Fisherman's Wharf Walking Tour, San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Francisco

Regardless of whether it's a hot, sunny day, or one filled with San Francisco's iconic fog, a walk through Fisherman's Wharf can feel quite special. Sure, you'll be surrounded by tourists, but they're *happy* tourists, because they're enjoying the smells of good foods, the sounds of barking sea lions, and the sights of a legendary sea port, one where a few lovingly preserved, historic sailing and military vessels are still docked, and open to visitors. Spend some time embracing Fisherman's Wharf with this self-guided tour, and you won't regret it.
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Fisherman's Wharf Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Fisherman's Wharf Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » San Francisco (See other walking tours in San Francisco)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Pier 39
  • Sea Lion Center
  • Boudin Bakery Museum
  • Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
  • Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum
  • Musee Mecanique (Mechanical Museum)
  • Anchorage Square
  • Hyde Street Pier
  • National Maritime Museum
  • Ghirardelli Square
1
Aquarium of the Bay

1) Aquarium of the Bay

Spread across 9,000 sq ft, the Aquarium of the Bay is an insightful, fun visit for people of all ages; a place like no other in the world, where you get to touch, feel and see the world that exists under water, experiencing what it takes to be a deep sea diver – without actually getting wet.

The aquarium boasts of a collection of over 50 different species of sharks, as well as a wide variety of marine wildlife like skates, bat rays and thousands of other animals including eels, flatfish, rockfish, wrasse, gobies, kelpfish, pricklebacks, sculpin and sturgeons. A river otter exhibit opened in 2013, with snow placed in the otter enclosure periodically during the winter, in what are called "Otter Snow Days."

The top attraction, however, is the underwater exhibit, which allows guests spectacular close-ups as they pass through clear tunnels within large tanks, each filled with fish, sharks, crustaceans, and other marine life. Another point that elevates the experience to the memorable is the presence of touch pools upstairs, where kids and adults can feed and touch the slimy, squishy creatures. If you haven't seen them in the wild, seeing them up close will be quite fun!

Why You Should Visit:
Cool little aquarium with a pleasing emphasis on the environment and sustainability.
Huge underwater tunnels with a large variety of fish to see!

Tip:
Pay the extra to do the behind the scenes tour (available only on certain days) where you literally walk above the tanks and all the people inside the aquarium.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–6pm
2
Pier 39

2) Pier 39 (must see)

Pier 39, the focal point of Fisherman's Wharf, may not have the same fishing fleet that it once had (back at the turn of the 20th century), but it compensates it with carnival-like amusements and a two-story carousel (which is not quite visible from the street but sits closer towards the pier's end). Revitalized in the 1970s to resemble a quaint wooden fishing village, this pier draws thousands of tourists every day.

It is really more like a big outdoor shopping mall packed to the rim with stores, restaurants, and various attractions, like a video arcade, street shows, the Aquarium of the Bay, and virtual 3D rides. On the plus side, the visitor center offers luggage storage and free phone-charging stations.

Famous for seafood, Pier 39 is home to 14 full-service restaurants boasting some of the freshest and most delicious offerings. At Fog Harbor Fish House, you can get more than just classic waterfront favorites, such as oysters and cioppino fish stew; all seafood on the menu is locally-sourced and sustainable. Also, check out the floating Forbes Island restaurant for some freshly-caught fruits of the sea.

The top reason to visit the pier is to see the sea lions, San Francisco's favorite mascot. These marine mammals made themselves comfortable on this coveted waterfront real estate in 1989 and have been tanning on its wooden boat slips ever since. A little bit stinky, perhaps, they look quite happy and add a great deal of popularity to the place.

From this pier, you can also see Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, and the Bay bridges. Tickets for boat and ferry rides to different locations in the area are also sold here.

Tip:
Regardless of the season, it can get windy at times, so bringing along a jacket is always recommended.
3
Sea Lion Center

3) Sea Lion Center

Pier 39 is famous for the sea lions snuggling up in the sun or taking a dip in the bay. They bark at each other, bite each other, walk over each other, but amazingly still remain friends. After you spectate them on close range, walk up the stairs to the Sea Lion Center – a great place to learn more about these sweet creatures and how you can make a great impact.

The staff at the Center are very knowledgeable and can answer any question you have about the sea lions. Although it is a small museum, it is packed with information. Exhibits include a sea lion skeleton as well as interactive videos. Best part of this place is that it's free – though they do have a donation box if you are able to spare a couple dollars.

