13 FUN Things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco

Checking out Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco California

Looking for the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf? We got you! Sure, this is one of the most touristy areas and neighborhoods in San Francisco, but Fisherman’s Wharf is popular for a reason! This historic waterfront district not only has great seafood restaurants, fun attractions, and is the launching off point for scenic Bay cruises and visits to Alcatraz Island, but it also has a vibrant maritime history.

This guide to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco will cover the best things to do, see, and eat! From grabbing an iconic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl to seeing those famous sea lions at Pier 39. Let’s dive into all the cool things to see in Fisherman’s Wharf for your San Francisco itinerary.

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What to do in Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park


For some of the most iconic scenery in San Francisco, take a cable car ride to Hyde Street and explore the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Nestled within the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s the perfect place to get a feel for the city!

Whether you’re exploring the historical landmarks at the park or just enjoying the views, the Maritime National Historical Park is a great place to get a taste of San Francisco.

The park’s history is intertwined with the city’s maritime heritage. In the mid-19th century, San Francisco’s economy revolved around its bustling sea trade. Ships from all over the world docked here, bringing goods and cultures from all over the world. The park’s visitor center, located at 499 Jefferson Street, is a great place to start your journey through the area’s fascinating history.

Then there’s the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, which houses the Maritime Museum. It’s an elegant and sleek Streamline Moderne style from the 1930s made to look like an ocean liner! The museum is the focal point of the Maritime National Historical Park, and visiting is one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf. Inside, it’s a treasure trove of maritime art, artifacts, and engaging exhibits. From ship models to intricate navigational instruments, the museum offers a deep dive into the city’s seafaring past.

You can also enjoy a lovely stroll along the cove-shaped Aquatic Park Pier, taking in the sounds of San Francisco. Dip your feet in the water at the beach or relax on the bleachers next to the museum and watch the fog roll in. There are grassy lawns, benches, and walking paths, as well as historical markers all along the water. 

Visit Hyde Street Pier


Part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park that deserves its own visit is the Hyde Street Pier. If you’re looking for what to do at Fisherman’s Wharf for nautical buffs, you’ll want to come here! It’s just one of many museums along the busy waterfront and one of the most popular attractions in the area.

Hyde Street Pier was built in 1922 as a car ferry terminal. Until the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, it was the main way visitors reached San Francisco from Sausalito and the rest of Marin County. Today, it functions as a museum that features a diverse collection of historic vessels. There’s the majestic Balclutha from the 1800s and the smaller C.A. Thayer. You’ll find other boats as well, including a tugboat from the early 1900s, and one of the car ferries that used to carry cars to this very pier.

You can walk Hyde Street Pier and see the boats, 5 of which are officially National Historical Landmarks. At the entrance of the pier, there’s a gate where you’ll pay a small fee for visitors ages 15 years and older. This is where you can also find out about daily tours. Guided tours are the only way you can board a boat. They won’t let you on all of them, but some, like the Baclutha and the Eureka, are boarded almost daily during tours.

The Hyde Street Pier is part of the National Park system and is open daily (except for major holidays) from 10 AM to 5 PM.

Check out Umbrella Alley

Greetings from San Francisco Mural in Umbrella Alley

While you’re at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, head across Beach Street and look for Umbrella Alley. This is a hidden gem in the city and one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf! And while it may not have centuries of history like some other San Francisco landmarks, it has its own unique story.

You’ll find this hidden street between two buildings along Beach Street, across from the park. Umbrella Alley features beautiful and brightly colored murals and installations by local artists. Many of these pieces are considered interactive, including the stunning “Greetings From San Francisco” mural by Maxfield Bala. And all of them are the perfect spot to snap some pictures!

Umbrella Alley is a relatively recent addition to the Fisherman’s Wharf area and one that you won’t want to miss. While it’s free to visit, it’s worth it to pay the small suggested donation that goes back to the featured artists (or you can donate anytime through Venmo with current information found on the collective’s website).

See the Sea Lions

the california sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco

One of the most beloved of all Fisherman’s Wharf attractions is the herd of California sea lions that frequent Pier 39. Shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, K-Dock at Pier 39 became a favorite hangout spot for the famous animals. Year after year, numbers increased.

Today, the dock sees close to 1,000 sea lions in the winter! In the summer, the majority migrate south, but there are always quite a few that remain.

A big reason for the presence of the iconic California sea lions is the abundance of herring in the waters of the San Francisco Bay. All year round, you’ll see sea lions lounging, barking, swimming, and sleeping in the warm sun on the docks of Pier 39. 

If you’re curious about what to do at Fisherman’s Wharf for free, this is a solid choice. There are benches at the Sea Lion Viewing Area, as well as educational markers you can read. Conservation experts from the San Francisco’s Marine Mammal Center are at the pier throughout the week offering interesting facts about the sea lions and answering questions.

