Visiting Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a must for anyone looking to explore the city’s famous waterfront. Found at the northern tip of The Embarcadero, this iconic waterfront district showcases San Francisco’s maritime heritage, dating back to the World War II era with the USS Pampanito and SS Jeremiah O’Brien, and the Gold Rush era with Hyde Street Pier. From the captivating sea lions lounging at Pier 39 to the historic Alcatraz Island, there’s no shortage of landmarks to explore.

The Wharf is also a hub of entertainment, boasting street performers, lively restaurants, and unique shops. Whether you’re drawn to its historical significance, stunning waterfront views, or the promise of a fun-filled day of exploration, Fisherman’s Wharf is a quintessential San Francisco experience.

If that’s not enough, the Wharf is also a culinary paradise that beckons food enthusiasts from around the world. It’s renowned for its delectable seafood offerings, including succulent Dungeness crab, piping hot clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls, and an array of freshly caught fish. The dining options here range from casual seafood shacks to upscale waterfront restaurants, ensuring that everyone can find their ideal meal.

While indulging in these mouthwatering dishes, you can enjoy the lively atmosphere and picturesque bay views, making it a memorable dining experience. Whether you’re seeking culinary delights or an exploration of San Francisco’s maritime history, Fisherman’s Wharf promises a memorable and multifaceted journey by the bay.

Quick Answer Guide: 12 Best Things to Do in the Fisherman's Wharf

‌Top Things to Do in Fisherman’s Wharf‌

‌Best Things to Do During the Day in Fisherman’s Wharf‌

‌Best Things to Do Outdoors in Fisherman’s Wharf‌

‌Best Things to Do at Night in Fisherman’s Wharf‌

‌Free Things to Do in Fisherman’s Wharf‌

Top Things to Do in Fisherman’s Wharf

No matter what you’re looking for, Fisherman’s Wharf is bound to have it. The area’s effervescent atmosphere, bounty of fresh seafood, and scenic bay views make it a delightful destination whether you’re visiting with your family, friends, or on a solo trip.

1. Aquarium of the Bay

  • Perfect For:‌ Families and environmentalists
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  • If You Go:‌ Skip the visitor center line and buy your tickets online.

Visiting the Aquarium of the Bay is an immersive underwater adventure that captivates visitors of all ages. Located at the iconic Pier 39, this remarkable aquatic attraction offers a unique opportunity to explore the diverse marine life of the San Francisco Bay Area.

With its tunnel-like, glass-walled exhibits, you can walk beneath the shimmering waters and come face to face with an astonishing array of local sea creatures, including graceful sevengill sharks, playful river otters, and captivating jellyfish. Educational and entertaining, the aquarium provides valuable insights into the delicate ecosystems of the Bay and the importance of conservation efforts, making it a must-visit destination for both nature enthusiasts and families seeking a memorable, interactive experience.

2. Alcatraz Island

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A visit to Alcatraz Island is a journey into San Francisco’s history. Located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, this infamous former federal prison is steeped in tales of notorious inmates, daring escape attempts, and a stark, isolated existence. As you step onto the island, you’re instantly enveloped in the chilling atmosphere of this once-inescapable fortress.

Guided tours lead you through the cellblocks, allowing you to stand in the very cells that once held the likes of outlaws such as Al Capone and “Machine Gun Kelly.” Beyond the prison walls, the island boasts stunning vistas of the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a powerful contrast to the stark reality of life on “The Rock.” Alcatraz Island’s rich history and haunting ambiance make it a compelling and unforgettable destination for history buffs, adventure seekers, and those intrigued by the darker side of American lore.

3. Fresh Seafood

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A seafood lover's paradise, Fisherman’s Wharf boasts an extensive bounty of culinary delights from the Pacific Ocean. If you love seafood or want to try something new, getting a bowl of world-famous cioppino is something you must do in Fisherman's Wharf. At Boudin Bakery, one of the essential places to visit in Fisherman’s Wharf, you can savor the city’s signature clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls, a comforting classic that never disappoints on a foggy day. Dungeness crab, often available in various preparations, is a must-try delicacy, offering sweet and succulent meat. I recommend The Franciscan Crab Restaurant.

Additionally, fresh and flavorful shrimp, scallops, oysters, and lobster are readily available in many restaurants, such as Cioppino’s, Scoma’s, and The Grotto. Whether you prefer your seafood grilled, fried, or in an Italian seafood cioppino stew, Fisherman’s Wharf shares the fresh catch of San Francisco’s fishing boats through a diverse selection of seafood restaurants that cater to every seafood craving, all while you enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and stunning views of the bay.

