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San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf

Bayside Dining, Street Performers, Shopping Nirvana and Fun for Kids

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San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf
Image courtesy of the SFVCB

What it is

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf is by far the most visited area of the city; it offers enough sights and entertainment options to dazzle the senses for days.

The Wharf is where San Francisco icons like cable cars, Alcatraz, sea lions, Golden Gate Bridge views and steaming Dungeness Crab dinners all come together, sometimes on the same postcard. Children love Fisherman's Wharf and it ranks as one of the nation's top family-friendly destinations.

What to do in Fisherman's Wharf

  • Shop: Besides shopping for souvenirs and T-shirts till you drop you can also explore the numerous art galleries and boutique stores that dot the Wharf. Many of these are located off the strip of Jefferson Street and in the shopping complexes of the The Cannery, Ghiradelli Square and Anchorage Square.

  • Sightsee: All sort of museums, tours, attractions and entertainment options exist on the wharf ranging from wax museums to bay cruises, check out our roundup of the Top Ten things to do on Fisherman's Wharf for a selection of the ones that shouldn't be missed. By buying the WharfPass, you save money on the entrance to several different attractions by bundling them together.

  • Eat: Large seafood restaurants line the waterfront, most with sweeping views of the bay. While some are mediocre or worse, a few have made it to our list of Best Waterfront Restaurants in San Francisco. More casual crab shacks dot Jefferson Street, and offer up freshly steamed Dungeness Crab, a local favorite. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl has become a Wharf staple, and claims that it is a city specialty abound, but you will be hard pressed to find it in any of the other neighborhoods of San Francisco.

  • Catch a Show: Street performers try their best to wow the crowds and fill their hats with tips during the high season. More professional acts are found in the formal stages of the shopping complexes mentioned above as well as on the central stage at Pier 39, while a variety of up and comers work the strip on Jefferson. The "World-Famous" Bushman, who hides behind a leafy branch and startles unexpected tourists, never fails to draw a crowd.

  • Party: Fisherman's Wharf simmers down considerably at night, but there are several options for those that want a night out on the waterfront. Fiddler's Green, a surprisingly authentic Irish pub features live music all week long and dancing on the weekends, while the landmark Buena Vista Cafe offers the city's best Irish coffee over spectacular bay views. Simply wander up Colombus Avenue to North Beach for a much larger selection of nightlife venues as well some of San Francisco's Best Italian restaurants.

Fisherman's Wharf for Kids

The Wharf area is one of the best places for children in San Francisco, and offers many different attractions that they will love. Here are some sure-fire pleasers:
  • Visit the Sea Lions: The large sea lion colony that has taken up residence on the docks next to Pier 39 always draws a rapt audience. Go up to the second floor for a bird's eye view.

  • The Museo Mechanique: Full of antique arcade games and mechanically operated musical instruments, this museum is a trip back in time for young and old alike.
    Pier 45 Shed A, (415)346-2000 www.museemechanique.com

  • The Aquarium of the Bay: Clear glass tunnels that allow you to explore the underwater world of the San Francisco Bay, daily feedings of bat rays and a variety of hands on multimedia exhibits make the Aquarium of the Bay a family favorite.
    Pier 39, (415) 623-5300 www.aquariumofthebay.com

  • Players Arcade:With over 80 video games and dozens of ticket prize games like skeeball, this is THE place to tame the unruliest child. An on site sports bar gives adults the cahnce to take their own brake from sightseeing.
    Pier 39, (415) 981-6300 www.playerssf.com

When to Go

While summertime means sunny weather(sometimes), lots of free street performances and people watching opportunities beyond compare, it also means long lines, high season prices and sidewalk bursting crowds. Visiting Alcatraz in the summer often requires buying tickets weeks in advance. Fall is beautiful on the wharf, the weather is clear and crisp and there are less visitors in town. Spring often blankets the waterfront in fog, but is good time to get discounts and deals. Many businesses close for the winter on the Wharf, although tourism in the Union Square area is in full swing.

Getting There

Fisherman's Wharf is located just north of North Beach and Telegraph Hill on San Francisco's waterfront. You can walk there from many downtown and central city locations or take one of a variety of different transportation options:

  • The Cable Car: By far the most fun and scenic way to get to Fisherman's Wharf, the Cable Car begins at Powell and Market Street near Union Square and climbs over both Nob Hill and Russian Hill, passing by the crookedest street in the world-Lombard Street- before arriving at the Wharf. The biggest drawback to the cable car is the crowds, which often form long lines down the block and mean that waiting your turn takes up a good chunk of the day.

  • The Historic Street Car: Another fun, and considerably less crowded, option is the F Streetcar Line, which is made up of historic streetcars from cities all over the world including Milan, Italy and Philadelphia. You can catch the historic street car at any point on Market Street or at the Ferry Building Marketplace, where it turns and goes along the waterfront to Fisherman's Wharf.

  • Bus: The 30 Stockton makes the direct, but chaotic, trip through Chinatown from downtown while both the 47 and the 49 will get you there from any point on Van Ness Avenue.
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