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
Aquarium of the Bay

1) Aquarium of the Bay (must see)

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!

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
Pier 39

2) Pier 39 (must see)

Pier 39, the focal point of Fisherman's Wharf, may not have the same fishing fleet it once had at the turn of the 20th century, but compensates with a two-story carousel, carnival-like attractions, and many shops and restaurants. Revitalized in the 1970s to resemble a quaint wooden fishing village, the pier draws thousands of tourists daily, but it's really more like a big outdoor shopping mall. On the plus side, its visitor center stores luggage and has free phone-charging stations.

One can spend all day here being outside and enjoying the waterfront view. By far the best reason to walk the pier is to spot the numerous sea lions – San Francisco's favorite mascots – who took over this coveted waterfront real estate in 1989 and have been tanning on its wooden boat slips ever since. A little stinky, but they all look so happy.

Why You Should Visit:
From the pier one can see Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge.
Ticket windows for boat/ferry rides to different attractions in the area are also located here.

Can get windy so always bring a jacket.
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:
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!

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
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.

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
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.

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
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.

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

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

8) Anchorage Square

Located in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf, Anchorage Square has something to offer everyone: families, kids, singles, and seniors alike. The place is quite massive with multiple floor levels and a great collection of entertainment, recreation, shopping and dining options. If you find the upscale stores too expensive, just walk around and people watch, or check out the large variety of seafood, Chinese, Mexican, and crepes. Worth a visit if you're on the Wharf and looking for a bite to eat!

The chowder hut in the center serves a nice burger at a nice price; just watch out for the birds – they will steal it!
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".
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
Ghirardelli Square

11) Ghirardelli Square

Once a chocolate factory and wool-mill, this is the most attractive of San Fran's refurbished factories, looming above the Maritime National Historical Park with its mix of old red-brick buildings and modern shops and restaurants. The shopping center retains the famous Ghirardelli trademark clock tower and the original electric roof sign. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory on the plaza beneath the tower still houses vintage chocolate-making machinery and sells the confection, although these days you can find everything else under the sun – from succulents to small souvenirs and mementos to coffee, cheese, and ice cream sundaes – if you know where to look.

There is always some kind of music playing within the square, which has as its centerpiece the Andrea's Fountain, decorated with bronze sculptures of mermaids and turtles – definitely the most popular gathering point for shoppers day and evening and a top location for all instagrammers looking for a perfect backdrop. The views at night, from the end of Van Ness Pier, are even better: you have the quaint square, with high rises looming up behind it, Coit Tower on the left, a quiet cove full of sailboats immediately in front, and the whole image is reflected on the water.

Expect to spend an hour or two if you want to browse all the shops.
The chocolate shop gives out free samples every day so stop in to pick up one.

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