Best Things to Do During the Day in Fisherman’s Wharf

Wondering what to do in Fisherman's Wharff if you only have a day? Or are you planning a day trip and want the chance to step into the city’s rich maritime past? Check out the diverse range of experiences available through the Wharf’s renowned historical attractions.

4. Musée Mécanique

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  • Perfect For:‌ Nostalgia seekers
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  • If You Go:‌ Admission is free but bring quarters or cash to play some of the 300 plus vintage arcade games.

Visiting Musée Mécanique is one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s like stepping into a nostalgic wonderland of vintage mechanical marvels. If the nearby Madame Tussauds wax museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not take you to the future, Musée Mécanique transports you to the past. Found at Pier 45, this unique museum houses an impressive and diverse collection of antique arcade games, mechanical music boxes, and quirky automations that span generations.

From century-old fortune tellers to old-timey peep-show machines, the exhibits are a captivating blend of artistry and engineering. As you wander through the dimly lit space, the whirring gears and whimsical melodies transport you to a bygone era, evoking a sense of wonder and nostalgia. Musée Mécanique is not just a museum; it's a time capsule that delights visitors of all ages, making it a must-visit attraction for those seeking a dose of vintage charm and entertainment at Fisherman’s Wharf.

5. Cable Cars

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Riding the iconic cable cars is an essential San Francisco experience that embodies the city’s charm and history. These historic wooden cars, dating back to the late 19th century, provide both transportation and a unique way to explore the city’s steep hills and scenic streets. Whether you’re perched on the outside running boards, gripping the cable car’s brass railings, or seated inside, the journey offers breathtaking views of the city’s landmarks, including the sparkling bay, Alcatraz Island, and the bustling streets.

The famous clanging of the bell and the gripmen skillfully navigating the tracks add to the memorable experience. I recommend taking the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason line from the Wharf to the turnaround at Union Square on Market Street if you’d like to see more of the city. Riding cable cars is not just a mode of transportation; it’s a cultural and historical adventure that connects visitors to the city’s rich past and vibrant present, making it a must do in Fisherman’s Wharf.

6. Hyde Street Pier

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Hyde Street Pier, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, is a captivating destination that immerses visitors in the maritime history of San Francisco. This historic pier is home to a remarkable collection of historic ships, including the Balclutha, an impressive square-rigged ship, and the Eureka, an iconic ferryboat. As you stroll along the pier, you can step aboard these beautifully restored vessels, gaining insight into the maritime heritage of the city and the role these ships played in its development.

The museum exhibits and knowledgeable park rangers further enrich the experience, offering a glimpse into the lives of sailors and the significance of these historic vessels. With its picturesque waterfront location and well-preserved maritime treasures, a visit to Hyde Street Pier is a journey back in time that provides a deeper appreciation for San Francisco's seafaring history.

Best Things to Do Outdoors in Fisherman’s Wharf

Want to know what to do in Fisherman’s Wharf and looking for some fun in the San Francisco sun? Fisherman’s Wharf has a number of great options that will get you going — literally!

7. Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals

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  • Perfect For:‌ City cyclists
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  • If You Go:‌ Ask Blazing Saddles staff for recommended routes that fit your itinerary for the day and maximize your time exploring the City.

Renting bikes is one of the best activities in Fisherman's Wharf and is an ideal way to explore the iconic city of San Francisco on two wheels. Several bike rental shops offer excellent options for exploring San Francisco on two wheels, but one of the standout choices is Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals.

Known for their quality bikes, customer service, and prime location, Blazing Saddles offers a variety of rental options, including standard bikes, electric bikes, and even hybrid bikes suitable for all levels of cyclists. With convenient access to the scenic waterfront and bike-friendly paths leading to memorable landmarks like Fort Mason, the Bay Bridge, and across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, Blazing Saddles at Fisherman's Wharf provides an outstanding opportunity to discover the city's beauty at your own pace.

8. GoCar Tours

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GoCar Tours at Fisherman's Wharf offers an exhilarating and unique way to explore San Francisco's renowned landmarks. These tiny, yellow, GPS-guided, two-seater cars provide an interactive and entertaining adventure for tourists. You can enjoy the freedom of self-guided tours while the GoCar’s GPS system narrates the sights along the way, offering interesting facts and historical context.

It's a perfect option for those who want a mix of sightseeing and a bit of adventure in visiting attractions like Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, and even the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. GoCar tours are not only an efficient way to cover a lot of ground in a short time but also a fun and memorable experience that combines the thrill of driving with the joy of discovering San Francisco’s many treasures.

