15 Best Things to Do in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf
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Fisherman’s Wharf is a true San Francisco treasure—a place where the city’s maritime industry meets history and pleasure.

This small neighborhood is located in the northern waterfront area of the Golden City, and it’s the most visited area in town.

“What’s with all the hype?” you may be wondering.

Well, this area has an endless list of sights to see, activities to try, and things to discover.

From colonies of sea lions to rustic boats, from musical stairs to cable car rides, there’s something for everyone all within a walkable distance.

So for your next vacation, why not make this your top destination?

Here are the 15 best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf:

Bask in the Old-Town Ambiance of Ghirardelli Square

Scenic View of Ghirardelli Square
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On the other end of Fisherman’s Wharf is another well-known destination, the iconic Ghirardelli Square.

It was once a chocolate factory built by Italian immigrants, but it was repurposed into this vibrant attraction, making it the country’s first successful adaptive reuse project.

This landmark is home to many retail shops, local restaurants, and other facilities that combine modernity with the old-fashioned charm of the area.

Scenic View of Ghirardelli Square
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One of the favorite sights here is Andrea, a sculpture of a mermaid in a fountain with her children, serving as a reminder of the oceanside culture of San Francisco.

There are also many dining establishments here that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Most of their recipes are heirlooms, so when you eat in these places, you’d be tasting the same flavors that long-gone residents enjoyed from many decades ago.

See All the Sights of Pier 39

Sea Lions in Pier 39
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No trip to Fisherman’s Wharf would be complete without a stop at Pier 39, a place jampacked with sights and attractions.

It’s on the easternmost edge of the neighborhood, serving as a shopping and entertainment center for both locals and visitors.

People Walking in Pier 39
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One of the most visited facilities here is the Aquarium of the Bay, a zoo filled with various marine animals and plants.

More than 200 species call this place home, including sharks, turtles, shelled creatures, fishes, and otters.

Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze is another favorite destination for those who want to experience a colorful and sometimes bewildering visual treat.

Sea Lions in Pier 39
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If you’re feeling hungry, visit the Pier Market Seafood Restaurant for some great dining options.

Don’t miss the sea lion colony on floating wooden barges on the other end of the pier.

These noisy and curious animals often interact with visitors, so there’s plenty of opportunities to pet these playful creatures.

Relive Your Childhood at Musée Mécanique

Exhibits in Musée Mécanique
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Musée Mécanique is a nostalgic trip to the past—at least, for those still around when arcade games were all the rage.

This destination is a historical landmark in itself, having been established in the 1930s.

It’s a privately owned museum that houses more than 300 penny arcade games and artifacts, making it the largest of its kind in the world.

A Sign in Musée Mécanique
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From pinball machines to arcade video games, you’ll find rows and rows of classic games that will throw you back to your childhood.

Best of all, these machines are not merely for display.

They work just as they did back in the days: just insert a coin and play to your heart’s desire.

It’s a rare treat to get a chance to relive your best memories, so better make the most out of our visit here.

Sleep in the Bunk Beds of USS Pampanito

A Submarine in USS Pampanito
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Once you’re done playing at Musée Mécanique, check out the majestic USS Pampanito that sits right next to the game museum.

This decommissioned submarine took a major role during the Second World War, sinking six Japanese ships and damaging many others.

Today, it now stands (or floats, rather) as a Natural Historic Landmark, with a broom as a flag to indicate its “clean sweep” while on patrol.

A Submarine in USS Pampanito
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The interiors serve as museums that welcome people of all ages.

You’ll get to explore the various parts of the submarine and learn how the whole thing works—a one-of-a-kind experience that you shouldn’t miss!

From the torpedo room to the periscope, there are many things to see and try while touring the submarine.

You can even join the educational program that lets you sleep overnight in one of the many bunk beds!

A Submarine in USS Pampanito
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Tour the Halls of the Cartoon Art Museum

As the only facility of its kind in the US, the Cartoon Art Museum offers a unique and engaging experience that you shouldn’t miss!

