Now don’t give me the whole “locals don’t do Fisherman’s Wharf” thing. You know you secretly love the touristy stuff as much as your vacationing cousin from Poughkeepsie does. So even if he’s not visiting, it’s perfectly OK to grab a bowl o’ chowder and enjoy the classic fun on your own.
Here are some must-do, must-see spots along the main drag of Jefferson Street:
Historic seafood stands
The bay side of Jefferson is the more-or-less authentic Fisherman’s Wharf, what with all the, well, fishermen. Breathe in the smell of fresh fish and sea breeze, watch shivers of light dance across the hulls of small fishing boats and wander the sidewalk seafood stands with their vats of live crab and seafood cocktails — with classic cocktail sauce, of course — and bowls of clam chowder, fried seafood and shrimp-salad sandwiches.
Get taunted by a bawdy Laughing Sal, spin a toothpick Ferris wheel, have your fortune told or play the French Execution booth, where little mechanical dolls behead another little mechanical doll. It’s all in good fun at the Musee, a collection of more than 300 vintage, coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in original working condition. You can actually play them for, like, a quarter (fear not, they have change machines), and admission is free.
Details: Pier 45 at the foot of Taylor Street, www.museemecaniquesf.com.
Not long after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake shook things up, boisterous and oft-odoriferous pinnipeds — a.k.a. sea lions — laid claim to the docks at Pier 39’s K-Dock as their official sunbathing turf. Each winter, the population increases to nearly 900 sea lions, drawing crowds of camera-bearing humans as they lounge and occasionally lunge at each other (the sea lions, not the humans, that is). Get a sneak peek via the sea lion webcam at www.pier39.com/the-sea-lion-story/sea-lion-webcam/.
Wax museum & dungeon
Get up close and almost personal with everyone from Michael Jackson and Leonardo di Caprio to Grumpy Cat and Groot in their wonderful wax likenesses at Madame Tussauds wax museum, which now includes an escape room and a virtual-reality experience as well as the famous statues. Then head next door to the San Francisco Dungeon, an immersive actor-led attraction through the city’s dark past. You’ll encounter ghosts of grizzled Gold Rush prospectors, Barbary Coast baddies and Alcatraz inmates.
Details: Tickets for the individual attractions start at $25; Madame Tussauds and Dungeon packages start at $30. Both at 145 Jefferson St.; www.madametussauds.com/san-francisco, www.thedungeons.com/san-francisco.
Just across from Ghirardelli Square, check out the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where you can tour the historic ships docked at Hyde Street Pier, such as the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, and the Maritime Museum in the supercool Aquatic Park Bathhouse building, a 1939 Art Deco-offshoot style that looks like an ocean liner for landlubbers.
Details: Near the Hyde Street end of Jefferson Street; www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm