Well-known for its historic waterfront, fresh fish stands, first class restaurants, Pier 39 and unique shopping; it is also the launching point for everything from Ghirardelli Square, the Maritime Museum, Alcatraz, Coit Tower and of course, the world famous San Francisco Cable Car. And to top it off, it is one of the best spots in the city to take in the incredible views of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.
Start by exploring the two-story wooden planked Pier 39; containing scores of shops peddling everything from miniature cable cars, t-shirts and a multitude of restaurants serving up fresh seafood. Musicians, magicians, jugglers, comedians and mimes entertain throughout the area, as do the wild California sea lions that can be found barking and splashing away at Pier 39’s K-Dock.
Next head to a more tranquil entertainment- the Aquarium of the Bay. Walk through 300-feet of crystal clear tunnels surrounded by an incredible variety of fish, sharks and bat rays. Displays of dancing moon jellies and schools of sardines will captivate you, or get up close and personal with leopard sharks, bat rays, starfish and other tide pool animals at the touch pools.
Next, head to Ghiradelli Square for a sweet treat. The Ghiradelli Chocolate Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop sells San Francisco’s famous Ghirardelli chocolates and serves up mouth-watering ice-cream confections. In the back portion of the store you are able to see how chocolate was once processed. If you are looking for a bit more, try their Chocolaterie and Café for pastries, desserts and espresso.
Now that you have your second wind- take the ferry to what was once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals- Alcatraz. More than one million people a year come to visit this island that once housed infamous inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud. Although it stopped housing prisoners in 1963, to this day, Alcatraz is known as one of the world’s most legendary prisons.
Once you arrive back at the Wharf head to the Boudin Bakery and museum. The museum overlooks the ovens and bakers making San Francisco’s delicious sourdough bread. Stop in the bistro for lunch or head out to the on of the many food stands selling a variety of seafood items such as fresh steamed crab, seafood cocktails, clam chowder, fried seafood and shrimp salad sandwiches.
Next, head to Pier 45, and the National Maritime Museum where visitors can board two restored World War II vessels built in 1943: the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, a “Liberty Ship” that carried “beans, bullets, and black oil,” and the submarine U.S.S. Pampanito. Inside the cavernous pier is the delightful Musée Mécanique, a collection of more than 200 antique coin-operated penny arcade machines.
Afterward take a ride on one of San Francisco’s moving national historic national monuments; the cable car. Take the Powell-Hyde line located at Hyde and Beach streets or the Powell-Mason line located a few blocks from Pier 45. Both lines run between Fisherman’s Wharf and Powell and Market Streets in Union Square. Both lines also take you to the Cable Car Museum, where you can learn about the inventor of the cable car; Andrew Hallidie, a Scottish engineer and wire rope manufacturer and about the first cable car run in 1873.
Ride the cable car back to the Wharf and head to one of San Francisco’s famous eateries; The Franciscan. Built in the 1950’s, the newly remolded restaurant offers views of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz as well as seafood favorites such as Dungeness Crab, Crispy Crabcakes, Seafood Antipasto, Fresh Oysters, and Steamed Mussels. They also feature housemade burrata and salumi. Admittedly, this stop may be less about the food than the experience and ambiance including the numerous celebrity photos of the adorning the booths and walls from the time of its original opening – it is worth a stop in for drinks and an appetizer or even dinner.
Another, more casual choice for dinner, is Lou’s Pier 47 where specialties include Cajun selections such as jambalaya as well as traditional wharf items like the famous clam chowder in a bread bowl. After dinner head upstairs to the Blues Club and enjoy some live music and a nightcap. A perfect way to end your day at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The only question you might have, is if one day was enough!
What & Where:
Pier 39 (Beach Street & The Embarcadero)
Aquarium of the Bay (The Embarcadero at Beach Street near Pier 39; 415-623-5300)
Ghirardelli Chocolaterie & Café (900 North Point St; 415-474-3938)
Ghirardelli Chocolate Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop Ghirardelli Square (900 North Point St; 415-474-3938)
Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop & Caffe Ghirardelli (900 North Point St; 415-474-1414)
Alcatraz Cruises (Pier 33, Hornblower Alcatraz Landing; 415-981-7625)
Boudin Bakery and Museum (160 Jefferson Street; 415-351-5561)
National Maritime Museum (is currently closed for restoration. Please check their website for the date they will re-open http://www.nps.gov/archive/safr/local/museum_drydock.pdf)
The Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason Street; 415-474-1887)
The Franciscan Restaurant (Pier 43 ½; 415-362-7733)
Lou’s pier 47 (300 Jefferson St; 415-771-5687)
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.