This attraction celebrates the history of cartoon art in every genre, style, or movement.

Comic art enthusiasts started it in 1984, and even though it faced relocations and closures, it continues to return and showcase the best cartoon and comics in the modern canon.

Join a tour of the galleries and relive your childhood or discover new franchises to watch!

It’s near Ghirardelli Square, so you can easily find it while exploring the vibrant streets.

Marvel at Unusual Sights at Ripley's Believe It or Not!

View of Ripley's Believe It or Not!
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The world-famous franchise has its own museum here in Fisherman’s Wharf.

So if you’re a fan of the weird, unusual, or mindblowing, then definitely make a stopover at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum.

It has galleries of some of the strangest and most eye-popping collections, such as mindbending illusions, animals with extra limbs, and extraordinary humans.

View of Ripley's Believe It or Not!
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There are also interactive exhibits where you can try your hand at bewildering activities—you won’t even understand what your eyes and ears are sensing.

It’s a thrilling experience for the young and old alike, so make sure it’s part of your itinerary.

Explore San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

View of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
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The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has fleets of historic vessels, a visitor’s center, and a museum—all coming together to give tourists a clear picture of the region’s nautical history.

Located on the shores of Aquatic Cove, this attraction is perfect for history buffs as well as sailing enthusiasts.

View of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
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Some of the ships you’ll see here include C.A. Thayer, a schooner that has been around since the 1890s, Hercules, a hulking steam tug, and Eureka, a steamboat considered as the largest wooden ship in the world still afloat.

On the other hand, the Visitor Center offers more information about the maritime heritage of San Francisco.

There’s even a Fresnel lighthouse lens and a shipwrecked boat displayed here for those who want to get up close to nautical artifacts.

Ride the Iconic Cable Cars

View of Iconic Cable Cars
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Riding a cable car as it slowly traverses the winding and sloping hills of the city is a classic San Francisco experience, so it’s something you shouldn’t miss when in Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Powell-Hyde line is the premier cable car service that goes through this neighborhood, and it’s a scenic and enjoyable ride for all.

There’s also the Powell-Mason line, which brings you right to the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf on Taylor and Bay Streets.

View of Iconic Cable Cars
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Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed a unique experience in the world’s last manually operated cable car system.

Plus, you’d be riding colorful vehicles along with other people who are just as excited with the experience as you are.

It’s a fun way to mingle with the locals and visitors alike.

View of Iconic Cable Cars
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See the Historic Boats at Hyde Street Pier

Entrance of Hyde Street Pier
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This historic ferry pie has been around even before the Golden Gate was constructed, serving as the principal automobile terminal of the surrounding region.

Because of this, the pier became an important destination and has since become a National Historic Landmark.

You can explore the various sights that showcase the naval past of the site on self-guided or docent-led tours.

View of Hyde Street Pier
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The Balclutha, a 19th-century sailing ship, is one among the many vessels on permanent display here.

With its majestic mast, sails, and classic designs, the Balclutha would feel right at home in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

There are also sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay itself at Hyde Street Pier, giving lots of opportunities for sightseeing and photography.

Head to Open Waters and Try Sportsfishing

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to the Bay without actually getting on the water and trying your hand at one of the region’s primary industries: fishing.

And what’s a better place to begin your sea adventure than somewhere that literally has “Fisherman” on its name?

There are many businesses in the neighborhood that offer half-day and whole-day charters for families and friends.

Join one and head over the waters past the Bay and into the Pacific, where a large game is guaranteed.

Most of the charters here can customize their trips according to your skill levels, so even if you are a beginner, you’ll have plenty of fun and an easy angling experience.

You’ll get a chance to catch salmon, halibut, sturgeon, and many other ocean species.

If you’re lucky, you might even bring home a fish that you’d be proud to show off.

Go Swimming at Aquatic Park Cove

A Bird in Aquatic Park Cove
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If you want to try water-related activities while in Fisherman’s Wharf, head over to Aquatic Park Cove.