Nice small educational center/museum to add to your itinerary!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm

Educational Programming:
10:30am/12:30pm/2:30pm/4:30pm
4
Boudin Bakery Museum

4) Boudin Bakery Museum

At the Boudin Bakery Museum you are welcomed into the rich history of the 'sourdough bread', the delicious French loaf that immigrants brought along with them in the mid-19th century, also referred to as the 'Original San Francisco Sourdough'.

The bakery is said to have been established by Isidore Boudin, son of a family of master bakers from Burgundy, France, at the time when the city became a magnet for gold seekers. Coming from a family of French bakers, the Boudins concocted a unique recipe where they blended the sourdough prevalent among miners in the Gold Rush with French techniques. For reasons unclear, this particular yeast mix cannot survive outside the Bay Area, so it's a uniquely local product.

The other unique thing here is that you can sit and watch the bakers at work as they mix the dough and run around the kitchen pulling batches in and out of the oven. There is also a museum outlining the history of the site and sourdough bread in SF, as well as a gift shop with a range of artisan foods. Long may the mother dough continue to grow!

Tip:
The most unique food to eat is the clam chowder bread bowl, which is a hollowed out loaf of sourdough bread with the soup inside. Another standout is the avocado roll – a creative work of culinary art that you will long remember.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 11:30am–9pm; free admission

Tour Scheduling:
Mon-Fri: 9am–5pm; $5
5
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

5) Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

Although this Madame Tussauds location in Fisherman's Wharf is smaller than the one in NYC's Times Square, it still does a wonderful job of incorporating local celebrities and sights, standing out as very unique and different from others in the U.S.

The attraction opened in 2014 and became the 17th Madame Tussauds museum to open worldwide. It features wax figures of famous figures from movies, music, politics, popular culture and sport (for instance, at the entrance, you have Robin Williams and Mr. Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg), but also celebrates "The Spirit of San Francisco" with figures of local artists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and activists from the city's past – from Harvey Milk to Steve Jobs to Steve McQueen. The likenesses are pretty good, and the rooms are set up in a fun way so you can cozy up to the statues for pictures.

You can have a great time holding up fun prisoner signs and taking "mugshots", walking through the Golden Gate bridge replica, or snapping pictures for the Summer of Love at the painted Volkswagen van. Infamous Alcatraz inhabitants are also there in their cells and you can play dress up and get your pictures taken as hoodlums. If you enjoy attractions like this, you will not want to skip the experience. It's also good for when too cold and windy, or too hot to sit outside.

Tip:
Buy a combo ticket with the San Fran Dungeon next door. Lots of fun, especially if you like to scream!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–8pm
6
Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum

6) Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum is a two-floor complex of 11 galleries and more than 300 strange yet wonderful exhibits. All collections depict different people and animals from all cultures, including tribal artifacts collected from around the globe, weird and wacky art, etc. A great way to fill in an hour, as you can read interesting stories, see really unusual things, and experiment some cool stuff like the neon wheel and the giant kaleidoscope... plus take lots of pictures!

Why You Should Visit:
If you have an hour or two and are looking to do an inside activity, this is a fun museum of oddities. From shrunken heads to two-headed shards and everything in between, you'll get a solid blast of entertainment here, and kids under 5 are free.

Tip:
While visiting, be sure to check out the Niagara Theatre exhibit which showcases individuals who challenged the falls. Also be sure to take a stroll through the museum's cemetery to check out the humorous gravestone engravings.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–10pm
7
Musee Mecanique (Mechanical Museum)

7) Musee Mecanique (Mechanical Museum)

If you're looking for mind-blowing, inexpensive fun in San Francisco, here's a hidden gem: the Musée Mécanique, located at Pier 45 in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, right near all the famous historic restaurants like Alioto's and Tarantino's.

First of all, this place does not charge admission – it's totally free; just be prepared to spend a few bucks in quarters to have a blast! Basically, what you have here is the world's coolest, most fascinating game arcade, where you can play everything from Galaga to 1960s pinball machines to Whack-a-Mole to air hockey to Ms. Pac-Man. The place drips with nostalgia and just plain fun. It also appeals to folks of all ages and backgrounds – tourists, locals, teens, parents, hipsters, you name it.

Why You Should Visit:
Very much worth it for the world's most extensive collection of antique arcade games, including penny-operated nickelodeons and elaborate player pianos, some of which are more than a hundred years old. Yes, they even have laughing fortune tellers, a vintage mutoscope, and many other quirky machines from the early 20th century.

