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Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco: A Short Tour

Nearly 16 million people visit San Francisco each year, and more of those people visit Fisherman’s Wharf than any other area of the city. Indeed, as many as 3,000 people per hour walk through the intersection of Jefferson and Powell during the peak season. What makes Fisherman’s Wharf so appealing? Read on to learn more about the Wharf’s main attractions.


Fisherman’s Wharf began in the 19th century as the home of the San Francisco fishing fleet. At one time there were as many as 500 fishing boats, which were coming and going all day long. The Italians and the Chinese were the main rivals in the fishing industry, but due to the high degree of discrimination against the Chinese, the Italians were able to dominate the business. The area between Taylor and Jones Street is now known as the Italian Harbor, and many of the restaurants, such as Scoma’s, Tarantino’s, Alioto’s, and others, are named after their Italian founders.

Pier 39

Pier 39 is the highlight of Fisherman’s Wharf. Pier 39 attractions include 110 shops, 13 restaurants, the Aquarium of the Bay, and the California sea lions. The sea lions are there throughout most of the year. They only leave during their mating season, which takes place over about three weeks from early to late July. Also, if you need to catch a taxi, the Wharf’s main taxi stand is in front of Pier 39’s main entrance.


At present, the Blue and Gold Fleet is the exclusive operator of Alcatraz ferries. All Alcatraz ferries leave from Pier 41. During the summer months, tickets are often sold out as much as a week in advance, so you should purchase your Alcatraz tickets before you arrive in San Francisco.

Boudin Bakery

The Boudin Bakery flagship restaurant is a huge two-story building which houses a demonstration bakery, a restaurant, and a small café. Throughout much of its history, Boudin was secretive about its bread making process. Now, you can watch the bakers at work through the 30-foot window in front of the bakery. Watch as they make bread sculptures of every kind of sea creature imaginable. If you would like to learn even more, Boudin provides guided tours until 5 PM every day. Bistro Boudin on the second floor has outdoor balcony seating, a big-screen TV, and a collection of historical pictures of San Francisco.

Seafood Restaurants

The restaurant industry began in Fisherman’s Wharf in 1916 when Castagnola’s became the first restaurant licensed by the city to sell seafood on the street. Many of the restaurants began as chowder stands serving the fishing fleet. Today, the largest concentration of seafood restaurants on the Wharf is at the end of Taylor Street, next to the Italian Harbor. The best-known Wharf restaurant, Scoma’s, is the busiest restaurant in the entire city. They have their own fishing boat, and they do their own preparation, so you can be sure the fish is fresh. Their specialty is blackened swordfish, which is seasonal. They don’t accept reservations, and it is not uncommon to wait 45 minutes for a table at dinner time during the peak season.

The Cannery

The Cannery was the first building built on Fisherman’s Wharf after the 1906 earthquake. Originally it was a peach canning plant for Del Monte, the largest peach canning plant in the world at that time. After falling into disrepair for many years, the Cannery was bought in 1963 by Leonard V. Martin, a San Francisco lawyer, who reinforced the exterior of the building and completely redesigned the interior to accommodate the shopping complex that is there today. There are no chain stores in the Cannery; each store is one of a kind. The building next to the Cannery, the Haslett Warehouse, originally served as the warehouse for the Cannery, and as living quarters for some of the Cannery workers. The building now houses the Argonaut Hotel.

Ghirardelli Square

The first building built on what is now Ghirardelli Square was the Woolen Mill, which housed the Pioneer Woolen Mill. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the owner of the woolen mill had to fire his Chinese workers, and he went out of business. Ghirardelli and his sons bought the building in 1892 and moved their chocolate factory to it. The other buildings of Ghirardelli Square were built over the next thirty years as the chocolate factory expanded. In the 1950’s the factory moved across the bay to San Leandro. The owners, wanting to preserve these historic buildings, converted the square into a shopping complex, the first shopping complex built on Fisherman’s Wharf, which was completed in 1964.

As you can see, there are many things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf. There is a great deal of history on the streets, and on your next trip to San Francisco, we recommend that you visit the Wharf and have a look.

About the Author: Brian Geisler has been a pedicab driver at Fishermen’s wharf since 1996, and has lived in the Bay area for 32 years.
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