Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is often called a tourist trap, but I don’t think that’s fair or true. The term ‘tourist trap’ implies that a place was created to attract tourists and rip them off, selling them tacky souvenirs and terrible, overpriced food. Well Yes, there are a lot of silly attractions and tacky souvenirs for sale at Fisherman’s Wharf, but there are also a lot of really great things to see and do there, and many of the best things are either cheap or free.
- Sea lions. On some days, especially in summer, there can be 500 to 1,000 sea lions at Pier 39. Even though I’ve seen the sea lions at Pier 39 a hundred times, I can still spend an hour watching them without getting bored. I think they are fascinating. From the size of the crowds at Pier 39, it seems like a lot of other people think so too. They are not trained sea lions. They don’t do tricks. They spend their time sleeping, barking at each other, quarreling for control of choice real estate, scratching their heads with their flippers, and yawning. They yawn a lot. I think that watching sea lions is the best thing to do at Fisherman’s Wharf, and it’s free.
- ‘F’ streetcars. The ‘F’ line antique streetcars run along the Embarcadero from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf. It is one of 3 great ways to get there. Some tourists wonder if these streetcars are really be as old as the city says they are. They are. These are not reproductions of old streetcars. They are just very well maintained. Riding an ‘F’ streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf costs only $2.
- Oakland ferry. The second great way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf is on the Oakland ferry. On the ride to Pier 41 from Oakland, you get to see wonderful views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and you get to pass under the Bay Bridge. The ferry costs around $5.
- Cable car. The third great way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf is by cable car. Although 2 cable car lines go to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Hyde Street line is the most interesting. It goes up and down the steepest hills and ends at Ghirardelli Square.
- Boudin’s Bakery. Boudin makes the best sourdough bread in San Francisco, and they make a lot of it. You can watch the bakers making sourdough bread shaped like alligators, crabs, turtles, etc. It’s one of many good places to have lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf. Not all the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf are lousy and overpriced, although the number of bad restaurants there admittedly exceeds the number of good ones. But – isn’t that true everywhere?
- Ghirardelli Square ice cream parlor. If there is a better ice cream parlor in San Francisco, I don’t know where it is. They serve ice cream they way it should be served, with generous portions of high quality ice cream in old-fashioned glass ice cream dishes, not styrofoam cups, and covered with whipped cream, not ‘whipped topping.’
- Interesting stores. Some of the stores on Pier 39 are really quite interesting. They are not all tourist junk shops. Among the stores I like are the Houdini magic shop, Chocolate Heaven, Puppets on the Pier, and the NFL / College Shop, which has an astonishingly large selection of sports team clothing. In addition, some of the places on the pier that sell food products make them in their windows, which can be very interesting to watch. Frankly, I have picked up some of my best chocolate-making ideas by watching people making candy in the windows of chocolate stores around Fisherman’s Wharf.