The 25 Best Things to Do in Fisherman's Wharf

Explore Fisherman's Wharf, SF: Your ultimate guide for activities, dining, and parking tips. Perfect for travelers seeking a memorable San Francisco visit.

West Parker
By
West Parker
July 18, 2024

Nestled along San Francisco's northern waterfront, Fisherman's Wharf is a lively district that captures the essence of the city's maritime heritage while offering a smorgasbord of modern attractions. This bustling neighborhood welcomes over 12 million visitors annually, drawn by its unique blend of history, entertainment, and irresistible seafood aromas wafting through the air.

As you stroll along the wharf, you'll be greeted by the playful barks of sea lions sunbathing at PIER 39, the gentle clanging of ship bells, and the excited chatter of tourists and locals alike. The area's rich history as a fishing port is evident in the weathered faces of fishermen mending their nets and the vintage fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Yet, just steps away, you'll find cutting-edge attractions, world-class dining, and eclectic shopping experiences that cater to every taste and interest.

Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, a nature lover, or simply looking for a fun day out, Fisherman's Wharf has something special in store for you. Let's dive into the 25 best things to do in this iconic San Francisco neighborhood.

Watch Sea Lions at PIER 39

Sea lions basking on floating docks at PIER 39 in San Francisco, with tourists watching from the pier
These playful sea lions have been PIER 39's star attraction since 1990. They're fun to watch, but the smell can be pretty strong on a warm day!

Begin your Fisherman's Wharf adventure with a visit to its most famous residents – the sea lions at PIER 39. These charismatic marine mammals have been calling the K-Dock home since 1990, turning it into a must-see attraction. As you approach, you'll hear their distinctive barks before you see them lounging on the floating docks, playfully pushing each other into the water, and generally hamming it up for the cameras.

The sea lions' antics provide endless entertainment, and their presence offers a unique opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures up close in their natural habitat. For a deeper dive into sea lion behavior and conservation, pop into the Sea Lion Center located right on PIER 39. Here, you can learn about the history of these marine mammals in the Bay and their importance to the local ecosystem.

Key Information:

  • Location: PIER 39, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: 24/7 for sea lion viewing, Sea Lion Center open daily 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's a rare chance to see wild sea lions up close in an urban setting, offering great photo ops and entertainment.

Insider Tip: Visit early morning or late afternoon to see the most active sea lions and avoid the biggest crowds.

Explore the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Historic ships docked at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, with Bay Bridge in background
Stepping onto these beautifully restored ships feels like traveling back in time. The Balclutha, built in 1886, is particularly impressive.

Step back in time at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, a treasure trove of nautical history. This park offers a tangible connection to the city's seafaring past, with a fleet of historic vessels that you can explore. The crown jewel is the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, a magnificent tall ship that once carried cargo around Cape Horn.

As you walk the decks of these beautifully restored ships, you'll get a feel for life at sea in the age of sail. The park also includes the Maritime Museum, housed in a stunning Art Deco building that resembles a streamlined ocean liner. Inside, you'll find exhibits on maritime art, history, and technology. Don't miss the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building with its colorful murals depicting scenes from California's history.

Key Information:

  • Location: 499 Jefferson Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Daily, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Admission: $15 for adults, free for children under 15

Why Visit: It's a unique opportunity to board historic ships and immerse yourself in San Francisco's maritime heritage.

Insider Tip: Time your visit for one of the ranger-led tours or living history demonstrations for a more interactive experience.

Savor Seafood at Fisherman's Wharf Restaurants

Clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl at an outdoor table in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
You can't visit Fisherman's Wharf without trying the classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. It's the perfect comfort food on a foggy San Francisco day.

No visit to Fisherman's Wharf is complete without indulging in its world-famous seafood. The area is packed with restaurants serving up the freshest catches from the Bay, prepared in ways that highlight their natural flavors. From casual crab stands to upscale dining rooms, there's something for every palate and budget.

One quintessential Fisherman's Wharf experience is enjoying a steaming bowl of clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. The combination of creamy soup and tangy bread is pure San Francisco comfort food. For a more upscale dining experience, head to Scoma's or Alioto's, longstanding family-run restaurants known for their top-quality seafood and stunning bay views. And of course, when in season, don't miss the chance to crack into some locally caught Dungeness crab.