Tip:
Make sure to bring cash to convert to quarters as that's the only way to play.

Operation Hours:
Daily (incl. Holidays): 10am–8pm
8
Anchorage Square

8) Anchorage Square

One of the best spots from which to embark on the exploration of the San Francisco Bay area is Anchorage Square. Here is where Fisherman's Wharf and fun collide!

If you're out for a bit of shopping, dining, or touring, this place is ideally packed to deliver on all these counts. Indeed, the square has something to offer everyone: families, singles, kids, and seniors alike. Dozens of specialty stores, plus an array of fun-filled activities, recreation and entertainment of various sorts spread across multiple floor levels are waiting to be discovered, right in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf.

And if you find the upscale stores somewhat pricey, just walk around and watch people, or check out the massive variety of eateries serving seafood, Chinese, Mexican, and crepes – well worth a visit if you're craving a bite!

Tip:
The chowder hut in the center serves a nice burger at a nice price; just watch out for the birds – they may steal it!
Another local staple is In-N-Out Burger, upholding the flavor of family-owned, decades-old businesses in the area. The locals, normally up in arms against any fast-food chain coming to the neighborhood, feel this family-owned joint is different.
9
Hyde Street Pier

9) Hyde Street Pier

Originally build in 1922 as a ferry dock to connect San Francisco and Marin County before the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, Hyde St Pier is part of the SF Maritime National Historic Park. There are five historic boats and the old foreman office for the Tubbs Cordage plant (1890) relocated to this spot for preservation. If you want to get aboard, you'll need to pick up a $15 ticket at the Maritime Visitor Center; otherwise, you may as well wander down the pier for no charge and peruse the exhibits while enjoying views of Aquatic Park, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay.

Among the vessels permanently docked here, the Scottish-built Balclutha (1886), with its spindly rigging, is the most inviting. This sole survivor of the great sailing ships that journeyed around Cape Horn in the 1800s was put into retirement in 1930, to be dragged out and done up for bit parts in such films as "Mutiny on the Bounty" before settling into its current role as a showboat. Look out for the daily guided tour titled "Adventures at Sea: Life Aboard a 19th Century Sailing Ship".
10
National Maritime Museum

10) National Maritime Museum

A great place for ship and naval enthusiasts, the Maritime Museum on Fisherman's Wharf is an all-in-one place where you can get enthralled by the maritime history of the world whilst watching, smelling and feeling the tales of the Pacific coast. Among other (often larger) things, they have the actual tiny boat that a man used to sail from Japan to San Fran, along with his story and artifacts. There also are artifacts and the story of a ship that was converted into a hotel on the beach during the Gold Rush, which then burned to ground level during the great fire.

Completed in 1939 as a bathhouse, the present-day building is a brilliant Art Deco construction that mirrors the structure of an ocean liner and is further enhanced by interior artwork. The lobby in particular sports a very nice (and huge) sea creature-inspired mural, while the front entrance and the observation deck facing the bay have beautiful mosaics on their walls. Starting on the 1st floor, the museum illustrates the progression of seafaring from the age of wind to steam, then transports visitors to early San Francisco with its whaling guns, scrimshaw, lithographic stones and photo murals.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–4pm
11
Ghirardelli Square

11) Ghirardelli Square

Once a chocolate factory and a wool mill, this is the most attractive of San Fran's refurbished industrial facilities. Looming above the Maritime National Historical Park with its mix of old red-brick buildings and modern stores and restaurants, this shopping center retains the famous Ghirardelli trademark clock tower and original electric roof sign.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory on the plaza beneath the tower still houses vintage chocolate-making machinery and sells the confection. These days, you can find pretty much everything under the sun here (if you know where to look), from succulents to small souvenirs and mementos to coffee, cheese, and ice cream sundaes.

At the square, there is always some live music playing. Its centerpiece, Andrea's Fountain, is decorated with bronze sculptures of mermaids and turtles and is the most popular gathering point for shoppers, day and night, much as the top location for all Instagram-ers looking for a perfect backdrop.

The views at night, opening from the end of Van Ness Pier, are even better. You can frame the quaint square (with high rises looming up behind it), the Coit Tower on the left, and a quiet cove full of sailboats immediately in front. And the whole image is reflected in the water.

Tip:
The chocolate shop gives out free samples every day, so stop in and give yourself a treat.

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