If there’s one part of town that visitors — both first-timers and many-timers — equate with San Francisco, it’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The cheery ringing of the cable car bells on the neighborhood’s two cable car lines, the sights, sounds and smells along busy Jefferson Street, the renovated historic red brick factories, the steaming streetside pots of Dungeness crab — all help make Fisherman’s Wharf the city’s top-rated tourist attraction year after year. The ruffling waters of San Francisco Bay, the noble Golden Gate Bridge and “The Rock’’ — Alcatraz Island — don’t hurt, either.
There is still commercial fishing in this historic home of San Francisco’s fishing fleet. But fewer fish and more people make today’s Fisherman’s Wharf more an entertainment destination than a briny port of call. PIER 39, the repurposed wooden finger-pier now festooned with restaurants-with-a-view, souvenir shops, street performers and ‘edutainment’ attractions such as Aquarium of the Bay, epitomizes this evolution.
The Blue & Gold Fleet runs sightseeing tours from PIER 39. The Red & White Fleet operates from Pier 43 1/2. Tours of Alcatraz and Angel Island, with its moving Asia Pacific immigration museum, are popular draws, as are the historic ships anchored at the Hyde Street Pier. Water taxis are also available for on-demand, point-to-point service to locations around the Bay. For landlubbers, Boudin Bakery dishes its signature clam chowder in a chewy bowl of fresh sourdough bread.
The one-time chocolate factory Ghirardelli Square is a handsome shopping and dining complex. So, too, is The Cannery, a converted canning plant, and the Argonaut Hotel, installed in a historic building. All told, about a dozen hotels do business at or near Fisherman’s Wharf, linked to the city by buses, cable cars and the historic F streetcar.
Thirsty? Head to the cable car turnaround at Hyde and Beach streets and slip into the Buena Vista Cafe. The rollicking bar and restaurant introduced Irish Coffee to America in 1952.