Best Things to Do at Night in Fisherman’s Wharf

The Wharf is a great place to end a long day of sightseeing in the city. Take in the bright city lights as they cascade across the water and satisfy your soul with some of San Francisco’s most delicious desserts.

9. Ghirardelli Square

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  • Perfect For:‌ Chocolate lovers
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  • If You Go:‌ Take your hot chocolate to go and cross the street for a romantic nighttime stroll through the Maritime Garden.

Visiting Ghirardelli Square at night is a delightful and charming experience that adds an extra layer of enchantment to this iconic San Francisco destination. Originally, the site of a chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli, the square today is a unique tourist attraction featuring souvenir shops, restaurants, and most importantly, mouthwatering chocolate of all varieties. As daylight fades, the square’s historic brick buildings and cobblestone pathways come alive with the warm glow of decorative lights. The Ghirardelli sign shines brightly, drawing you in with the promise of sumptuous Ghirardelli chocolate treats.

You can indulge in delectable desserts like hot fudge ice cream sundaes and freshly made chocolates at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop, savoring every bite in the square’s cozy outdoor seating area. Whether you’re strolling the square’s boutique souvenir shops, admiring the architecture, or simply sipping a cup of hot cocoa, Ghirardelli Square at night is one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf and offers a cozy ambiance that’s perfect for winding down and enjoying the sweet pleasures of San Francisco.

10. Night Bay Cruise

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A San Francisco Night Bay Cruise is a magical way to escape the tourist traps and experience the city's glittering skyline after dark. I recommend the Red and White Fleet’s California Sunset Cruise and City Experiences’ San Francisco Signature Dinner Cruise. As the sun sets, these cruises offer a front-row seat to the city’s illuminated landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the twinkling lights of the waterfront.

The tranquil waters of the bay provide a serene backdrop for a leisurely voyage, accompanied by live music and onboard amenities like cocktails and gourmet dining. The cool evening breeze and the breathtaking views create an unforgettable atmosphere, making a nighttime cruise an ideal choice for couples seeking a romantic evening or anyone looking to appreciate the city’s beauty from a unique perspective. It’s an enchanting way to cap off a day of activities in Fisherman's Wharf or San Francisco in general.

Free Things to Do in Fisherman’s Wharf

Saving money to see other parts of the city tomorrow? There are a lot of fun free activities for all to answer that question of what to do in Fisherman's Wharf that don't cost a lot of money.

11. Pier 39

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  • Perfect For:‌ Strollers and people-watchers
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  • If You Go:‌ Walk west along Jefferson Street to Leavenworth Street and you might catch some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most meticulously maintained classic cars and their owners.

Strolling through Pier 39 for free is one of the best things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf and is a delightful way to soak in the captivating sights of San Francisco’s waterfront without spending a dime. As you wander along the wooden planks of this bustling pier, you can relish the invigorating sea breeze, take in the breathtaking views of the bay and Alcatraz Island, and witness the playful antics of the resident sea lions basking on the docks.

The extensive array of street performers and buskers provides impromptu entertainment, and the vibrant shops and boutiques offer an opportunity for window shopping and people-watching. Whether you’re enjoying a leisurely walk, snapping photos of the picturesque surroundings, or simply savoring the lively ambiance, strolling through Pier 39 is a cost-free experience that encapsulates the distinct charm and energy of San Francisco’s waterfront.

12. Aquatic Park Cove

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  • Perfect For:‌ Relaxing by the water
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  • If You Go:‌ Arrive just before sunset and walk down the Aquatic Park Pier for some of the most picturesque views of the shoreline, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Visiting Aquatic Park Cove in San Francisco for free is a serene escape that invites you to unwind and savor the city’s natural beauty without any cost. This historic waterfront area provides an idyllic setting with its crescent-shaped beach, palm trees, and views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. The calm waters of the cove are perfect for a leisurely swim or simply wading along the shoreline. It's one of the most relaxing places to visit in Fisherman's Wharf.

You can enjoy a picturesque walk or jog along the promenade, where benches and grassy areas offer spots for relaxation and picnicking. The Maritime Museum at the park’s western end is also free to enter and showcases the rich maritime history of the region. Whether you’re basking in the sun, taking in the views, or exploring the museum, Aquatic Park Cove provides a peaceful, cost-free respite in the heart of San Francisco.

Fisherman’s Wharf has a little bit of something for everyone and is a colorful portrait of the storied soul of San Francisco. No matter how long you’re in the city, Fisherman’s Wharf should be at the top of anyone’s list of essential destinations.