that tell the history of the city and the pier itself. I particularly enjoyed the ones about the rebuilding of the pier after the great fire and the one telling of the pier being a target for potential Alcatraz escapees. The signs are large and include photographs and they educate in a fun way. Another great thing about the pier are the sea lions that have taken residence at the end of it. They just arrived one day about twenty years ago and they have never left. We spent hours enjoying the sun and watching the sea lions from the upstairs balcony of the pier and children in particular will love it. The other thing that Pier 39 is great for are the views out to Alcatraz, it is absolutely the best place in the city to get a photograph from as it is just about the nearest place without being on the ferry.

Further down from Pier 39 is the Hyde Street pier which is a lovely reminder of what times gone by where like. The pier is a much more industrial pier and there are old vessels permanently docked here that give you a very good idea of what it was like. Again there are various things to read and learn and one of the best places to do this is the visitor’s centre at the end of the pier.

Ghiradelli Square is located at the farthest end of Fisherman’s Wharf and is the former home of the chocolate manufacturer. Whilst the chocolate is no longer produced here, there are remnants of the old buildings and there is a chocolate shop where you can buy untold amounts of the devilishly good yet slightly pricey chocolate.

Oddly enough, nestled amongst all the souvenir shops, there are a few art galleries which are lovely places to wander around. They often have big name artists on display – when we wandered in them we saw some Dali works, a couple of Picassos and a few other local artists. Since the galleries are located towards the end of the area, they occupy huge spaces and so the works of art are displayed beautifully.

Of course, if you want the in your face kind of fun that places like Blackpool provide, it is here by the bucket load. There is a Madame Taussauds, a Ripley Odditorium and, as I’ve already mentioned, a huge aquarium to keep you entertained. All of them offer big discounts as well if you pick up leaflets from your hotel.

Eating wise, you are spoilt for choice and there is (to use a corny phrase) something for everyone. You can get fast food in the form of all the usual burger and chicken places or you can go a bit more upmarket with one of the fish restaurants. For a fun and laid back lunch, try Wipeout, a friendly restaurant / bar on Pier 39 where the service is good and the portion sizes typically huge. Whatever you do though, you must try some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl – absolutely delicious and very local to this area. Almost everywhere sells it and it makes for a hearty lunch by the sea.

Some people thing Fisherman’s Wharf is a bit tacky and certainly the guide books tend to brush it off as a tourist trap to be sneered at, but we absolutely loved the atmosphere that the place had. Sure we went slightly out of season in mid-October so it wasn’t overly crowded, but it has as much or as little as you want in close proximity and it has all the ingredients for a great holiday by the sea – fun and frolicks and cracking views.
Fisherman's Wharf
The Embarcadero
San Francisco, California

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