Fisherman's Wharf/ Pier 39/ Embarcadero/ Ferry Building
Whether you're visiting for the weekend, or get to call The City home, eventually you'll come face to face with a pretty big dilemma: go see the old, cliche tourist attraction OR venture out of the box and try something new! Even if you've a born and raised local, you've been confronted with an out of town guest who just HAS to go to Fisherman's Wharf. Below you'll find a few tips and tricks that will let you skip the tourist traps, and give you a true San Francisco experience. For me, these aren't just things to do when friends are in tow--they're actually a great way to enjoy a sunny Saturday in The City! Plus--everyone should occasionally take a day and be a tourist in their own city.
SKIP--Long lines, Disney-esque colors, pastel SF sweatshirts, national chain restaurants, and mediocre seafood make up the majority of this tourist mainstay. Sure, you'll find some loud sea lions, a hot sourdough breadbowl full of clam chowder, and a view of The Bay, but Fisherman's Wharf is one of the few places in The City that locals activly avoid.
Instead, check out the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday morning, grab some free samples, and don't miss the cute, local stores inside! There are countless fresh, excellent options food-wise. From oysters at Hog Island Oyster Depot to upscale Vietnamese at Slanted Door, there's something for everyone. During the Farmer's Market, be sure to check out all the food trucks and tents behind the building. You can get almost anything to eat, and it's all amazing. Inside, don't miss Blue Bottle Coffee, sweet French treats at Miette (I LOVE the macarons and won't say no to an old-fashioned cupcake), chocolate samples from Dandelion Chocolate Company, and Far West Fungi, where you'll find a huge array of specialized mushrooms and fungi products. Heath Ceramics has a small store full of beautiful pottery, and The Gardener has amazing gifts and artisan goods.
After you've seen/eaten your fill, venture north along the Embarcadero (turn right as you leave). There's a path that runs behind the next few buildings and right along The Bay. The views are spectacular, there are SF quotes along the railing, and colorful hanging planters line the path. Once the path ends, you can venture out onto Pier 7 for an awesome view back at The City and the Bay Bridge. Keep heading north, on foot, pedi-cab or on the historic E or F Line street cars (just remember they're cash only and don't make change). Enjoy the views up to Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill before you get to Pier 23 Cafe. This restaurant/bar is right on The Bay, and is a historic SF watering hole. Get a Bloody Mary and some oysters and grab a table outside.
If you're more in the mood for dinner with a view, the Embarcadero offers many options with awesome food and Bay views. If you're on a budget, keep a look out for weekday happy hour specials. Epic Roasthouse has great steaks, a cozy bar, and awesome views of the Bay Bridge. Nextdoor, Waterbar offers super fresh seafood, oysters and a beautiful interior. Further south, Red's Java House and the Hi Dive both offer waterside food and drinks, and have both been there for ages.
If you have to go to Fisherman's Wharf, check out the Musee Mecanique, where historic arcade games abound, or the historic boats at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The Exploratorium is nearby, and offers things to do for both kids and adults. Alcatraz is a unique, creepy experience, but be sure to book you tickets in advance as they sell out fast.
Finally, grab a blanket and a jacket and catch a sunset at Fort Mason Green while the fog rolls in under the Golden Gate and the fog horns echo in the distance.
Did I miss one of your favorite spots? Get something wrong? Let me know in the comments!