Top 20 San Francisco attractions

Fisherman's Wharf

The bustling Fisherman's Wharf is on San Francisco’s northern waterfront, attracting 15 million visitors each year.

There's so much to do along the 1-mile waterfront of the Fisherman's Wharf, including popular attractions like Pier 39, Pier 41, Pier 45, Ghirardelli Square and the Aquatic Park.

The historic Fisherman's Wharf was originally settled by Italian fisherman in the early 1900s, and is still a commercial fishing port where restaurants serve fish and crabs fresh off the boat. Many of these restaurants are still owned by third and fourth generation families.

15 best things to do at the Fisherman's Wharf

1. Explore shops, restaurants and theaters at Pier 39.

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

Pier 39 is the most popular destination at the Fisherman's Wharf, and is incredibly busy with beautiful views from waterfront restaurants.  Take advantage of FREE activities like climbing the Piano Steps, observing the noisy seal colony, and watching magicians and clowns at the Center Stage.  Kids will also love the Mirror Maze, and bungee-jumping off a trampoline.

Old Fisherman's WharfSan Francisco Fisherman's WharfFishermans Wharf

You can also visit two cool 7D theaters at Pier 39!  The Flyer theater enables guests to soar above San Francisco’s most famous sights, with motion seats to simulate the sensation of flying.  The 7D Experience theater is perfect for teens and adults, where you can wear 3D glasses, tighten your seat-belt, then shoot laser guns at zombies while sitting in a motion activated chair.

2. Walk along Pier 41 for incredible San Francisco views.

Tour boat in San Francisco harbor

Pier 41 is west of Pier 39, and has incredible views of the San Francisco waterfront and skyline.  Walk to the end of the long pier for unobstructed views of Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge. 

When you reach the end of Pier 41, look back at the San Francisco skyline at iconic sights like Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. 

Can you see the lighthouse near the end of Pier 41, complete with palm trees and a closed down restaurant?  The lighthouse is actually located on a man-made floating island, known as Forbes Island, and was moored to Pier 41. 

3. Visit the fun Aquarium of the Bay.

Visit the Aquarium of the Bay just near the entrance of Pier 39 with touchtanks, sharks, stingrays and more.

4. Play vintage arcade games at Musee Mecanique.

Musee Mecanique is a fun diversion at the entrance of Pier 45 at the Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco, and has a fascinating collection of vintage and arcade games.  There’s also an air-hockey table, foosball table, skeeball, Pacman, fortune telling, and arm wrestling machine.


5. Tour the WWII-era USS Pampanito submarine.

Further along Pier 45, tour the USS Pampanito submarine.  This WWII submarine completed six tours of the Pacific, and 70 crew members and 10 officers once fit inside this small sub!

6. Step onboard the SS Jeremiah O'Brien warship.

The impressive SS Jeremiah O’Brien warship is also open for tours, and was part of the Allied armada that invaded Normandy on D-Day in 1944.

7. Visit cool museums like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

Check out three cool attractions on one block in Jefferson Street, just across from Musee Mecanique.  There's the fun Madame Tussauds wax museum, a collection of oddities at Ripleys Believe it or Not, and a thrilling 60-minute show at the San Francisco Dungeon re-enacting San Francisco's wild past.

8. See FREE museums at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

Visit the free Visitor Center Museum (499 Jefferson Street), at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.  This must-see Visitor Center is housed inside an old cannery warehouse with the award winning Waterfront Exhibit, following the chronological history of the San Francisco Waterfront.

The exhibition starts with the original Native Indian village at nearby Crissy Field.   Try to imagine Crissy Field in a pristine state, before it was transformed into an airfield!

The Fisherman's Wharf was once bustling with Italian fishing boats, like the famous Felucca sailboat. The Italian community established many of Fisherman's Wharfs finest restaurants, and the majority are still here today. 

The gasoline powered Monterey Clipper was introduced by Italian fishing fleets in the late 1960s.

Learn about the dozens of ships that arrived during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, now buried beneath San Francisco’s streets.  Many of the ships were decrepit and abandoned after their long journey around the world to San Francisco.  Some were torn apart and salvaged for building materials on the burgeoning waterfront.  Others were finally buried under landfill when the shoreline was expanded past the mudflats to reach deeper water.

See the gigantic lens from the remote Farallon Island Lighthouse, that warned ships of the rocky islands near the approach to San Francisco Bay.  This lighthouse was first lit in December 1855.

The Visitor Center has an original diving suit on display,with a copper helmet attached to a canvas suit and airhose.  Look at the heavy weights around the waist to keep the diver submerged.

9. Explore historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier.

The Hyde Street Pier (2905 Hyde Street) is across the road from the National Park Visitor Center Museum, and has a fleet of historic ships to tour, including a ferryboat, schooner, steam-tug, paddle-wheeler and steam ferry. 

The highlight is the beautiful 1888 square rigger Balclutha, that has successfully navigated Cape Horn 17 times.

10. Relax at the sandy Aquatic Park Beach.

Travel west and stroll along the paved path of the curved Aquatic Park on Beach Street, and hang out on the sand.  This is the most beautiful beach at Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco!

Enjoy views across the Aquatic Park lagoon, out to Alcatraz Island.  Can you spot the swimmers in the foreground?

11. Visit the FREE San Francisco Maritime Museum.

Step inside the white, nautical themed building that’s home to the Maritime Museum (900 Beach Street).  This FREE visitor center used to be the location of an old bathhouse. 

There are restored WPA-era 1930’s murals on the walls, glass cases with sailboat replicas, and exhibits on sailors’ trades and life at sea.  A haunting photograph in the upstairs gallery shows the crew of a ship that later perished at sea.

12. See the Aquatic Park Pier (now closed).

The 1,600 foot Aquatic Park Pier is now closed, but can be seen jutting out into the bay.

13. Stroll along scenic pathways at historic Fort Mason.

A winding, concrete path leads from the Aquatic Park to historic Fort Mason at the top of the hill.  There's a cafe at the hostel at Fort Mason, dozens of historic buildings, and glorious views from the Great Meadow.

14. Shop and eat at trendy Ghirardelli Square.

Ghirardelli Square is a beautifully preserved old chocolate factory with trendy restaurants and shops.  It has a tasteful internal courtyard with a mermaid fountain and plenty of casual seating.  The rustic San Francisco Brewing Company is a great place for a casual meal, and also has an outdoor patio with fire pits.  Best of all there’s free interactive games like shuffle board, pool, ping pong, corn hole and a foosball table.  The Pub BBQ is another great casual restaurant, with a chic interior.

Stop by the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop (801 Beach Street) for an incredible selection of sweet treats, and indulge in sundaes, fudge, cookies and more. 

15. Play a fun game of Subpar Miniature Golf.

For some serious fun go to the Subpar Miniature Golf, lined with San Francisco landmarks like the Painted Ladies and Crooked Street.

Know before you go

  • Cable Car: Take the Powell-Mason Line, which travels from Union Square to near Pier 39.
  • Parking: Pier 39 Garage (100 Beach Street), or Ghiradelli Square Parking (865 Beach Street).

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