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    Fisherman's Wharf: Recommended itinerary in the entertainment district

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    I had the first contact with Fisherman’s Wharf di San Francisco shortly after visiting Coit Tower: I walked down towards the sea along the quiet residential streets of Telegraph Hill and, as I approached the Pier 39, I perceived something different: not only a great confusion, but also something lively in the salty air, a chaotic and carefree spirit that gave rise to an unusual contrast with the composed rigor of the residential neighborhoods. Only after that I understood it: for one reason or another, it is almost impossible to go to San Francisco and resist the personality of Fisherman's Wharf, the old fishermen's quarter (if this area can still be defined as such) located to the north-east of the city, today a bizarre caravanserai of more or less tourist attractions.

    With this article I want to give you some targeted advice on what to see at Fisherman’s Wharf di San Francisco during a walking tour.


    • Why go to Fisherman's Wharf?
    • What to see at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco
      • The terminus of the Cable Car
      • Visit to The Cannery and break in Ghirardelli Square
      • Hyde Street Pier: walk among the historic ships
      • Jefferson Street: il vero Fisherman’s Wharf!
      • Fisherman's Wharf restaurants: where to eat?
      • Embarcadero: the attractions of Pier 45
      • Pier 39: the tourist heart of Fisherman's Wharf
      • Cruise to Alcatraz
    • Where to sleep in the area?

    Why go to Fisherman's Wharf?

    The reasons are so many!

    There are those who reach Fisherman's Wharf because they want to see the famous one Pier 39, the quintessential San Francisco commercial pier, with its flaccid and noisy sea lions stranded on barges, seafood restaurants, bizarre attractions and tourist traps (you can even fall for them!), themed souvenir shops ...

    Or there are those who reach this area to embark on the boat to Alcatraz and take the opportunity to take a stroll along the seafront, allowing themselves to be overcome by the most tempting temptations: steamed Dungeness crabs and Clam Chowder as main courses. Then, for dessert, the famous chocolate from Ghirardelli.

    There are those instead, fishing enthusiast, loves to listen to the sound of the surf caressing the hulls of the fishing boats moored at the pier, among inextricable tangles of ropes, buckets full of nets and ropes, discolored buoys and tanks full of fragrant fish, just pulled up from the waters of the bay.

    There is who, on the other hand, is raised on bread and Stevenson and wants to see with his own eyes the small fleet of historic ships of Hyde Street Pier, dating from the late nineteenth century and active until the first half of the twentieth century. Finally, there are those who are curious to see what life is like for long narrow months in the corridors of an authentic WWII submarine, the infamous USS Pampanito.

    In short, there is something for all tastes and, as you will see, I held back with examples!

    What to see at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco

    So here's a recommended itinerary within the most light-hearted neighborhood of San Francisco. In my opinion, if you follow it, you will have a better chance of understanding what is Fisherman's Wharf today, and also what it was like in the past. Take into account from 2 to 4 hours for this program, depending on the number of attractions you decide to deepen. And if you are also planning to visit Alcatraz, then you will have to invest well over half a day.

    The terminus of the Cable Car

    As I said, I came to this area of ​​San Francisco on foot, but the most fascinating way is definitely the Cable Car. Get on the vehicles of the Powell / Mason line al Powell Street terminus. In the rattling background noise of the cable car, watch San Francisco flow before your eyes to the opposite terminus, at the intersection of Taylor Street and Bay Street - this is where you need to get off.

    Visit to The Cannery and break in Ghirardelli Square

    From the Cable Car terminus, walk West on Bay Street to the confluence with Columbus Avenue. Take it and continue towards the sea, until Beach Street: you will recognize it when you see the red brick buildings of The Cannery, a very particular shopping center obtained from an old factory. This place is worth a visit, not necessarily for shopping: you can wander around the courtyard, take a photo at Jack's Bar or reach the third full to see the magnificent Mudejar-style ceiling that the magnate Hearst (yes, that of the Big Sur castle) he bought directly from owners of a palace in Toledo in Spain.

