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Waterfront Entertainment

 Fisherman’s Wharf
Aquarium of the Bay on Fisherman’s Wharf
Sea lions on Pier 39
Maze on Fisherman’s Wharf
Sculpture on Pier 39

T photography / f11photo / Jeff Whyte / bluebeat76 / Jeff Whyte /

San Francisco’s family entertainment focuses on a popular and bustling district: Fisherman’s Wharf. Everything is related to the sea, from the restaurants to the souvenirs.
Under the pier are the remains of buildings that were destroyed by the fire and earthquake of 1906. But the people of Fisherman’s Wharf picked themselves up, and built a new space that left no room for tragedy. Driven by the love of the sea of the ancient fishermen in the area, the result was this tourist attraction with all its seafaring charm.

The district consists of several streets, all facing the bay, and extends from Ghirardelli Square, and Van Ness Avenue, to Pier 35 and Kearny Street. There are many interesting sites in this part of the city, including the Cannery, a historic location now a mall with shops and restaurants, the Maritime National Historical Park and Ghirardelli Square, with its chocolate factory. Among the museums is the famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a tribute to an old documentary series of the same name about strange occurrences, and the Musée Mécanique, which is free and exhibits mechanical musical instruments and old arcade games. And then there is the inimitable Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where there are endless possibilities for selfies with celebrities and sport personalities, as well as reproductions of the city’s historic figures, like Al Capone in his cell at Alcatraz, and Harvey Milk.

The wide variety of restaurants are in keeping with its close relationship to the seafaring tradition that prevails. Some family businesses have been here for decades, for example, Alioto’s, at 8 Fisherman’s Wharf since 1925, and Pompei’s Grotto, founded in 1946 at 340 d Jefferson Street. Forbes Island is a French-style floating restaurant that opens only from 17:00 to 21:00. It’s practically an obligation at any of these establishments to try the chowder in a bread bowl, typical of the local gastronomy. The same kind of sourdough bread can be bought at the Boudin bakery chain, also on Jefferson Street.

Pier 39 is perhaps the most iconic place on the Wharf. The marina was opened in 1978 and has since been converted into a shopping precinct and one of the city’s major tourist draws. There are attractions all along the pier, including a carousel, street entertainment and, above all, a community of hundreds of sea lions. One of the shops on Pier 39 is essential for a large percentage of the world’s population: Lefty’s, a retail outlet for left-handers. You’ll also find Puppets on The Pier, with more than 500 models of comical puppets including animals and cartoon characters like Pinocchio. There are jewellery stores like S. F. Gold and Pearl Factory, with real pearls from Hawaian oysters, and one of the most popular businesses, the San Francisco Salt Company, which manufactures and sells artisanal bath salts in 24 different scents.

Shops are open every day of the week, from around 10:00 to 20:00, and the Wharf is very easy to get to: just take line F of the historic cable car, (Market and Wharves), to Jefferson and Taylor; or the bus to Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39, or of course, the ferry. The Blue & Gold Fleet company has been running cruises from the Wharf since the 1970s.

The Sea Lions that Came to Stay

One of the favourite activities of visitors to Pier 39 is watching the colony of 500 sea lions sunbathing indifferently across from the wooden pier. They arrived in droves after the 1989 earthquake and survive thanks to the plentiful supply of fish in the bay. The Sea Lion Center, right on the pier, has everything sea lion, including interactive displays and presentations. Opening hours are 10:00 to 17:00. There is also a souvenir shop where, instead of a live one, you can pick up a furry sea lion to take home as a souvenir.

Attractions for All Tastes

Fisherman’s Wharf is a lot like a waterfront amusement park. One of the attractions is Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, a colourful maze of mirrors that will challenge you to find your way out. Entrance costs 5 dollars and it opens every day from 10:00. And there’s more: the Musical Stairs, where every step plays a note; 7D Experience, a theatre with a massive movie screen and 3D technology, and the traditional carousel, decorated with hand-painted images of the city.