There’s a reason why Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco. Between the incredible views, tasty seafood, and family shops, there are things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf that you can’t do anywhere else!
For those of you that might still be new to all of the amazing offerings our beloved piers provide, we’ve put together a list of some of our personal favorite activities and things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pier 39
- Aquarium of the Bay
- Boudin Bakery
- Irish Coffee Buena Vista Cafe
- USS Pampanito
1. Pier 39
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is almost synonymous with Pier 39, the most popular attraction in the area. First developed as a tourist attraction in 1978, Pier 39 has something for everyone. The prime waterfront location situated along the eastern edge of Fisherman’s Wharf looks out over Alcatraz, Treasure Islands, and Tiburon & Sausalito across the Bay.
The Pier hosts two levels of shopping and dining. Visitors can buy boardwalk favorites like saltwater taffy and candied apples at the Candy Baron or the neighboring Fudge House. On a hot day, Dreyer’s Ice Cream serves up a variety of frozen treats, and on a cold day, nothing beats a cup of joe from Biscoff Coffee alongside a pastry (or 2) from Trish’s Mini Donuts. Several curio shops offer gifts and one-of-a-kind San Francisco curios – an “I Escaped from Alcatraz” t-shirt is always a crowd-pleaser back home.
The Pier hosts a myriad of activities for all types of adventurers. The sea creature merry-go-round and two-story ferris wheel are classic boardwalk attractions. Those who are more adventurous might enjoy Vitality O2 Bar and aqua massage, where guests can get a “water massage” that is hands-free and surprisingly dry (just trust us), or take a peek at the 7-D experience, a motion enabled-3D Arcade.
One of the most popular things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf is on Pier 39 – the swarms of Sea Lions that bask in the sun along what once were boat docks along the western edge of the pier. In 1989, the boats were temporarily removed to refurbish the docks, and sea lions, who had previously occupied Seal Rock on the outer edges of the Bay, moved into the vacated docks. Nothing beats grabbing a snack and watching as these giant beasts, which can weigh upwards of 600lbs, bark, bask, and bicker with each other along the docks of Pier 39.
2. Aquarium of the Bay
Located on the eastern edge of Pier 39, the Aquarium of the Bay houses over 20,000 aquatic animals native to the San Francisco Bay Watershed.
Taking about 90 minutes to explore, the Aquarium’s exhibits include a jellyfish tank, river otters, and a 300-foot acrylic tube that allows guests to walk alongside skates, rays, and sharks native to the Bay.
The Aquarium of the Bay is open every day of the year (except Christmas) from 11 am to 6 pm, and is the perfect way to learn a little about the nature of the Bay, and what makes it such a unique and important part of San Francisco.
Both the Aquarium and Pier 39 are a short walk from GoCar’s Beach Street location and are featured on all GoCar Tours.
3. Boudin Bakery
Sourdough is synonymous with San Francisco, and the most popular brand that started it all, Boudin, is located in Fisherman’s Wharf, a short ride from GoCar’s Beach Street location. The Bakery is the home of Boudin’s “Mother Dough” or the original live cultures that have been propagated and used in their loaves of bread since 1849. Visiting the bakery, and eating at the upscale upstairs restaurant or the more low-key downstairs cafe is one of the most delicious things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Visitors to the Bakery can view bread being made through the 30-foot streetside observation window, and inquisitive minds can talk directly to the bakers through an intercom system. The second floor of the building houses an impressive museum, featuring stories about the company, which was founded during the Gold Rush in San Francisco, and is recognized as the oldest operating company in the city.
No trip to a bakery would be complete without getting something to eat – and Boudin’s has a huge assortment of baked goods that satisfy almost every appetite. Their clam chowder bread bowls are the classic choice, combining San Francisco’s clam chowder and a gigantic bread bowl. Other options are local dungeness crab sandwiches and fresh-baked pastries. The instagrammable “critter breads”, baked into the shape of turtles, bears, and cable cars make for delicious treats and unique souvenirs.
4. Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe
Located on the first floor of an old saloon along Beach Street, the Buena Vista Cafe has been serving meals in Fisherman’s Wharf to tourists and locals alike since 1916. The venerable breakfast joint is also home to the Irish Coffee, a boozy concoction of hot coffee, Irish whiskey and a float of cream dreamed up and popularized by travel writer Stanton Delaplane. Trying this classic San Francisco beverage is one of the most popular things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf.
According to local lore, Delaplane returned to San Francisco from Ireland, and asked Jack Koeppler, then owner of the Buena Vista, to recreate a drink from his travels. After many failed attempts to get the cream to float just right, Delaplane and Koeppler came up with the current recipe (and also reportedly passed out drunk on the cable car tracks that run outside the cafe).
The drink captures San Francisco’s legendary reputation as a boozy, fun-filled town, and instantly warms visitors to the frequently breezy and brisk Fisherman’s Wharf.
Located two blocks from GoCar’s Beach Street location, the Buena Vista will be on the left as you pass the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround. It is a great place to stop once your tour is completed to get warm with an Irish coffee and recount your favorite spots on a GoCar Tour.
5. USS Pampanito
San Francisco’s Maritime Museum, located next to Fisherman’s Wharf and GoCar’s Beach Street location, is an amazing place to soak up some of San Francisco’s unique naval history. From Hyde Street Pier to Pier 45, one of the most exciting things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf is the self-guided audio tours of the USS Pampanito, located at Pier 45.
A WWII submarine that saw 6 tours of the Pacific, the USS Pampanito was built in Connecticut in 1943 and sailed through the Panama Canal to engage in some of the most harrowing battles of WWII. The Pampanito sank 6 enemy ships and damaged 4 more on its tours, and rescued 73 allied POWS, briefly sailing with almost double the recommended amount of sailors on board.
The self-guided audio tour of the ship is a fascinating look at what life might have been like as the submarine traveled below water with 80+men onboard in enemy waters. The audio tour itself is narrated by crew members of the Pampanito and submariners of the era.