Key Information:

  • Location: Various restaurants along Jefferson Street and surrounding areas
  • Hours: Vary by restaurant, many open for lunch and dinner daily
  • Price: $$ - $$$ (moderate to expensive)

Why Visit: It's the best place in San Francisco to enjoy fresh, locally caught seafood in a variety of styles.

Insider Tip: For the best deals, look for restaurants that offer early bird specials or happy hour menus.

Ride a Historic Cable Car

Tourists riding on the outside of a moving cable car in San Francisco, with steep city street in background
Riding a cable car is a quintessential San Francisco experience. Hold on tight as you climb and descend the city's famously steep hills!

Hop aboard a piece of living history with a ride on San Francisco's iconic cable cars. The Powell-Hyde line, which terminates near Fisherman's Wharf, offers a thrilling journey up and down the city's steep hills, providing breathtaking views of the Bay and Alcatraz Island along the way. As you hang on to the outside of the car, feeling the wind in your hair, you'll understand why this mode of transport has endured for over 150 years.

The cable car ride isn't just transportation; it's an experience in itself. Listen to the grip person's stories, watch them manually operate the car using a series of levers and brakes, and enjoy the camaraderie with fellow passengers as you all hold on tight during the steepest parts of the journey. The ride ends (or begins) at the Hyde Street turnaround, where you can watch the fascinating process of manually turning the car around on a giant lazy Susan.

Key Information:

  • Location: Hyde Street and Beach Street (Fisherman's Wharf terminus)
  • Hours: Daily, 6:30 AM - 12:00 AM
  • Price: $8 for a single ride, various passes available for multiple rides

Why Visit: It's the most iconic way to travel in San Francisco, offering unparalleled views and a unique historical experience.

Insider Tip: Buy a day pass if you plan to ride multiple times; it's more cost-effective than individual tickets.

Visit Ghirardelli Square

Entrance to Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, showing historic brick buildings and chocolate shop signs
Ghirardelli Square is chocolate heaven! The hot fudge sundae is a must-try, but be prepared for a sugar rush.

Indulge your sweet tooth at Ghirardelli Square, a charming complex that was once home to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. While chocolate is no longer manufactured on-site, the square remains a mecca for chocolate lovers and a delightful place to spend an afternoon. The brick buildings and clock tower, beautifully preserved from the late 19th century, create a picturesque backdrop for your explorations.

Start your visit at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, where you can watch chocolatiers at work and sample some of the company's famous treats. The hot fudge sundae is a must-try! Beyond chocolate, the square houses a variety of boutique shops, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants. Don't miss the stunning bay views from the upper levels of the complex.

Key Information:

  • Location: 900 North Point Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Vary by business, generally 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM daily
  • Admission: Free to explore, prices vary for individual shops and restaurants

Why Visit: It's a chocolate lover's paradise with a side of history and beautiful architecture.

Insider Tip: Visit on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds and have a more relaxed experience.

Play at Musée Mécanique

Rows of vintage arcade games and mechanical musical instruments inside Musée Mécanique at Fisherman's Wharf
Musée Mécanique is like stepping into a time machine. Make sure you bring plenty of quarters to try out these fascinating old-school games and machines!

Step into a world of nostalgia and whimsy at Musée Mécanique, one of the world's largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines. This unique museum is a hands-on experience where visitors of all ages can play games and enjoy entertainment from a bygone era.

As you wander through the rows of vintage machines, you'll encounter everything from fortune-telling machines and love testers to old-school pinball games and hand-cranked music boxes. Many of the machines date back to the early 20th century, offering a fascinating glimpse into the entertainment of yesteryear. The best part? All the machines are operational, so bring a pocketful of quarters and let your inner child run wild!

Key Information:

  • Location: Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Open daily, 10:00 AM - 8:00 PM
  • Admission: Free entry, bring quarters to play the machines

Why Visit: It's a unique, interactive museum that's fun for all ages and offers a trip down memory lane.

