The blend of historic buildings, boats, and restaurants paired with breathtaking views across SF Bay makes it an easy place to love. It can feel kitschy and crowded to locals, but if you push past the souvenir shops and chain restaurants there are some undeniably unique and charming corners that are well worth exploring.
Things to see and do
Between 300-900 sea lions can be found basking in the sun at this popular marina. They first arrived at Pier 39 in 1990, shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and their numbers have steadily grown ever since. Whether it’s your first or 100th time seeing them, they’re an impressive sight.
Location: Pier 39
This mural-filled alley provides a colorful backdrop for a photo shoot and is a beautiful place to stroll and enjoy the ever-growing collection of murals. The alley currently hosts 10 murals with more in the works. The alley is free to visit with a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children.
Location: 757 Beach Street
This historic transit system was built to navigate SF’s extraordinarily steep terrain and remains a fun and convenient way to get across town. They’re also one of the only moving national landmarks in the U.S. Take it all the way to Union Square or just joyride to the top of Lombard Street.
Location: The corner of Hyde and Beach Street
Aquatic Cove consists of the curved Municipal Pier (currently closed due to safety concerns), a long set of concrete bleachers, and a small beach for sunbathing and swimming. It’s one of the safest places to take a dip in the Bay and is home to several historic swimming and boating clubs. You can also view WPA-era murals that adorn the historic bathhouse, which was designed in the Streamline Moderne style to resemble an ocean liner.
Location: 890 Beach Street
For 150 years the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club have welcomed its members and the public into its historic Fisherman’s Wharf clubhouse. The club offers a private beach, showers, a sauna, lounges, and a warm and welcoming environment for anyone who wants to swim in the bay. Similarly, their next-door neighbors the South End Rowing Club offer similar amenities and also host public use days.
Dolphin Club: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9am – 6pm. $10 fee
South End Rowing Club: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9am – 6pm. $10 fee
Location: 502 Jefferson Street
One of the magical things about Fisherman’s Wharf is how easy it is to hop on a boat and enjoy the open water. The Red and White Fleet offers a variety of cruises around the bay, including a twilight cruise which offers epic sunset views.
Location: Pier 39
Musée Mécanique is one of the world’s largest private collections of coin-operated mechanical instruments, and one of the most unique museums in San Francisco! The collection was started by SF native Edward Galland Zelinskey, who bought his first coin-operated game when he was just 11 years old in 1933. Since then, it’s grown to include over 300 antique arcade artifacts, coin-operated pianos, slot machines, animations, and more! Zelinskey passed away in 2004, but his magnificent collection is still free for the public to enjoy at Pier 45 in San Francisco.
Location: Pier 45
Dungeness crab is a favorite seafood across the Bay Area and its image is used as the logo for Fisherman’s Wharf and other businesses across SF. Starting in 2021 the SF Port Commission approved the direct sale of live crabs from fishermen to the public. The SF Port website is a great way to find where you can find crab boats. Unfortunately, commercial crab season has been delayed until at least December 16, 2022, so keep an eye out for updates.
Location: Pier 45 and Pier 47
SF’s long maritime history is on full display at Hyde St. Pier where visitors can tour 7 historic ships ranging from an 1885 square-rigger to a 1907 steam tug boat. Each boat is a floating museum that helps to explain the role they played in SF history. Plus, the views from this historic pier are spectacular.
Location: 2905 Hyde Street
The SS Jeremiah O’Brien is one of the last surviving Liberty Ships in existence and took part in the D-Day armada off the coast of Normandy, France. The Jeremiah O’Brien offers daily public tours as well as special events and even cruises around the bay during SF’s annual Fleet Week event.
Location: Pier 45
Two WWII ships continue to tell the maritime history of the Bay. The USS Pampanito is a diesel-electric powered submarine that patrolled the Pacific and sank six enemy ships during her service. This meticulously restored submarine offers daily public tours.
Location: Pier 45
Food and Drinks
San Francisco didn’t invent Irish Coffee, but The Buena Vista Cafe is credited as being the first and arguably the most famous place to serve it in the US. The Buena Vista serves up to 2,000 Irish Coffees per day in an elegant and efficient performance. Rows of glasses are lined up atop the bar into which bartenders deftly pour coffee, sugar, and Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey before topping it with freshly whipped cream. It’s a rare example of a bar that’s equally beloved by locals and tourists alike.
Location: 2765 Hyde Street
If being in Fishman’s Wharf makes you hungry for fresh seafood, Scoma’s is an excellent choice. They have their own fishing boat for crabs and salmon, are located on a historic pier, and have been a Fisherman’s Wharf staple since 1965. Favorite menu items include their “Lazy Man’s” Cioppino, Dungeness Crab Louis, and other locally caught specialties.
Location: 1965 Al Scoma Way
As one of the oldest bakeries in SF Boudin Bakery is sourdough lovers dream. They put sourdough history and their baking process on full display with a massive window where you can watch bakers shape intricate loaves. Their attached restaurant and cafe serves classic New England clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl alongside other sandwiches and bakery favorites.
Location: 160 Jefferson St
The historic home of SF’s Ghirardelli Chocolate is a great place to warm up with a hot chocolate or decadent ice cream sundae. Ghirardelli Square is also home to a variety of shops and celebrated restaurants like Barrio, Square Pie Guys, and Palette Tea House and Dim Sum.
Location: 900 North Point