While you’re visiting Pier 39’s most famous residents, make sure to stop by the Seal Lion Spot. It’s located just before the viewing area if you’re coming from the Bay Walk. Here, you can see educational exhibits, learn more about these social animals, and visit the gift shop.

Note: The Sea Lion Spot will close for renovations beginning in late October 2023, but will reopen in Spring 2024.

Walk Around Pier 39

the double decker carousel at Pier 39 in San Francisco California

One of the most famous things to din San Francisco is stroll around this exciting and action-packed piers! Pier 39 is a historic waterfront complex located in Fisherman’s Wharf. Originally, it was a cargo-handling area during the early 20th century, but by the 1970s, it had fallen into disrepair.

In 1978, the pier was transformed into the iconic attraction it is today. Now, visiting Pier 39 is considered one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf as it’s full of dining and entertainment options.

Besides the ever-popular California sea lions, there’s shopping, dining, and an array of entertainment options for every kind of visitor. You can explore gift shops, clothing boutiques, jewelry and electronic stores, and more. Or come here for one of the fabulous seafood restaurants. Prefer a quick bite to eat? You’ll find all your classic casual fast food stops and sweet treat options.

One of the best things about strolling Pier 39 is the atmosphere and the views. Take in the sweeping views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. At the same time, enjoy street performers, live music, and the sounds of the sea lions and seagulls nearby!

If you’re bringing the family (or if you’re just a big kid at heart!), you’ll want to ride the 2-story, hand-painted San Francisco Carousel. Nearby, check out the Musical Stairs, created by the same guy who made the floor piano for the movie, Big!

There are also fun attractions like arcades, escape rooms, and the Aquarium of the Bay. And if you want to go on a whale-watching tour, you can do that here.

Get a Sourdough Bread Bowl!

Did you know that sourdough got its start in San Francisco? Yes, fermented bread has been around for eons. But you can argue that it wasn’t as famous until it came to California during the Gold Rush of the 1840s! Technically the history of sourdough starts way earlier in ancient Egypt, but it was during the Gold Rush that is responsible for the style of sourdough we know and love today.

When prospectors, known as forty-niners, flocked to California in search of rumored gold, they brought the essentials with them, including sourdough starter cultures. Soon, everyone noticed that the sourdough made in San Francisco had a unique, tangy flavor that you couldn’t find anywhere else. And thus, a legend was born.

San Francisco’s cool, foggy climate proved to be the perfect environment for sourdough cultures, allowing the dough’s bacteria to thrive. This resulted in the tangy, distinctive flavor that San Francisco sourdough is still known for today!

We suggest going to one of the most famous places to sample San Francisco sourdough, Boudin Bakery, specifically the Fisherman’s Wharf location, but you can try them at any of their locations. Established in 1849, Boudin has been a fixture in the city for over a century. It’s believed that their sourdough starter dates all the way back to the Gold Rush days. If you’re looking for what to do at Fisherman’s Wharf that you can do anywhere else, this is it!

Make it a point to try sourdough while you’re here, whether in the form of bread bowls, sandwiches, or artisan loaves. And while Boudin is the most famous, many other places carry on San Francisco’s sourdough legacy. Fisherman’s Grotto, a top-notch seafood restaurant at Pier 39, makes a mean clam chowder sourdough bowl. And Pomegranate is an unassuming bakery off Hyde Street where you can grab a fresh loaf of authentic San Francisco sourdough bread.

Eat Seafood Around Fisherman’s Wharf

If you do nothing else here, one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf is eat seafood on the bay. You won’t regret it! Where should you go? You can truly take your pick. From casual stops to fine dining experiences, you’ll find it all. There are historical restaurants that are almost as old as the city itself, as well as new places that capture that same vibe.

This is really about enjoying the experience and honoring the waterfront’s maritime history. And, in our opinion, the best place to start is the Seafood Stands on Taylor Street. There’s an old-school feel to them! Come here for steamed crab, ice-cold shrimp cocktails, amazing bread bowls, and more. We stopped at Sabella & La Torre for oysters. And this is where you’ll find Guardino’s No. 1, which has been around since 1908.

The Codmother food truck on the corner of Beach Street and Jones Street has the best fish and chips, and they have a nice setup with picnic tables. Or for something more glamorous, head to Blue Mermaid. Their crab and corn chowder bread bowl has won awards!

Or for another San Francisco original, cioppino, head to Cioppino’s! This is a tomato-based stew with a mixture of herbs and seafood that has its roots in Fisherman’s Wharf dating back to the 19th century! Back then, Italian fishermen who came up short at the end of the day would go around with a stew pot to the other fisherman asking for anything they could contribute from their catch. Over time, cioppino became a staple in the Italian restaurants of North Beach. The aptly-named Cioppino’s in Fisherman’s Wharf has a lovely version.