Insider Tip: Visit on a weekday morning for a quieter experience and easier access to popular machines.

Discover Marine Life at Aquarium of the Bay

Visitors in clear underwater tunnel at Aquarium of the Bay, with fish and sharks swimming overhead
Walking through these underwater tunnels at the Aquarium of the Bay is surreal. It's amazing how close you can get to the marine life!

Dive into the underwater world of San Francisco Bay at the Aquarium of the Bay. This state-of-the-art facility offers a window into the diverse marine ecosystems right off the coast of the city. The highlight of the aquarium is the 300-foot underwater tunnels, where you can walk beneath swirling schools of anchovies, come face-to-face with sharks, and watch rays glide gracefully overhead.

Beyond the tunnels, you'll find touch pools where you can gently interact with bat rays, leopard sharks, and sea stars. The aquarium also features exhibits on local watersheds, climate change, and conservation efforts in the Bay Area. It's an educational and entertaining experience that will give you a new appreciation for the marine life in San Francisco's backyard.

Key Information:

  • Location: PIER 39, The Embarcadero &, Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Open daily, 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
  • Admission: $29.95 for adults, $19.95 for children (3-12), discounts available online

Why Visit: It offers an up-close look at the diverse marine life of San Francisco Bay in a family-friendly setting.

Insider Tip: Visit during feeding times for the most active animal displays and informative talks by the staff.

Cruise the San Francisco Bay

View of Golden Gate Bridge from a boat on San Francisco Bay, with city skyline visible in the background
A bay cruise offers unbeatable views of San Francisco's landmarks. Pro tip: bring a jacket, it can get chilly out on the water!

Get a new perspective on San Francisco by taking to the water on a bay cruise. These boat tours offer unparalleled views of the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. As you sail, you'll also get a sense of the bay's geography and its importance to the region's history and ecology.

There are several cruise options available, from basic sightseeing tours to sunset dinner cruises. Many tours include narration that provides interesting facts about the bay and its landmarks. For a truly unique experience, consider a sailing tour on a traditional schooner or catamaran. Whatever option you choose, a bay cruise is a quintessential San Francisco experience that shouldn't be missed.

Key Information:

  • Location: Various operators depart from piers along the Embarcadero
  • Hours: Multiple departures daily, times vary by operator
  • Price: Starting from around $30 for adults, prices vary by tour type and duration

Why Visit: It offers the best views of San Francisco's iconic landmarks and a chance to experience the bay up close.

Insider Tip: Book an early morning cruise for the calmest waters and the best chance of clear skies.

Tour the SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Deck of SS Jeremiah O'Brien liberty ship with view of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island in background
The SS Jeremiah O'Brien is one of only two remaining fully functional Liberty ships from World War II. It's incredible to think this ship participated in D-Day.

Step aboard a piece of living history with a visit to the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of only two remaining fully functional Liberty ships from World War II. This remarkable vessel, which participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy, now serves as a floating museum dedicated to maritime and military history.

As you explore the ship, you'll get a firsthand look at the conditions faced by merchant marines during wartime. Climb up to the flying bridge for panoramic views of the bay, peek into the massive engine room, and imagine life at sea in the 1940s. The volunteer staff, many of whom are veterans, are always eager to share stories and historical details that bring the ship's history to life.

Key Information:

  • Location: Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Daily, 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
  • Admission: $20 for adults, $10 for children (6-14), free for children under 5

Why Visit: It's a rare opportunity to explore a fully operational WWII ship and learn about maritime history.

Insider Tip: Time your visit for one of the special event days when the ship's whistle is blown or the engines are fired up.

Explore Hyde Street Pier

Historic ships docked at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco, with Ghirardelli Square visible in the background
Hyde Street Pier is like an outdoor museum of maritime history. The views of the bay from the ships' decks are stunning.

Take a stroll down Hyde Street Pier and immerse yourself in San Francisco's maritime past. This historic pier, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, is home to a fleet of beautifully restored 19th and early 20th-century ships. Each vessel tells a different story of the city's seafaring heritage, from the days of sail to the age of steam.

