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Tourists flock to San Francisco’s the famous Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 area. An important part of San Francisco’s history, Fisherman’s Wharf developed as a result of the influx of people in California due to the gold rush in the 1800s bringing fishermen from Italy.
Today, it still remains an important part of the city’s fishing fleet. In spite of that, the area welcomes tourists year round. Even during the off season, when we were there in early February the wharf still had lots of people wandering around. I would hate to see what it is like during the summer months!
Despite the sun, the air was cold and chilly, with wind coming off the water. Having layers and bundling up is important in San Francisco despite it being in California!
If a seaside boardwalk were to meet Disneyland and have a child, then the result would be Pier 39. At least that’s what it felt like to me.
Plenty of tourist oriented and quirky shops surrounding the Pier. The smell of freshly made waffle cones wafted to my nose.
There’s even a carousel, musical stairs a la the movie Big, and a mirror maze, all very reminiscent of summer fairs and amusement parks. The only thing missing were the shouts from fair operators trying to lure you in to play their games.
Fisherman’s Wharf is less gaudy and flashy, but still very much catered to the tourist. Fishing boats filled the docks. Others offering tours. Seafood vendors and stalls line the streets.
Chain museums abound in the area. Novelty shops beckon you in. However, despite all the cheesiness, the area offers beautiful views of the water towards Alcatraz and the other islands located in the bay.
Everywhere you turn, you’re bound to run into various street entertainers. From the typical magic tricks to circus acts, there’s lots to be entertained by. However, the one you need to watch out for is the “World Famous” Bushman.
My friend and I were walking down the street searching for a place to eat our lunch when out of nowhere, this guy jumps out at us. Jump isn’t exactly the right word because he’s sitting on a milk crate and doesn’t actually move, but he definitely yelled. Onlookers cackled in delight as both my friend and I jerked back startled. The most damning thing is that I had seen him doing this earlier when I was wandering around by myself. Goes to show, it can be so easy to see something and not fully register. Needless to say, we were not amused. I really wonder how he goes about ensuring he doesn’t scare someone with a heart condition. Reportedly the Bushman makes over $60,000 a year scaring people and has been doing it since 1980.
I’m of two minds when it comes to these huge tourist attractions. I feel silly while I’m there, but I would feel even sillier if I didn’t even go. If you have little ones, this is a great place to be. I have fond memories of going here with my parents when I could barely walk (click if you want to see baby me at 9 months). Regardless of your thoughts on tourist trap attractions, take an afternoon and wander around to soak up the fun atmosphere.
Here are a few of my highlights from wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf:
The best way to take in the area is on foot. Take some time to wander around and discover the area on your own. If desired, head out on the water for a tour of the Bay, a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge and to see the city from the water.
Do you love arcade games? Then you need to visit this free museum full of over 300 penny arcade games that are still operational today. It is part museum and part entertainment centre, and is completely free to wander around.
Pier 45 Shed A
Off to one corner of Pier 39, are a bunch of sea lions that call the Pier 39 K Docks home. Due to the abundance of food in the bay, the lack of predators in the area, and the protection from the elements the docks provide have resulted in a steady population. The nearby Sea Lion Center, run by the Aquarium of the Bay, offers informational and educational presentations through the day.
PIER 39’s K-dock in the West Marina
There are plenty of restaurants in the area ranging from national chains like Bubba Gump Shrimp Company to independent restaurants like the Buena Vista Café, which I wanted to check out but didn’t have enough time. Being by the water, an overarching theme is the prevalence of seafood, especially fish and chips.
In & Out Burger
If you’re from anywhere that does not have an In & Out, then you’ve got to make a quick stop at this institution. The internet has made a huge fuss about its secret menu and there is a massive following of this fast casual burger chain. I thoroughly enjoyed my burger here, but would probably pass on the fries.
Anchorage Shopping Center
333 Jefferson St
Boudin at the Wharf
When in San Francisco, you need to have clam chowder, or so the thought goes. There’s no better place to do it than at Boudin at the Wharf where your clam chowder comes to you in a delicious sourdough bread bowl. Even if you choose not to eat, a quick wander around the building offers you a glimpse into the bakery where they’ve been making bread since 1849.
160 Jefferson Street
Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop
End your explorations of the Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 area by walking over to San Francisco’s famous Ghiradelli Chocolates Manufactory in Ghiradelli Square. A purveyor of premium chocolates since 1852, Ghiradelli is the 3rd oldest chocolate company in the US. Enjoy a hot fudge sundae and check out the original chocolate manufacturing equipment at the factory.
Tip: If you want to buy chocolate as a souvenir, head elsewhere to pick up a bag. While it does limit your selection, the prices are much more affordable. I bought mine at Target.
900 North Point Street (corner of Larkin Street)
Have you been to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco? What are your thoughts on overly touristic attractions?