Visit Musee Mécanique


One of the top Fisherman’s Wharf attractions is Musee Mécanique at Pier 45, and it’s a must for anyone visiting San Francisco! This charming museum features a collection of vintage carnival attractions, called penny arcade games. They belonged to Edward Zelinsky, whose love for these coin-operated games was honored by his family in the form of Musee Mécanique. Most of the machines are well over 100 years old!

The museum itself is free to visit, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you walk in from Taylor Street. But don’t think it’s all behind a red rope here. You’re encouraged to touch and play! You can have your fortune told, play a game of Skee-Ball, watch automatons, or explore charming dioramas. There’s a machine to get quarters, which you’ll need to operate the machines.

Do some of the games look familiar to you? Fans of The Princess Diaries movie might recognize them from when Mia and Queen Clarisse visited the museum! Though, at the time of filming, it was located inside the Cliff House at Sutro Heights and would relocate to Fisherman’s Wharf a few years later.

You can visit the Musee Mécanique for free, but bring cash if you want to play the games! They’re all coin-operated. Stop by any day between 10 AM and 8 PM.

Get a Famous Irish Coffee from The Buena Vista

You’ll find the renowned bar and café, The Buena Vista, at the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, on the corner of Hyde and Beach Streets. Opened in 1916, the eatery has always been a pillar in San Francisco’s culinary scene. But its most famous contribution is its Irish coffee.

The story of Irish coffee at The Buena Vista begins in 1952. The owner of The Buena Vista sought out the international journalist, Stanton Delaplane, to recreate the perfect Irish coffee. Delaplane had sampled the drink in Ireland and was determined to bring the same delicious taste to San Francisco.

If you’ve never had an Irish coffee, it combines hot, strong coffee with Irish whiskey, sugar, and a dollop of whipped cream. Through trial and error, Delaplane would realize that the secret to an authentic Irish coffee was the whipped cream that was prepared properly and floated on top! This created the ideal contrast of flavors and temperatures for the decadent drink.

The Buena Vista’s Irish coffee quickly gained fame, becoming a signature drink of both the café and the city. Today, they serve thousands of Irish coffees every day! And if you’re hungry, make sure to try their full menu of American classics. It includes San Francisco staples, like a clam chowder sourdough bread bowl. They also have a full bar and a quality cocktail menu.

By far, one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf is enjoy the cozy atmosphere of The Buena Vista over an Irish coffee. Peruse black and white pictures and other memorabilia on the walls that tell of the restaurant’s claim to fame and its most famous visitors. You can sit at the beautiful wooden bar or at a table near the window to watch the Hyde Street cable car come and go.

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco California

From the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, you can’t help but notice the striking 19th-century brick buildings across Beach Street. And who can miss the iconic Ghirardelli sign towering over the street! This beautiful brick and glass complex makes up the historic Ghirardelli Square, one of the most famous Fisherman’s Wharf attractions.

The square offers a blend of American history, dining, shopping, and of course, chocolate! Its story dates back to the 1800s when Italian chocolatier Domingo Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. He opened a small chocolate shop and eventually founded the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in 1852. Ghirardelli’s chocolates quickly gained popularity, and the company’s factory and headquarters were established in the area that now bears its name.

The site gained new life in the 1960s as a city landmark and tourist attraction. And while it’s not really a square, the buildings that make up the destination are set in a square around a central courtyard that features a beautiful bronze mermaid fountain. Inside, you’ll find clothing boutiques, gift shops, fun attractions for the whole family, and more. At the center is the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, a destination for chocolate lovers the world over! 

Ghirardelli Square is free to visit and enjoy the lovely atmosphere. There are cafes and restaurants if you’re hungry. We suggest making a point to stop into the Original Ghirardelli Chocolate & Ice Cream Shop for an ice cream sundae! Afterward, go for a stroll through the square and take in the architecture. There’s usually something going on here, including art installations, live music, and more.

Go to Alcatraz Island

view of Alcatraz in San Francisco California

History lovers looking for what to do at Fisherman’s Wharf, head straight to Pier 33 to book a visit to Alcatraz Island. Sitting in the middle of San Francisco Bay, the island is notorious for its gritty history. After functioning as a military base for two centuries, it became a maximum-security penitentiary from 1934 to 1963. It’s best known for housing infamous criminals like Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark and a popular tourist destination.

You’ll begin your trip to Alcatraz Island by taking a ferry from Pier 33. Tickets for the official Alcatraz Island tours can be purchased at the pier, but we suggest getting them in advance online as this is a popular tour. They tend to sell out quickly, especially during peak tourist seasons.

