What's so special about visiting Fisherman's Wharf?
With so much to see and do in San Francisco, how do you choose where to go when you’ve got limited time in this gorgeous city? According to more than 12 million visitors, Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to check out when you come to the city by the bay!
Why is Fisherman’s Wharf important?
Other than the delicious seafood and breathtaking views of the bay, the Wharf’s epic role in San Francisco history is at the heart of its popularity. Fisherman’s Wharf has been important since the days of the Gold Rush in the mid to late 1800s, when gold diggers swarmed the city and Chinese and Italian immigrant fishermen sought to make a living by feeding them.
The area known today as Fisherman’s Wharf was established about 170 years ago about five blocks inland, near Powell and Francisco Streets, then known as Meiggs’ Wharf. Constructed by Henry Meiggs, a real estate developer who was also one of the city’s earliest hustlers, the wharf was built in the 1850s. He hoped to draw the expansion of downtown closer to his real estate holdings in Telegraph Hill. His plan worked and by the turn of the century, Fisherman’s Wharf had become the bustling locale it is today.
The fresh seafood was abundant and the demand was relentless, even after the Gold Rush waned. A colorful subculture emerged and new waves of immigrants flooded the city. Soon the Italians set up stands along the wharf to sell the bay’s legendary catch: Dungeness crab! It wasn’t until the 1970s that redevelopment occurred to transform the area into a bona fide tourist attraction.
Today, Fisherman’s Wharf offers tasty seafood, incredible vistas, and so much more!
Five fun facts about Fisherman’s Wharf
- Every fall, San Francisco is host to Fleet Week, a celebration that includes a parade of ships along the bay, an air show featuring the Blue Angels, free ship tours and live entertainment throughout Fisherman’s Wharf and San Francisco.
- The Fisherman’s Wharf you see today rests on land created from the rubble of buildings destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906!
- Dungeness crab is no longer available inside San Francisco Bay. A century ago, crabs were in plentiful supply from the Straits of Carquinez on the inland reaches of San Francisco Bay to the sandy shorelines off Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda. Over the years, however, clams (the natural food of the crab) disappeared from San Francisco Bay. Today, the crabbers must drop their crab pots far out near the Farallon Islands—in ocean water. No matter how far the crab boats go – the Crab is delicious and a must do when visiting the Wharf.
- The Cable car stops here. San Francisco parking can be challenging, so if you’re headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, jump on a Powell-Hyde Street Cable Car, Powell-Mason Cable Car (or E or F line Historic Streetcars) for a more relaxing and scenic trip aboard these rolling treasures.
- Crab Louie was invented on Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman Tom Castagnola was the first to add benches and tables to his fish stand, and developed the “crab cocktail,” a small portion of dungeness crabmeat with a sauce he invented using Thousand Island dressing. The Crab Louie was born and quickly became one of the Wharf’s most popular dishes!
Things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf
The possibilities are endless, but here’s a quick list of not-to-be-missed attractions at Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Visit Alcatraz Island. Cruise out to the former home of some of America’s worst criminals! Alcatraz Cruises is the official National Park Service Alcatraz concessionaire.
- Spend a day at PIER 39. This 45-acre waterfront complex boasts 14 full-service restaurants, more than 90 shops and popular attractions, a five-acre waterfront park, and 300-berth marina. Check out the unforgettable views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz, and don’t forget to spend some time with the California sea lions on K Dock! (Get Pier 39 parking tips and directions to make your visit easier.)
- Get your chocolate fix at Ghirardelli Square. Come for the chocolate, stay for the shopping! The square is the birthplace of the famous chocolatier that started in San Francisco more than 160 years ago. Ghirardelli is the country’s oldest continuously operating chocolate maker. And yes, they do give out free samples…
- SS Jeremiah O’Brien. Certified by the US Coast Guard and fully seaworthy, the Jeremiah O’Brien is the only active Liberty Ship around today that is in its original configuration. She is moored at Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf and open to the public most days.
- Stroll Fisherman’s Wharf. In addition to Pier 39, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, Alcatraz, and Ghirardelli Square, a few hours at the Wharf will put all sorts of attractions at your fingertips. Spend some family time at the local wharf attractions Aquarium of the Bay, Madame Tussauds San Francisco, The Flyer, 7D Experience, and the San Francisco Dungeon.
Directions to Fisherman’s Wharf (and where to park)
Whether you’re driving to Fisherman’s Wharf, or are already in San Francisco [JT1] and need a little navigation, all roads lead to San Francisco’s most popular destination!
If you choose not to use San Francisco’s plentiful public transportation options, Fisherman’s Wharf parking options run the gamut. Try the SpotHero app to find little-known but affordable parking alternatives.