    Go back to Beach Street and walk west again: you will finally see the sea open up before your eyes, and more precisely the beach of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. On your left, on Larkin Street, you will see the entrance to Ghirardelli Square, which occupies an entire block of the neighborhood with its brick buildings topped by a tower (Clock Tower): this place is a paradise for lovers of sweets, especially chocolate. Where there was the historical seat of one of the most renowned Italian chocolate shops in the city - la Ghirardelli Chocolate Company - today there is a sensational series of patisseries, ice cream parlors, bars and restaurants with a panoramic view, all to be tried.

    Hyde Street Pier: walk among the historic ships

    Filled with sugar, it's worth returning to Beach Street and walking back to Hyde Street, the road that leads straight to the pier of the same name: Hyde Street Pier. Here the atmosphere changes suddenly: you will be catapulted directly into a Stevenson novel, you will be like a young inexperienced boy ready to board a commercial ship sailing to the New World.


    This beautiful open-air museum is an integral part of the aforementioned San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park which, for completeness of information, is composed as follows:

    • Aquatic Park Pier: a usually uncrowded walk that leads to the furthest point of the cove, on a clearing that offers beautiful distant views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf itself.
    • il Maritime Museum: ship-shaped building that houses testimonies and artifacts from the maritime history of San Francisco (whaling harpoons, inlaid figureheads, models and faithful scale reconstructions).

    These two attractions are located practically in front of Ghirardelli Square and are accessible from the seafront, across Hyde Street.

    THEHyde Street Pier instead it is the one I recommend you visit, because in my opinion it is the section of the museum that deserves the most. Moored at the pier, there are 5 historic ships that can be visited: Balclutha, Hercules, Alma, Eppleton Hall e C.A. Thayer. If you can call yourself a fan of pirate films, do not give up taking a stroll on the Scottish admiral ship called Balclutha: a historic vessel that, loaded with goods, has sailed the Atlantic Ocean and the cold sea of ​​Alaska for decades.

    • The entrance to the park it is included in the parks card: if you have not done it you will pay the price of the ticket.
    • Here are the pier opening times: every day from 9:30 to 17.

    Jefferson Street: il vero Fisherman’s Wharf!

    Leave Hyde Street and Ghirardelli behind: you are on Jefferson Street… And here comes the fun! You are in the heart of the entertainment district of San Francisco. You will have to be good at slalom between the shops and tourist attractions, perhaps avoiding overwhelming the street artists who have chosen that sidewalk to show off their singing or painting skills.

    A little Italy overlooking the bay Looking at the restaurant signs - beyond the iconic EAT CRAB - you will easily understand how the local gastronomic tradition: hey, they're not tourist traps, or at least not all of them! You must know that a good part of the fishermen and traders of Fisherman's Wharf at the turn of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century were in fact Italian immigrants, especially Ligurians and Sicilians, and this well before the tourist boom of this area in San Francisco.

    Although lively, this first section of Jefferson Street may perhaps disappoint you for its excessive commercial nature, but don't give up. The best part of the neighborhood is right on this street, in the short section between Jones Street and Taylor Street: here finally the warehouses converted into restaurants are thinned out and it is possible to see a bit of the sea, the colorful vintage boats moored at the pier, the wooden piers to which the old rusty fishermen's shacks cling. Don't limit yourself to Jefferson Street: sneak along the adjacent piers (Al Scoma Way, Leavenworth Street), to see some more pleasant scenery a little less glossy.

    East of Taylor Street, Jefferson Street begins to offer its same show again: cafes, souvenir shops, commercial galleries and some curious museums, among which I cannot fail to mention the hypnotic Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, right in front of the sign indicating the Fisherman's Wharf area. It is a large collection of bizarre objects, some of dubious taste, others actually incredible. If you like this kind of thing, you can also visit the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, which is located a few meters away: as in other US cities, here too you have the opportunity to take a selfie with the likes of George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe or ET.

    Madame Tussauds tickets

    Fisherman's Wharf restaurants: where to eat?

