One of the most visited neighborhoods in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf has earned its popularity thanks to one thing more than any other: a wide array of restaurants, right on the water, serving up fresh-from-the-ocean seafood. And yes, there really are fishermen there. Bobbing at the docks are a handful of weathered boats, and they still chug out to catch Dungeness crab, scallops, halibut and other seafood in and around the bay, as they have for over a century.
Want to witness it all happening, with all five senses? Early risers can watch them unload their catch at Pier 47, nicknamed Fish Alley. Or sleep in and just sample the catch. Try fresh crab cooked in steaming cauldrons set up on sidewalks here—cracked crab dipped in melted butter and paired with a fresh loaf of local sourdough is a delicious San Francisco tradition. Or tuck into a meal at one of the eateries on the wharf that specialize in bowls of cioppino. This Italian American catch-of-the-day “fisherman’s stew” can include Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels and fish, all in a tomato-based broth. Classic, old-school establishments such as Cioppino’s, Scoma’s, Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, and Fog Harbor Fish House have been serving it up for decades. And if you like buying kitschy souvenirs (who doesn’t need a “can of fog” or a foam crab-claw headdress?) then you have found your mecca in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Other attractions—the San Francisco Dungeon, with its spooky take on San Francisco history, and the antique arcade games at Musée Mécanique are fun diversions too. At the San Francisco branch of Madame Tussauds, you can plot your own virtual jailbreak: Its escape-room experience Alcatraz: The Breakout Escape Room challenges guests to think their way out of the legendary prison. The rest of the popular wax museum features likenesses of movie stars, historic figures, and Bay Area royalty such as Jerry Garcia, Steph Curry, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Stroll to Pier 39 for more seafood eateries (Fog Harbor Fish House, Pier Market, and Wipeout Bar & Grill are all good bets) shops, street performers, and the area’s noisiest residents: a barking and bellowing throng of sea lions who have turned some of Pier 39’s floating docks into a sea lion beach party. Knowledgeable aquarists from Pier 39’s Aquarium of the Bay are on hand 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (weather permitting) to answer questions about the hefty pinnipeds (bulls can weigh nearly half a ton).
Ferries to Alcatraz and Angel Island State Park are based at Fisherman’s Wharf’s Pier 33 and make a wonderful day trip for families. Kids also love exploring the historic ships and the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine, all part of the National Maritime Museum (at nearby Hyde Street Pier). If they’ve still got too much energy, have them work it off on a walk east, away from Fisherman’s Wharf (which ends at roughly Pier 33) along the beautiful, bay-hugging Embarcadero to The Exploratorium hands-on science center at Pier 15. Finish this perfect day with double scoops at Humphrey Slocombe ice cream at the adjacent Ferry Building Marketplace.
Insider tips: There are several paid parking lots and garages nearby; most Fisherman’s Wharf businesses open around 9 a.m. and remain open until at least 10 p.m.