As you walk along the pier, you can board several of these floating museums, including the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha and the 1907 steam tug Hercules. Interactive exhibits and interpretive signs provide context and bring the ships' histories to life. Don't miss the chance to ring the ship's bell or try your hand at tying nautical knots.

Key Information:

  • Location: 2905 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Open daily, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Admission: Included with Maritime Park ticket ($15 for adults, free for children under 15)

Why Visit: It offers a unique, hands-on way to experience San Francisco's maritime history.

Insider Tip: Check the park's event calendar for special demonstrations, such as sea chantey sing-alongs or sail-raising events.

Indulge at Buena Vista Cafe

Bartender preparing Irish Coffee at the bar in Buena Vista Cafe, San Francisco, with rows of stemmed glasses visible
The Buena Vista Cafe claims to have introduced Irish Coffee to America in 1952. Watching the bartenders expertly craft dozens of these drinks is mesmerizing.

Warm up with a visit to the Buena Vista Cafe, birthplace of the American Irish Coffee. This historic establishment, perched at the Hyde Street cable car turnaround, has been serving up its famous concoction since 1952. The cafe's cozy, old-world atmosphere and stunning views of the bay make it the perfect spot to relax after a day of sightseeing.

Watch in awe as the bartenders skillfully craft Irish Coffees with assembly-line precision, expertly floating the cream on top of the whiskey-spiked coffee. While the Irish Coffee is the star of the show, the cafe also offers a full menu of comfort food classics. Grab a seat at the long bar or snag a window table for people-watching as the cable cars come and go.

Key Information:

  • Location: 2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Daily, 9:00 AM - 2:00 AM
  • Price: $$ (moderate)

Why Visit: It's the birthplace of American Irish Coffee and offers a slice of San Francisco drinking history.

Insider Tip: Visit during off-peak hours to better your chances of snagging a coveted window seat.

Visit Madame Tussauds San Francisco

Visitors posing with wax figure of a famous San Francisco personality at Madame Tussauds, Fisherman's Wharf
The wax figures at Madame Tussauds are incredibly lifelike. It's fun to see how many celebrities and local icons you can recognize!

Get up close and personal with your favorite celebrities at Madame Tussauds San Francisco. This world-famous wax museum brings history and popular culture to life with its incredibly lifelike figures. From Hollywood stars and music icons to historical figures and local San Francisco legends, the museum offers a fun and interactive way to "meet" some of the world's most famous personalities.

The San Francisco location puts a unique spin on the Madame Tussauds experience with themed areas like "Spirit of San Francisco," featuring local icons, and "Music Zone," where you can jam with your favorite artists. Don't forget your camera – the museum encourages visitors to take photos and selfies with the figures.

Key Information:

  • Location: 145 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Vary by season, typically 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM daily
  • Admission: Starts at $29.99 for adults, discounts available online

Why Visit: It's a fun, interactive experience that's perfect for photo opportunities and pop culture fans.

Insider Tip: Purchase tickets online in advance for the best deals and to skip the line at entry.

Bike the San Francisco Waterfront

Cyclists on waterfront bike path with Golden Gate Bridge visible in background, San Francisco
Biking along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge is a great way to see the city. The path is mostly flat, making it an easy ride for all skill levels.

Experience the beauty of San Francisco's waterfront on two wheels by renting a bike and pedaling along the picturesque route from Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge. This flat, well-maintained path offers stunning views of the bay and city skyline, making it suitable for riders of all skill levels.

As you ride, you'll pass by notable landmarks like Fort Mason, Crissy Field, and the Palace of Fine Arts. Take your time to stop and explore these sites or simply enjoy the fresh air and scenery. The highlight of the ride is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge itself, where you'll be treated to panoramic views of the city and Marin Headlands.

Key Information:

  • Location: Multiple rental shops available in Fisherman's Wharf
  • Hours: Daylight hours are best for riding
  • Price: Bike rentals typically start around $30 for a full day

Why Visit: It's a fun, active way to see the city's waterfront and iconic landmarks.

Insider Tip: Start early to avoid crowds on the Golden Gate Bridge and secure a bike from the rental shops.

