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Discover More at Fisherman's Wharf
San Francisco Beyond the Tee-Shirt Shops

by Tammie Thompson

San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf I'm struggling with the abundance of tee-shirt shops, fast food joints, and sidewalk vendors. I could be a tourist anywhere. But then the pungent odor of fish waifs up from the docks, the fog lifts, and the omnipresent Golden Gate beckons from the distance.

Yes, San Francisco’s Fisherman Wharf is touristy. Yes it's full of tacky shops and even tackier restaurants. But it remains the #1 visitor destination in San Francisco. Why? Because there’s so much more to Fisherman’s Wharf than tee-shirts and fake designer sunglasses – there's a unique and historic area of San Francisco that’s waiting to be discovered.

Have a weekend? Do a little bit of discovery on your own. Some spots not to be missed:

San Francisco, Argonaut Hotel Argonaut Hotel: Based in the historic Haslett Warehouse, adjacent to the old Cannery building, the Argonaut is an oasis in a sea of activity. Original brick, nautical décor, and an upscale ambiance make this boutique hotel a must-stay for Fisherman’s Wharf based discovery. Many rooms look out towards the bay, but even the interior rooms feel nautical with whitewashed furniture, captain style desk chairs and ship inspired fabrics. The KimptonKids program ensures that your young ones will arrive in style, even FIDO can get in on the action – with his own custom bed and pet mini bar. A nightly social hour in the nautical lobby complete with wine, cheese, and kid-friendly beverages is worth a visit. The Argonaut Hotel offers all the amenities of the Kimpton chain – plus that incredible location right in the midst of Fisherman' Wharf.

San Francisco, Maritime Visitor's Center San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor’s Center and Interactive Museum: Right off the lobby of the Argonaut, maritime history comes alive. Kids of all ages will take to the interactive exhibits offering a glimpse into San Francisco’s maritime past. From a shipwrecked boat, to Farallon lens, the exhibits change frequently and are quite educational and worth a visit.

Del Monte Square: Adjacent to the hotel, the Cannery's Del Monte Square, has frequent live entertainment in the courtyard. Kids can run wild among the Olive trees, while you can grab a libation and listen to some music. The hotel's Blue Mermaid restaurant has an outdoor patio, perfect for some people watching over a hearty breakfast or afternoon snack. The Cannery’s shops offer an eclectic collection of arts, crafts, and jewelry. Even if dining or shopping aren’t on your to-do list, the courtyard is a great place to hang out to read the paper or do some people watching.

Good Eats: Dining at Fisherman's Wharf probably won't make the "SF Best Of... " list, but there are some notable spots that won’t break the bank.

  • For a quick breakfast head to Joanie's Happy Days Diner, at the foot of Columbus Avenue. It's fast and affordable with a variety of pancakes, waffles, French Toast, even burritos.

    San Francisco, Ghiradelli
  • Lunch is best on the go. Grab a Crab Louis or Shrimp bowl from one of the vendors at the wharf. Choose a bench overlooking the bay, and dig in – there’s nothing like it; crab is king at the wharf.

  • Tarantino's is a family favorite. White tablecloths, fresh bread on the table, and incredible views of the harbor make it a worthy stop. A bit old school, my grandparents would call it home, nonetheless, it's classic San Francisco wharf fare. They've got a comprehensive children's menu – think outside the chicken finger box, with seafood platters, prawns and varied linguine. Right at the wharf, on Jefferson Street.

  • Dessert: Nothing compares to a hot fudge sundae at Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Worth the wait for a table, go big with "The Earthquake" at $29.95, or settle for something more manageable like the Cable Car sundae or the Golden Gate banana split. Kitty-corner to the wharf, Ghiradelli Square is on the corner of Larkin & Beach streets. Adults may want to skip the sundae in favor of an Irish Coffee at the historic Buena Vista, a half block up on Hyde Street. They serve over 2000 Irish Coffees a day – for good reason! It's worth a peak at this historic saloon.

    Of course, there are hundreds of restaurants in the city. North Beach, home to some of the nation’s finest Italian fare, is just a couple of blocks off the wharf. Check out Rose Pistola for a sophisticated take on rustic Italian pizza and pasta. Or grab an authentic Italian pastry from one of Columbus Street’s bakeries.

    Diversions: Put on your walking shoes as Fisherman’s Wharf and the surrounding area offers up a variety of family activities.

  • Hyde Street Pier is home to a variety of historic ships dating back from the late 1800’s. The park has a Junior Ranger program, earning a badge for participation.
  • A visit to Pier 39 can eat up a day. Young children will love the carousel, older kids, the arcade. There is an aquarium, thriller rides, bike rentals, ferry connections, plus a variety of stores for shopping and browsing. For dining, you can’t go wrong at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant – there’s something for everyone.
  • San Francisco, Pier 39 Sea Lions: While you’re at the pier, make a "must-stop" at the sea lion K-wharf. Hundreds (sometimes up to 900) cavort and play for the in-prompt-to audience. Wildlife docents are available for sea lion education. Kids of all ages love the adorable sea lions – they’re addicting.(** In recent months the sea lions have taken a sabbatical - they've headed north; but you might be able to catch a few hangin' out.)
  • Cable Car: A visit to San Francisco just isn't memorable without a cable car adventure. Two stations are available at Fisherman’s Wharf – the Powell/Hyde Street Line at Hyde Street/Victorian Park; and the Mason/Powell Street Line at Bay Street. It's worth a ride just for the SF scenery.
  • Shopping: A visit to Fisherman's Wharf wouldn't be complete without a tee-shirt or two. Put on your bargaining hat – there are deals to be had.

    For more information on San Franciscos Fisherman's Wharf see FishermansWharf.org . For information on lodging and the Argonaut Hotel see ArgonautHotel.com .

    More on... San Francisco ADVENTURES.

    ......Tammie Thompson lives to travel. It's all about the adventure, whether it’s hiking a local mountain, snorkeling a Caribbean reef, or tasting fresh powder snow. Tammie lives in Truckee, CA with her husband, two adventurous children, and Lola, the Bernese Mountain Dog.

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