Fisherman's Wharf.  in San Francisco, California

Fisherman's Wharf

in San Francisco, California

Fisherman's Wharf Photo ©

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Fisherman's Wharf

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Fisherman's Wharf is one of the best known and busiest tourist attractions in San Francisco and perhaps the entire western United States. Not technically a “site”, Fisherman's Wharf is actually an entire neighborhood that runs from the city's Ghirardelli Square to Pier 35. The name comes from the mid-1800s when the neighborhood was, just like the name sounds, a “fishermen's wharf” where the mostly Italian residents fished and plied their wares along the docks.

Through the years the neighborhood became known not just for the fishermen and their boats, but the food that came off them. You could get fresh fish, shrimp, and most importantly, Dungeness crab, and soon you didn't have to settle for fresh fish that you would have to take home and prepare. Fish shacks started to pop up along the wharf and the food was good. Official, sit-down restaurants followed, and then came the themed eateries. One thing that didn't change: the authenticity of the fleet and the quality of the food.

Today, Fisherman's Wharf remains the port for San Francisco's fishing fleet. Many of the fishermen are 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation fishermen who have fished the waters of the Bay their whole lives.

Signs are placed along the docks to tell the history of the Wharf. With a little time and interest, you can not only see some amazing sites, but learn some interesting facts as you enjoy a beautiful walk and some great food while strolling along San Francisco Bay.

Set on the water, the wharf also provides magnificent views. From the piers you can see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Angel Island (Wikipedia


Fisherman's Wharf is known for its seafood, and the most famous restaurants on the Wharf are found at Pier 39 including the famed floating Forbes Island restaurant. A number of chain restaurants can be found, like Joe's Crab Shack, but you will also find many family-owned restaurants that go back generations such as the Fisherman's Grotto, Pompei's Grotto, and Aliotos.

If you are not in the mood for a full sit-down restaurant, never fear, there are still plenty of seafood shacks that serve chowder in sourdough bowls and the pride of the pier, Dungeness crab.


While Fisherman's Wharf is best known for seafood, the neighborhood has grown up into a world-class tourist center with a whole lot to offer. Some of the places you will find in the neighborhood are:

The Marine Mammal Center, the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, the Aquarium of the Bay, the Cannery Shopping Center, and a 2-story carousel that is one of the most imposing sites on the wharf.

Ghirardelli Square

One of the main attractions on the Wharf is Ghirardelli Square with its popular shops, restaurants, and the main Ghirardelli chocolate shop. The city block was purchased in 1893 to be the home of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Sadly, the headquarters moved in the 1960s, but the square was saved from destruction by William Roth and his mother who made it into a retail complex, what is known as the 1st major “reuse” project in the United States. Several of the original 40 shops are still there today. The site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Some of the shops and restaurants you will find in Ghirardelli Square, in addition to Ghirardelli Chocolates, are: Kara's Cupcakes, Loris Diner; Wattle Creek Winery, The Pub; Lola of North Beach, Yap Wraps; and One of a Kind.

Sea Lions

An entire colony of sea lions moved from their home just before the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and never went back. They took over the wooden docks that used to be for docking boats. Since each sea lion can weigh up to half a ton, and at one time there were over 1,700 of them, the area was swamped, loud, and smelly. When the fishermen sought help, the advice from the Marine Mammal Center was to leave the animals alone and move the boats. While the sea lions do migrate, so there are not always so many, there is always a group that stays. They are well-protected and researched. The scientists along the bay know many of them and call them by name.

Of course, Pier 39 is just one of the many piers. Nearby, Pier 45 features the memorial for “Lost Fishermen of San Francisco and northern California”.

The Hyde Street Pier boasts the USS Pampanito, a submarine from WWII, and the Balclutha, a cargo ship from the 19th century. It is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

Fisherman's Wharf is also the site of a huge and spectacular fireworks display during the 4th of July.

Getting There

If you are already in San Francisco, you can get to Fisherman's Wharf by way of pedi-cabs, horse drawn carriages, or the F-line streetcars. The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable cars both bring you within 2 blocks of the wharf, but the Powell-Hyde brings you closest.

Once you are at Fisherman’s Wharf, you can easily walk to all of the attractions, restaurants, hotels, and shopping areas.

From San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Take a BART train to the Embarcadero station. Walk up to street level and walk towards the San Francisco Ferry Building along the waterfront. Take the MUNI F-Line Streetcar to Fisherman's Wharf.

The airport also offers many taxis and rental vehicle options.

By Car

From the south, take Highway 101N to Highway 80E, exit 4th Street and stay left onto Bryant Street until you reach the Embarcadero, turn left and go straight to Fisherman's Wharf

From the north, take Highway 101S across the Golden Gate Bridge, pass through the Toll Plaza and keep left. Exit Lombard Street and go to Van Ness Avenue, turn left then turn right.

From Amtrak

The nearest Amtrak station is in Emeryville, but Amtrak offers connecting bus services to San Francisco. When you purchase your train ticket, just select "San Francisco - Fisherman's Wharf" as your final destination.

Other Things to See and Do in San Francisco

While in San Francisco, there are countless other places to see and things to do while you are there. A few examples include: take a ride on the historic cable cars, drive, bike or walk the Golden Gate Bridge; visit the infamous prison, Alcatraz, explore the distinct and historic San Francisco neighborhoods (Presidio, Sea Cliff, Nob Hill, Chinatown, etc); be dazzled by the gorgeous architecture and elaborate details of the Fairmont Hotel or Hotel Whitcomb, visit the iconic Transamerica Tower; or take a short drive out of town and experience the wonders of Yosemite National Park. While this is just a short list of a few of the more popular attractions, it should be enough to get you started!

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Author: Robert. Last updated: May 11, 2015


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