Shop at PIER 39

Vibrant scene of shops, restaurants, and street performers at PIER 39 shopping area in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
PIER 39 is always lively with street performers and unique shops. Don't miss the two-story carousel - it's not just for kids!

Turn your attention to retail therapy at PIER 39, a lively waterfront marketplace that's much more than just a shopping destination. With over 60 specialty shops, there's something for everyone – from quirky San Francisco souvenirs to high-end boutiques and local artisan crafts.

Between shopping sprees, enjoy street performers, live music, and the antics of the resident sea lions. The pier also boasts a variety of dining options, from quick bites to sit-down restaurants with bay views. Don't miss the two-story carousel adorned with hand-painted San Francisco scenes, a hit with kids and adults alike.

Key Information:

  • Location: Beach Street & The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Most shops open 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM daily
  • Admission: Free to explore, prices vary for individual shops and attractions

Why Visit: It's a one-stop destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment with a distinctly San Francisco flavor.

Insider Tip: Visit on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds and have a more relaxed shopping experience.

Explore the USS Pampanito

Interior view of USS Pampanito submarine showing control room and instruments, docked at Fisherman's Wharf
Exploring the USS Pampanito gives you a real sense of what life was like for submariners in WWII. The quarters are incredibly tight!

Dive into naval history aboard the USS Pampanito, a restored World War II Balao class Fleet submarine. This formidable vessel, which completed six patrols in the Pacific during the war, now serves as a living museum and memorial to the submarine service.

As you navigate the tight corridors and peer through periscopes, you'll get a sense of the claustrophobic conditions submariners endured. The self-guided audio tour provides fascinating insights into submarine warfare and life undersea. From the control room to the torpedo rooms, every part of the submarine tells a story of bravery and ingenuity.

Key Information:

  • Location: Pier 45, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Daily, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM (last entry at 5:15 PM)
  • Admission: $20 for adults, $12 for youth (6-12), free for children 5 and under

Why Visit: It offers a unique, immersive look into submarine warfare and naval history.

Insider Tip: The submarine can be chilly inside, so bring a light jacket even on warm days.

Visit the San Francisco Dungeon

Costumed actors performing a scene at the San Francisco Dungeon attraction in Fisherman's Wharf
The San Francisco Dungeon offers a spooky and entertaining journey through the city's dark history. It's part scary, part funny, and totally unique.

For a dose of spooky fun, head to the San Francisco Dungeon. This immersive attraction brings the city's dark history to life through a series of actor-led shows, special effects, and authentic sets. You'll journey through 200 years of San Francisco's past, encountering characters from the Gold Rush, Alcatraz, and more.

The experience is part haunted house, part historical tour, and part theatrical performance. While it can be scary at times, it's also educational and often humorous. The finale includes a thrilling drop ride that simulates a hanging – not for the faint of heart!

Key Information:

  • Location: 145 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Vary by season, typically 11:00 AM - 7:00 PM
  • Admission: Starts at $34.99 for adults, discounts available online

Why Visit: It's a unique, entertaining way to learn about San Francisco's darker history.

Insider Tip: If you're easily scared, let the actors know – they can adjust their performance accordingly.

Relax at Aquatic Park

People relaxing on the beach at Aquatic Park in San Francisco, with view of Alcatraz Island in the distance
Aquatic Park offers a peaceful escape from the bustle of Fisherman's Wharf. It's surprising to find such a nice beach right in the city!

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Fisherman's Wharf at Aquatic Park, a tranquil oasis offering stunning views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. This historic district features a protected cove, sandy beach, and grassy area perfect for picnicking or sunbathing.

Watch brave swimmers tackle the chilly waters of the bay, or simply enjoy the view from the bleachers-style seating area. The park is also home to the Maritime Museum, housed in a beautiful Streamline Moderne building that resembles a ship. Take a stroll along the curved Municipal Pier for even more spectacular views and a chance to see local fishermen in action.

Key Information:

  • Location: 499 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Open 24/7, Maritime Museum open 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: It offers a peaceful retreat with beautiful views and a chance to experience a local hangout.

