The traditional waterfront life on this historic wharf founded in the mid-1800s has long since faded, with only a few fishing boats now serving a handful of local restaurants. For generations, Chinese and then Italian immigrants mined the rich ocean. The Italian fishermen were as colorful as the tiny wooden boats they sailed into the bay, singing arias while hunting for oysters, shrimp and Dungeness crabs and then selling their catch in stands along the wharf. While these craftsmen are no longer there, the festive environment of the wharf has been preserved.
Fisherman’s Wharf is now a thriving shopping and entertainment hub with souvenir stores, clam chowder stands, upscale seafood restaurants, museums and street performers. It’s a bustling day-and-night carnival that extends from Ghirardelli Square at the wharf’s west end to Pier 39 and its amusing sea lion population at the east end. The sea lions, who live on floating wooden platforms beside the pier for most of the year, are among San Francisco’s most famous and verbal residents.
For some old-fashioned fun, spend some time at the Musee Mecanique, an interactive collection of mechanical machines and penny arcades. Mingle with wax figures of your favorite movies stars at Madame Tussauds or experience what life was like aboard a World War II submarine with a visit to the USS Pampanito. If you have a few hours free, head to Pier 33 and catch a ferry to Alcatraz Island.
There are plenty of dining options here, from sidewalk stands to cafés and restaurants, with seafood front-and-center on many menus. However, you can also find Italian, Chinese and other sumptuous ethnic offerings. Many restaurants offer a quiet respite in which to refuel as well as great views of the ocean, Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge.
The best way to visit this neighborhood is by public transport and on foot. Parking is available in the vicinity of the wharf but it’s not cheap. To really get you in the feel for old-time San Francisco, jump on the Powell/Mason cable car line and you'll land only a couple of blocks south of Fisherman's Wharf. The rattle and clang of the typically San Francisco transport adds to the spirit of the journey.