What’s the catch of the day at Fisherman’s Wharf? People. But you don’t have to feel lost in the crowd at San Francisco’s busiest tourist attraction, thanks to people like our Featured Stranger, Gabrielle “Gabby” Jones.
When the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Development District invited me for a tour, I was greeted by one of the four ambassadors who patrol the area in bright blue uniforms. She lived up to her nickname with a true gift of gab as we walked the 30-block waterfront area between Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39 on a sunny November day.
“We’re multi-tasking,” she says cheerfully. Since the program started in 2013, the District says ambassadors have collected more than 58,000 pounds of trash and given directions to more than 50,000 tourists. They remove graffiti and address issues with the area’s homeless population, or as Gabby puts it, “We try to build relationships.”
With the skyline as a backdrop, Pier 39 is a sensory overload of food and fun.
Yes, there are a lot of “touristy” things, but District officials say 35% of the 10 to 12 million visitors a year are local Bay Area residents. Gabby grew up across the bay in Berkeley. Like me, she remembers coming here on family outings since she was a kid. Spending 40 hours a week on street patrol in all kinds of weather, she says, “only gets funner.” Here are Gabby’s top tips for a great day on Fisherman’s Wharf:
Sea Lions at Pier 39
Attractions ranging from a carousel to a 7D virtual reality experience compete for your attention. But the sea lions put on a free show that has made them the biggest celebrities on Pier 39. Although considered pests in some California communities, “We love them here!” says Gabby.
People watch sea lions — or is it the other way around — with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
To learn more, walk up one flight of stairs to the Sea Lion Center. Thanks to this free information point, I learned fun facts like how sea lions differ from the seals I saw in the Bay of Kenmare, Ireland. They also count the sea lions every day and look after their health and well-being.
Bike the Bay
Fisherman’s Wharf can be an excellent starting point for a bike ride or a Segway tour. Or take it easy with a Bay Cruiseadventure that offers views of Alcatraz Island and commentary about the prisoners who did hard time there or tried to escape from The Rock. Note: Tours departing from Fisherman’s Wharf do not set foot on the prison island. The boats leaving for the National Park Service tour are docked at Pier 33 and tickets should be reserved in advance.
Pier 39 is a launching point for cruises, bike rides and segway tours with views of Alcatraz.
Eat Seafood and Sourdough
Whatever you decide to do, you’ll work up an appetite. The port of San Francisco has long been a culinary crossroads for immigrants from all over the world. With so many international choices, you should make an effort to seek out the uniquely local tastes, like San Francisco sourdough bread that is still baked daily on Fisherman’s Wharf.
The petite sourdough bread bowl will fill you up!
“Like so many good things, this was a happy accident,” explains Kelli Praught, the friendly general manager of Bistro Boudin. The adjoining museum explains how the Boudin family of French bakers came to San Francisco with the gold rush of 1849 and feared the climate had ruined their “mother dough.” Just the opposite: the wild yeast cultures had created a classic sourdough taste that customers love. You can watch the bakers in action, or just savor the smell of fresh bread.
Upstairs, Bistro Boudin offers an upscale dining experience inspired by sourdough and local seafood. Both crabmeat and chowder are taken seriously here. There is also a collection of artisan wines from Napa, Sonoma and Carmel vineyards, including some that are reasonably priced by the glass. For a more budget-friendly experience, place your order and grab a table at the fast-casual Boudin marketplace on the ground floor.
Terry’s Travel Tips
Getting there: Two cable car lines lead to the Fisherman’s Wharf District. The Powell-Hyde Line ends near Ghiradelli Square, and the Powell-Mason Line ends at Bay Street in Fisherman’s Wharf. A single ride is $7 from a kiosk or online, where a day pass is also available. The pass is also good on the vintage trams. Transportation geeks will enjoy spotting the signs that identify the many different US cities where the tramcars originated.
Staying there: Trip Advisor shows plenty of hotel options in the Fisherman’s Wharf District. If you’d rather not be in the middle of all the action, check out my post on Sutro Heights and the Seal Rock Inn. I stayed at the Ritz Carlton Residences, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Many thanks to the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Development District and Bistro Boudin for sponsoring this post. Research and opinions, as always, are my own. To learn more about partnering with Strangers in the Living Room or pitch a story idea, click here.