Insider Tip: Bring a picnic and enjoy lunch with a view – it's a great way to save money on food in the touristy Wharf area.

Visit the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf

Display of wax figures depicting historical personalities at the Wax Museum in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
The Wax Museum has a charming old-school vibe. It's fun to see how wax figure technology has evolved over the years.

Step into a world of celebrity and history at the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. This long-standing attraction features over 250 wax figures of famous personalities from the worlds of entertainment, politics, sports, and history. Unlike Madame Tussauds, this museum has a more old-school charm and a focus on historical figures alongside pop culture icons.

Wander through themed galleries like the Chamber of Horrors, the Hall of Religion, and the Palace of Living Art, where famous paintings come to life as three-dimensional wax recreations. It's a kitschy, fun experience that's been delighting visitors for decades.

Key Information:

  • Location: 145 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Daily, 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM
  • Admission: $15 for adults, $10 for children (6-11), free for children 5 and under

Why Visit: It offers a nostalgic, quirky alternative to modern wax museums.

Insider Tip: Look for combo tickets that include other Fisherman's Wharf attractions for better value.

Enjoy a Show at Club Fugazi

Acrobats performing on stage at Club Fugazi in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood
The shows at Club Fugazi are a thrilling mix of acrobatics, music, and storytelling. It's impressive how they use the intimate space so creatively.

Experience the vibrant arts scene of San Francisco at Club Fugazi, a historic theater in the heart of North Beach, just a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf. This intimate venue, once home to the long-running "Beach Blanket Babylon" show, now hosts a variety of performances, from acrobatic spectacles to musical revues.

The current headline show, "Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story," is a love letter to the city featuring death-defying acrobatics, spoken word, and more. The theater's cabaret-style seating adds to the immersive experience, making you feel part of the action.

Key Information:

  • Location: 678 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Performance times vary, check schedule
  • Price: Tickets start at $35, prices vary by show and seating

Why Visit: It offers a unique, high-quality entertainment experience in a historic San Francisco venue.

Insider Tip: Arrive early to enjoy a pre-show drink at the theater's bar and soak in the ambiance.

Visit the Cartoon Art Museum

Exhibits of comic book art and cartoon displays at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco
The Cartoon Art Museum is a hidden gem for art lovers and comic enthusiasts. It's fascinating to see the evolution of cartoon art over the decades.

Unleash your inner child at the Cartoon Art Museum, the only museum in the western United States dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of cartoon art in all its forms. From comic strips and animation to graphic novels and underground comix, this unique institution celebrates the rich history and cultural impact of cartoons.

The museum's rotating exhibitions showcase both contemporary artists and historical works, offering something new with each visit. Don't miss the bookstore, which features a wide selection of graphic novels, art books, and unique gifts for cartoon enthusiasts.

Key Information:

  • Location: 781 Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Thursday - Tuesday, 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM, closed Wednesday
  • Admission: $10 for adults, $6 for youth (6-17), free for children 5 and under

Why Visit: It's a unique cultural institution that offers insight into the art and history of cartoons.

Insider Tip: Check the museum's website for special events, including artist talks and workshops.

Explore the Cannery

People relaxing in the olive tree-lined courtyard of The Cannery shopping complex in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
The Cannery's beautiful courtyard with its old olive trees is a perfect spot for a break from sightseeing. It's hard to believe this was once a bustling fruit cannery!

Step into a piece of San Francisco history at The Cannery, a beautifully restored brick building that once housed the largest peach cannery in the world. Built in 1907, this complex now serves as a shopping and dining destination, offering a more local and laid-back alternative to the bustling PIER 39.

Wander through the three levels of shops, many featuring local artisans and designers. The charming courtyard, with its 130-year-old olive trees, provides a peaceful spot to relax or enjoy a meal from one of the surrounding cafes. Keep an eye out for the historic details preserved throughout the building, including original signage and machinery.

Key Information:

  • Location: 2801 Leavenworth St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Vary by business, typically 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM daily
  • Admission: Free to explore, prices vary for individual shops and restaurants

Why Visit: It offers a blend of history, shopping, and dining in a less touristy setting.