When you visit Alcatraz Island, you’ll soon understand why it’s considered one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf. The main stop is the outstanding tour of the abandoned penitentiary. Through an audio guide, you’ll listen to the heart-wrenching stories of the men who lived and worked there. There’s also a must-see exhibit on the American Indian Occupation of 1969 that took place here.

Tours typically run for 2-3 hours, which means you’ll have plenty of time to explore the island. There’s not just the penitentiary, but also military ruins, gardens, and bird colonies if you like birdwatching. You can also hike to the top of the island for amazing views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline!

Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is run by the National Park Service. Tours are self-guided, audio-based, and complimentary with your ferry tickets. The fee you pay is for transportation to the island, so the NPS America the Beautiful pass or any other federal park pass can’t be applied to the cost. 

Enjoy a Bay Cruise

With all the dreamy Fisherman’s Wharf attractions we’ve mentioned, there’s one that truly makes this neighborhood what it is- the San Francisco Bay! When it comes to bay cruises, there are quite a few to choose from.

Besides the Alcatraz Island tours, there are also the traditional Golden Gate Bay cruises that take you under the Golden Gate Bridge. They offer great views of the city and let you get close-up views of Alcatraz. The Gold and Blue Fleet at Pier 39 and the Red and White Fleet at Pier 45 offer Golden Gate both offer their own Golden Gate Bay cruises that run about an hour long.

The Red and White Fleet also offers a different 90-minute cruise called the Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise. It’s a nice alternative that takes you along the north shore from Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge. This cruise is a great way to see many of the iconic Fisherman Wharf landmarks in all their glory from the water.

Take a Whale Watching Tour


Whale watching tours are one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf. That’s because, unlike other seaside destinations, you can go whale-watching here all year long! And it’s simple enough to find tours since they all leave from Pier 39.

Different whales migrate through the region at different times during the year. So, you’ll simply need to know what whales you most want to see and find out when they’re around.

The ever-popular Humpback Whales migrate to the bay area during the warmer months, typically from May through the end of October. You can also see Blue Whales during the summer months. Or if you’re visiting San Francisco between late December and March, this is your chance to see Orcas and Sperm Whales.

Tours last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on what time of year you go. Most of them will take you out to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean. Guides will provide interesting facts and point out landmarks on your route. It’s a beautiful ride and you’ll probably see dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles along the way!

There’s no food on tours, but there’s usually a cash bar with beer, wine, water, and other non-alcoholic drinks for sale. Guests are welcome to bring their own food on board. Also keep in mind that winter tours are harder to book, with most of them taking place during the weekends.

Can you see whales from the shore in San Francisco? While Orcas sometimes come into the bay to feed, it’s very rare. Whales typically migrate to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, a few miles offshore. You can’t really see whales even from the westernmost shores, including Ocean Beach, the Marin Headlands, or Pigeon Point Lighthouse (one of the coolest lighthouses in California). Your best bet is a whale-watching tour from Pier 39!

Best Fisherman’s Wharf Attractions (Post Summary):

  • San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park
  • Visit Hyde Street Pier
  • Check Out Umbrella Alley
  • See the Sea Lions
  • Walk Around Pier 39
  • Get a Sourdough Bread Bowl at Boudin’s
  • Eat Seafood Around Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Visit Musee Mécanique
  • Get a Famous Irish coffee from The Buena Vista
  • Ghirardelli Square
  • Go to Alcatraz Island
  • Enjoy a Bay Cruise
  • Take a Whale Watching Tour

What is Fisherman’s Wharf famous for?

Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is famous for its historic association with the fishing industry, offering delicious seafood, stunning views, and iconic attractions, including Pier 39 and the departure point for Alcatraz tours.

Is Fisherman’s Wharf worth visiting?

Yes, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is worth visiting. It’s a vibrant and historic area offering delicious seafood, unique shops, and stunning bay views. You can explore iconic attractions, enjoy street performances, and access Alcatraz tours from here, making it a must-visit destination for tourists.

Is Fisherman’s Wharf walkable?

Yes, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is walkable. It’s a compact area, allowing visitors to stroll along the waterfront, explore the shops and attractions, and take in the scenic views of the bay on foot.

What is the famous pier in Fisherman’s Wharf?

Pier 39 is the famous pier in Fisherman’s Wharf, known for its sea lions, shopping, dining, and spectacular bay views, making it a popular tourist destination in San Francisco.

Is Pier 39 safe in San Francisco?

Yes, Pier 39 is safe as is the general area of Fisherman’s Wharf. Pier 39 has their own security too.

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And if you’re doing a larger road trip, be sure to check out all our favorite stops on the San Francisco to San Diego drive too!