This enclosed portion of the Bay has calmer and safer waters, so open-water swimming is a favorite activity here.

In addition, you can rent a kayak or a small boat and explore the banks and the deeper waters for a nice and scenic trip.

View of Aquatic Park Cove
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Motorized boats are not allowed for the safety of swimmers, so only ones powered by sails or paddles are permitted.

But if you want to remain dry and escape the bustling crowds on the streets of Fisherman’s Wharf, then you can simply stay on the beach or walk along the Aquatic Park Pier.

You’d be treated to views of Hyde Street Pier and the historical ships anchored here, adding to the overall experience.

Try San Francisco’s Seafood at Franciscan Crab Restaurant

Outside View of Franciscan Crab Restaurant
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While there are plenty of famous restaurants in the neighborhood, the Franciscan Crab Restaurant is as San Franciso as it can get.

Fisherman’s Wharf is known for its Dungeness crabs, large crustaceans with tangy meat that is perfect for your seafood cravings.

Outside View of Franciscan Crab Restaurant
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It’s the main dish here at Franciscan Crab Restaurant, and they’ve been perfecting their recipes since the 1950s.

As a result, their customers can enjoy a wide range of specialty soups, crab cakes, crab legs, and other seafood delights.

And since this is a waterside restaurant, patrons can have their meals while viewing beautiful nautical panoramas.

Take Selfies With Your Idols at Madame Tussauds San Francisco

Outside View of Madame Tussauds San Francisco
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The Madame Tussauds brand has made a name for itself in the past years, and you’ll see why when you visit its facility in San Francisco.

Their wax figures—uncanny lookalikes of famous celebrities, artists, athletes, and other prominent personalities—stand in eerie silence within the halls of the museum.

A Beyonce Wax at Madame Tussauds San Francisco
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You might think that they’re actually breathing.

But they’re definitely not, so feel free to take pictures with your idols!

It’s a unique and memorable experience to include during your vacation.

Other Things to Do Nearby

After your adventures in Fisherman’s Wharf, why not visit these other places nearby?

Ride a Ferry to Alcatraz Island

View of Alcatraz Island
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You might have already spotted this infamous island during your tours of the piers, standing in ominous majesty just less than a mile from Fisherman’s Wharf.

This island is well-known as a prison for some of the worst US criminals in history, an unescapable rock that spells doom for all who find themselves incarcerated here.

But it’s also the site of the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast, as well as numerous other historical landmarks.

View of Alcatraz Island
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Today, it has become a favorite destination for those who are curious about the island’s history.

And apparently, there are a lot of them, as the place receives more than 1.4 million visitors every year.

You can join these throngs of visitors by joining the quick ferry rides from Fisherman’s Wharf.

Once there, take your time to explore the museums, gardens, lookouts, and many other attractions on the island.

Take Pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge

You’re in San Francisco, so it’s almost a requirement to visit and marvel at the magnificence of the Golden Gate bridge.

Having been around since the 1930s, this achievement in engineering also serves as an icon for the city, a world-famous destination that attracts millions of visitors annually.

While it’s visible from Fisherman’s Wharf, you can just drive or commute for a few minutes to reach the best viewing spots.

View of Golden Gate Bridge
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One of the most famous of these lookouts is Hawk Hill, which offers sweeping birds-eye views of the bridge.

During foggy mornings, this hill protrudes from the sea of clouds along with the bridge’s towers, creating a magical landscape that only the most patient can see.

Marshall Beach, on the other hand, offers views of the bridge at sea level.

Since you’re much closer, this place allows you to appreciate the sheer magnitude of engineering and design that was used for this structure.

Final Thoughts

As one of the most-visited places in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf may be too noisy or crowded for some people.

But it isn’t a bustling destination for no reason; the sheer number of things you can do in every street makes your visit worthwhile.

There’s something for everyone, whatever the age, whatever the preference.

So check out this list to get an idea of where to start when visiting Fisherman’s Wharf!