Insider Tip: Visit on weekends when local artists often set up stalls in the courtyard.

Take a Food Tour

Group of people on a food tour sampling local dishes on the street in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Food tours are a great way to discover local flavors and hidden gems. I never knew there were so many different ways to prepare crab!

Savor the flavors of Fisherman's Wharf and beyond on a guided food tour. These walking tours offer a delicious way to explore the area's culinary landscape, from classic seafood joints to hidden local gems. You'll sample iconic dishes like clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls and fresh Dungeness crab, as well as lesser-known local specialties.

Many tours also include stops at popular attractions, combining sightseeing with gastronomic delights. Your knowledgeable guide will share insights into the area's history, culture, and food scene, giving you a deeper appreciation for what you're tasting.

Key Information:

  • Location: Various companies offer tours starting in Fisherman's Wharf
  • Hours: Tours typically last 2-3 hours, times vary by company
  • Price: Around $75-$100 per person, includes food samples

Why Visit: It's a fun, tasty way to explore the area and discover new favorite foods.

Insider Tip: Come hungry and wear comfortable walking shoes – you'll be doing plenty of both!

Visit the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum

Visitors examining strange and unusual exhibits at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Ripley's is full of bizarre and fascinating exhibits. Some are hard to believe, but that's part of the fun!

Prepare to have your mind blown at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, a wonderland of the weird, unusual, and unbelievable. This odditorium houses a vast collection of strange artifacts, mind-bending illusions, and interactive exhibits that challenge your perception of reality.

From shrunken heads to a two-headed calf, the museum's eclectic displays cater to curiosity seekers of all ages. Don't miss the chance to lose yourself in the dizzying vortex tunnel or snap a photo with the world's tallest man. Whether you're a skeptic or a believer, Ripley's offers a uniquely entertaining experience.

Key Information:

  • Location: 175 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Daily, 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM (last entry at 8:00 PM)
  • Admission: $24.99 for adults, $17.99 for children (5-12), discounts available online

Why Visit: It's a fun, quirky attraction that's perfect for families and anyone who loves the bizarre.

Insider Tip: Look for combo tickets that include other Fisherman's Wharf attractions for better value.

Explore the San Francisco Maritime Museum

Interior of San Francisco Maritime Museum showing maritime exhibits in a Streamline Moderne style building
The Maritime Museum's beautiful Art Deco building is worth a visit alone. The murals inside depicting California's history are stunning.

Housed in a stunning Streamline Moderne building that resembles a grand ocean liner, the San Francisco Maritime Museum offers a fascinating look into the city's nautical heritage. The museum's exhibits cover a wide range of maritime history, from Native American watercraft to modern cargo ships.

Don't miss the building's beautiful murals, created during the WPA era, which depict scenes from California's history. The museum also offers stunning views of the bay and Aquatic Park from its upper levels. After exploring the exhibits, take a stroll on the nearby Municipal Pier for even more maritime atmosphere.

Key Information:

  • Location: 900 Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Hours: Daily, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: It offers a deeper dive into San Francisco's maritime history in a beautiful historic building.

Insider Tip: Combine your visit with a trip to the nearby Hyde Street Pier for a full maritime experience.

Take a Segway Tour

Group of tourists riding Segways along the waterfront near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco
Segway tours are a fun and effortless way to cover a lot of ground. Just be prepared for some curious looks from pedestrians!

Glide through Fisherman's Wharf and beyond on a guided Segway tour. These fun, eco-friendly tours offer a unique way to cover more ground than walking while still enjoying the open air and close-up views of the city. After a brief training session, you'll be zipping along the waterfront like a pro.

Most tours cover highlights of Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, and the Embarcadero, with some venturing as far as the Golden Gate Bridge. Your guide will provide commentary on the sights you pass, sharing interesting facts and stories about San Francisco's history and culture.

Key Information:

  • Location: Various companies offer tours starting in Fisherman's Wharf
  • Hours: Multiple departures daily, tours typically last 2-3 hours
  • Price: Around $70-$90 per person

Why Visit: It's a fun, unique way to see the sights and cover more ground than walking.

