Fisherman’s Wharf Highlights in San Francisco
By Lee Foster
Fisherman’s Wharf, along San Francisco’s northern waterfront, ranks as one of the most popular aspects of the city for visitors. More than 16 million people came to the Wharf in 2017.
Recently Expedia.com asked me to select some highlights of Fisherman’s Wharf. To get settled in before you begin exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, see the many San Francisco hotel options on Expedia.com.
Here are four attractions not to miss:
The fishing boats
On a recent calm morning I walked up Jefferson Street from the corner of Taylor and turned right to enjoy a tranquil view of the legacy fishing boats. They are colorful, and many were formerly commercial boats catching fish and crabs. Some still do, and some offer sportfishing trips. Others serve as small tour boats, transporting folks out on San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. This small boat experience is an alternative to the big tour boats, but not so good if you tend to get seasick in choppy waters.
Sourdough bread at Boudin restaurant
From the time of the California Gold Rush, the local fog seemed to give a certain tang to the wild yeast used in baking bread. One bakery that developed a particular strain of this “mother” starter was Boudin. Today this bakery/restaurant occupies a choice place in the center of Fisherman’s Wharf, at 160 Jefferson. For free, you can tour the upstairs catwalk museum above the bread-baking operation, learning how San Francisco sourdough bread is made. The classic dish here would be clam chowder served in a bowl made from a loaf of hollowed-out sourdough. See https://boudinbakery.com/. For more good food at the Wharf, try a dish of Dungeness crab (in season) or the fresh catch-of-the-day at one of the several restaurants. Alioto’s, at the foot of Taylor, gives you a view of the legacy fishing boats while dining.
Hyde Street Pier historic ships
San Francisco Bay and the coast of California were robust routes of shipping commerce, especially before a network of roads crisscrossed the state. Ships from San Francisco also brought trade goods from China and Europe. The San Francisco National Maritime Park on the Hyde Street Pier exhibits, in the water, seven especially prominent historic ships. For example, Balclutha is an 1886 three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship built to carry a variety of cargo all over the world. She made 17 trips around the tip of South America between San Francisco and England. Alma is an 1891 scow schooner, a square-rigged vessel meant to be stacked high with hay from the California Delta to feed the horses of San Francisco. See https://www.nps.gov/safr/.
Fisherman’s Wharf always has some interesting street musicians and entertainers. Musicians play everything from jazz to modern rock. Entertaining acts are diverse. For example, one act, which has been popular for decades, has been a couple of guys who call themselves the “World Famous Bushman.” The Bushman has a simple trick. He sits down on Jefferson Street, by the fishing boats, hidden behind a large tree branch that he has cut somewhere. Folks walk past him, totally distracted by the views of the fishing boats and shops. Suddenly he jumps out, scaring the bejesus out of them. The victims, in turn, stick around to watch for and laugh at the next unsuspecting passersby. Another category of entertainers are the silver or gold spray-painted guys, who pose as statues. Then suddenly, when a tip falls into their jar, they break into a rap song and dance performance for a minute, before freezing once again into statues.
For these and other attractions, Fisherman’s Wharf has achieved an enduring popular appeal among visitors.