The scent of salt and seafood carried in the cold chill of air, seagulls and sea lions calling against the metallic harangue of the F-line streetcar, and the eclectic sounds of street performers are just some of the stimuli exuding from Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco’s most touristic neighborhood.
Fisherman’s Wharf draws in the crowds for its eccentric attractions. Don’t let jaded locals dissuade you from visiting this unique district; it’s along these docks where visitors savor the quintessential Bay flavors, from the numerous seafood stands to fresh Boudin sourdough bread made with 160-year-old mother dough.
After the devastating 1906 earthquake, the waterfront was rebuilt with much help from one Amadeo Giannini, the founder of the Bank of America. Then the head of the Bank of Italy, Giannini offered loans to struggling Italians along the waterfront with little more than a shake of the hand. The Italian influence remains today with the numerous seafood restaurants along the piers. Cioppino, a fish stew now widely recognized and available across the Wharf, was created with an amalgamation of freshly caught seafood from the fishermen in the late 1800s.
But it’s not just seafood at the Wharf. Ghirardelli Square is a destination for chocolate lovers, as this former chocolate factory hosts a popular confection and sundae shop with generous servings of sweet treats. While chocolate production has moved to San Leandro in the East Bay, Ghirardelli Square now hosts a number of eateries and boutiques. Nearby, the Del Monte Cannery, once the largest fruit and vegetable canning factory in the world, offers its own selection of shops and restaurants. Art lovers can rejoice at the number of galleries showcasing artists from Joan Miró to Margaret Keane, the subject of the Tim Burton film, Big Eyes.
Family-friendly attractions like Pier 39, with its carousel (even more beautiful when illuminated at night) and barking sea lions, and the Musée Mécanique, an arcade gallery with turn-of-the-century machines, offer both entertainment and history. Hyde Street Pier, a historic site where visitors can explore old ships, provides education, while, at the other end of the Embarcadero, the Exploratorium offers hands-on science lessons in a fun environment.
Unlike Al Capone, you’ll want to schedule in advance any tickets you might want for Alcatraz, the prison island. Only one ferry company takes visitors directly onto the island, and whether you desire the normal day tour or the spookier night tour, you’ll need to book reservations as soon as you can.
When the sun goes down, catching the sunset at the Aquatic Park provides stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Stroll through Pier 39 when the masses depart to admire the twinkling Bay Area lights. And there’s no more comforting end to the day than imbibing a warm glass of Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe, for it was here that the drink was first served in the United States.
Occupying just a small portion of the city, Fisherman’s Wharf has plenty to offer amid its bright lights and flashy attractions.
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