Exploring the SF Waterfront-Fishermans Wharf and Pier39



In Part II of “Exploring the San Francisco Waterfront”, we’ll head from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a nice 1.9 mile stroll, or you can take the ‘F’ line trolley  north to Pier 39. Pedi-cabs also ply the Embarcadero.

In an on-line poll of over 10,000 people, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square together were rated the favorite thing to do in San Francisco. There are some wonderful sights, so as long as you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with hundreds of other sightseers and fully embracing the tourist ethos you’ll enjoy the day.

Pier 39

This is a place that residents rarely frequent unless they have a friend or relative in tow, but there are some unique attractions. The best thing about Pier 39 wasn’t envisioned by its planners. When Pier 39 was built a marina was included, with the idea that high priced slips would attract wealthy boat owners to this desirable waterfront. Nature had her own idea and for no known reason (other than a good herring supply) the area’s California sea lions took to this area and moved in. No amount of cajoling would persuade them to move to another sea lion neighborhood, and eventually the popular mammals were accepted as another tourist attraction. They’ve been here for 21 years and they are a delight to watch as up to 900 sea lions loll around on the expensive piers and soak up the sun, unfazed by hundreds of tourists gaping at them. Volunteer docents from the Marine Mammal Center are on hand on weekends in the summer to answer questions about the sea lions.

You can’t deny the physical beauty surrounding Pier 39 and the views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city skyline are stunning. The 45 acre complex houses 110 specialty shops, 14 restaurants, an aquarium, carousel, street performers and more.

Pier 39 is located two-blocks east of Fisherman’s Wharf at Beach Street and The Embarcadero.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Sea lions

Sea lions at Pier 39

While it looks like it has been overtaken by vacationers, Fisherman’s Wharf is still a working wharf, hosting many 3rd generation fishermen in a fleet that has been fishing and collecting Dungeness crab for nearly a century and quarter. The opening of crab season in November is a big event in San Francisco and many families traditionally serve the sweet crab during the holidays. You can still get live or whole cooked crabs right in Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as crab cocktails and other delicacies.

A self-guided Port Walk explains the history of Fisherman’s Wharf through 27 signs posted along the wharf. If you’re interested in WWII history check out the SS Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship and USS Pampanito submarine, located at Pier 45 (Taylor St & the Embarcadero).

Tourists expecting a romanticized version of California sunshine are often sorely disappointed by the dense, chilling coastal fog that often envelopes the Bay during the summer months, so perhaps the most valuable item stocked by shops at Fisherman’s Wharf are sweatshirts to clothe the hordes of shivering day-trippers who show up in shorts and a T-shirt. Spring and summer are generally fog-free, and winter can be spectacular, in between showers.

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square was originally a chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli, who made the famous Ghirardelli confections The factory was sold in the 1960s and the old factory was converted into shops and restaurants oriented toward out of town visitors.

Ghirardelli Square is adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Buena Vista Café

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee from the Buena Vista Cafe

One bar, the Buena Vista Café, goes all the way back to 1916 and is still a favorite with residents. The name translates to “Good View” in Spanish and the view is indeed good, but the world famous Irish Coffee is better. In 1952, with the help of international travel writer Stanton Delaplane, owner Jack Koepler embarked upon an ambitious plan to reproduce an Irish Coffee as good as the one he had tasted in Shannon, Ireland. After much experimentation they created the perfect Irish Coffee. On a cold summer day in San Francisco an Irish Coffee from the Buena Vista Café can’t be beat and the bar remains popular with locals in the evening.

The Buena Vista Café is located just a couple of blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf at Hyde and Beach.

Summing Up

There is a lot to see and do along the waterfront in San Francisco. These are a few of the most popular things to do. Stay tuned for future postings when I’ll cover more interesting locations to visit in the City by the Bay.


Beach Street & The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94133

Fisherman’s Wharf
Taylor Street at Jefferson Street (Embarcadero)
San Francisco, CA 94109

Ghirardelli Square
900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets.
It is on the West side of Fisherman’s Wharf, two blocks east of Van Ness Avenue and one block west of the Cable Car turnaround at Beach and Hyde Streets.

Buena Vista Cafe
2765 Hyde St (at Beach St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Getting to the Buena Vista Cafe by Cable Car: Take any Powell & Hyde Street Cable car going towards Fisherman’s Wharf to the corner of Hyde and Beach Streets.