    As you walk down Jefferson Street you will surely see the sign for Alioto's, one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in the area, run by a Sicilian family for over a century. The prominent position on the pier intrigues many tourists who can't wait to sit at the tables in the restaurant with a view of the sea. You know, we Italians are always a bit critical of Italian restaurants abroad, but Alioto's fish dishes do not disappoint!

    Also Scoma’s Restaurant, located on the quay of the same name, is a tourist restaurant (find one that isn't!). However, either for history, or because it is a bit hidden from Jefferson Street, it remains a little secret that those who love to eat well in San Francisco will hardly tell you. Try the crab and salmon dishes, especially the famous Cioppino, a fish dish typical of this area.

    A good alternative to these and other restaurants are the Historic Seafood Stands at Fisherman’s Wharf, crowded along Taylor Street, right next to Alioto's: a good solution for a take away lunch to be enjoyed sitting on the Embarcadero seafront benches, or on the quay.

    Heading to San Francisco? You discover...
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    Embarcadero: the attractions of Pier 45

    Personally, to Ripley's antics I much prefer the Mechanical Museum, a splendid collection of music machines and coin operated arcade games, more or less recent and fully functional. L'admission is free, but set aside a few bucks to try out a pinball machine or music box. Access to the museum is on Embarcadero, right at the start of Pier 45, opposite Ripley's museum.

    Fans of. Also flock to pier 45 submarines. Just behind the Musée Mécanique is theUSS Pampanito, American submarine used during World War II in military operations against Japan. The submarine - already impressive to see from the dock - can be visited inside: entering it gives a pale idea of ​​how complicated the coexistence of the Navy soldiers in the narrow spaces of this beast off the Pacific Ocean must have been. Not recommended for claustrophobics! On the same pier there is also the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a Liberty transport ship, which can also be visited.

    Tickets for the USS Pampanito

    At the end of Embarcadero, to the left of the Museum, there is also the Fishermen’s and Seamen’s Memorial Chapel, a chapel dedicated to the memory of the dead at sea belonging to various religious confessions. The simple building can be visited on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11am to 00pm.

    Pier 39: the tourist heart of Fisherman's Wharf

    Fisherman's Wharf waterfront continues a little slyly along Embarcadero and leads up to Pier 39: this is the commercial symbol of the district, famous forAquarium of the Bay, for the "floating house" of the San Francisco sea lions and for the stage where actors, magicians, musicians, acrobats and so on and so forth ... see for yourself before you leave San Francisco. Since a few lines would not be enough to describe what awaits you, I refer you to reading our article entirely dedicated to Pier 39 in San Francisco, where you will find advice on the strangest shops to browse and on the most bizarre attractions of the pier.

    Cruise to Alcatraz

    In the sea of ​​the bay there are not only the fishing boats, but also the tourist boats bound for Alcatraz, the terrible San Francisco prison that kept Al Capone and other illustrious colleagues in crime segregated. To be precise, Pier 33 - from which the cruises depart - is not part of Fisherman's Wharf, whose eastern border is sanctioned by Pier 39. Also, it is good to tell you that you cannot think of arriving there at the pier and buying a ticket. as you have done for other attractions in the area, since they are already sold out several months in advance. To get all the info on the island and the tours available, read our article dedicated to Alcatraz.

    Other recommended activities In addition to the Alcatraz boats and the classics scenic cruises in the San Francisco bay, from Fisherman's Wharf you can embark on one of San Francisco's most popular activities: the tour in bici fino al Golden Gate Bridge e Sausalito, through a path that follows the shoreline and passes through Fort Mason, Marina, Presidio and Fort Point. At this link you will find more details and our advice for renting a bike or joining a guided tour.

    Where to sleep in the area?

    In our article dedicated to overnight stays in San Francisco, there is a small section dedicated to Fisherman's Wharf where you will also find some targeted advice. For a classy and certainly unforgettable stay, do not underestimate the idea of ​​staying overnight at The Argonaut, a historic, nautical-themed luxury hotel with red brick exteriors (like The Cannery). Excellent location: we are right on Jefferson Street, a few minutes from Ghirardelli.

    More tips on where to sleep in Fisherman's Wharf

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