Insider Tip: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and bring a light jacket – it can get breezy on the waterfront.

Visit the Musée Mécanique

Step back in time at the Musée Mécanique, a quirky museum housing one of the world's largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines. This hands-on museum allows visitors to play games and enjoy entertainment from a bygone era.

From fortune-telling machines and love testers to old-school pinball and hand-cranked music boxes, the museum offers a nostalgic journey through the history of coin-operated entertainment. Many of the machines date back to the early 20th century, offering a fascinating glimpse into past forms of amusement.

Key Information:

  • Location: Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Hours: Daily, 10:00 AM - 8:00 PM
  • Admission: Free entry, bring quarters to play the machines

Why Visit: It's a unique, interactive museum that's fun for all ages and offers a trip down memory lane.

Insider Tip: Visit on a weekday morning for a quieter experience and easier access to popular machines.

Structuring Your Fisherman's Wharf Trip for a 3-Day Itinerary

Fisherman's Wharf offers a wealth of attractions and experiences, enough to keep you busy for several days. Here's a suggested 3-day itinerary to help you make the most of your visit:

Day 1: Classic Fisherman's Wharf Experiences

  • Begin at PIER 39 to watch the famous sea lions and explore the shops and restaurants.
  • Visit the Aquarium of the Bay to discover local marine life.
  • Enjoy lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants along the wharf, trying the classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.
  • Take an afternoon bay cruise for stunning views of the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge.
  • End your day with dinner at Ghirardelli Square, followed by a decadent ice cream sundae.

Day 2: Maritime History and Local Culture

  • Start your day with a visit to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Hyde Street Pier.
  • Explore the USS Pampanito and SS Jeremiah O'Brien for a deep dive into naval history.
  • Have lunch in the charming courtyard of The Cannery.
  • Spend the afternoon at Madame Tussauds and the San Francisco Dungeon for some lighthearted fun.
  • Take an evening food tour to sample local delicacies and learn about the area's culinary history.

Day 3: Beyond the Wharf

  • Begin your day with a bike ride along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Visit the Cartoon Art Museum or take a Segway tour for a unique perspective of the area.
  • Enjoy lunch at Buena Vista Cafe, trying their famous Irish Coffee.
  • Spend the afternoon exploring nearby North Beach, including a visit to Club Fugazi for a show if time permits.
  • End your trip with a sunset visit to Aquatic Park for final views of the bay.

Remember, this itinerary is flexible. Feel free to swap activities based on your interests, energy levels, and the weather. Don't forget to leave some time for spontaneous discoveries – sometimes the unplanned moments become the most memorable!

Fisherman's Wharf is more than just a tourist destination; it's a vibrant neighborhood that encapsulates San Francisco's rich maritime heritage and modern charm. From the playful barks of sea lions to the enticing aroma of fresh seafood, from historic ships to cutting-edge entertainment, the Wharf offers a sensory journey through the heart of the city.

Whether you're a first-time visitor or a returning traveler, Fisherman's Wharf has something new to discover. Its blend of history, culture, and entertainment makes it a microcosm of San Francisco itself – diverse, dynamic, and endlessly fascinating.

As you explore the attractions we've highlighted, take time to soak in the atmosphere, chat with locals, and create your own unique memories. And remember, like the sea lions that unexpectedly made PIER 39 their home, sometimes the best experiences are the ones you didn't plan for. So keep your eyes open, your mind curious, and your sense of adventure ready. Welcome to Fisherman's Wharf – your San Francisco adventure starts here!

West Parker
West Parker
Article updated:
July 18, 2024 8:59 AM

West Parker, a Cornell University School of Hotel Administration graduate, has spent two decades as the secret weapon of the jet-set elite, crafting bespoke adventures that redefine luxury travel. Now a resident writer for Town & Tourist, this 45-year-old "Architect of Extraordinary Journeys" combines razor-sharp insights with unparalleled industry connections to deliver experiences that even the most discerning globetrotters can't help but rave about. West's expertise spans from exclusive real estate to fine dining, making him the go-to strategist for those who demand nothing but the extraordinary in their travels.

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