Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco California Is A Blatant Tourist Trap

San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf: Tourist Trap

fishermans wharf sf

Fisherman’s Wharf is Hardly a “Hidden Hotspot”…

Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s most popular destination and features the Pier 39 shopping / restuarant mall. A long coastal row of seafood restaurants, clam chowder stands, and souvenir stores is combined with a major fishing pier. The wharf can be reached by cable car from Union Square. Most ferry rides take off from here to scenic Marin County and tours to Alcatraz. While popular, you may want to avoid a stay of over a few hours in Fisherman’s Wharf if you dislike crowds and “tourist traps”. However, Fisherman’s Wharf is great for a 1-2 hour (daytime) stop for fresh sourdough, seafood, and souvenirs for your friends back home. I also love riding on the $25 charter sail boats that leave from the wharf.

Fisherman’s Wharf really sucks, but you’ll go anyway — I guarantee it. Everybody who visits wants to come to this San Francisco landmark gone sour. The best thing is the sea lions on the side of a vile mall called Pier 39. There are a zillion sea lions and they bark and make noise a lot. It’s cool (the sea lions). But this area (the wharf) teems with tourists, crowds, rip-off artists, flim-flam’s, scams, and those extremely annoying people who offer to write you a ticket for having the best smile. Hold onto your wallet here and get out quick. You’ll realize quickly you’ve made a wrong turn, but the temptation to come is almost unavoidable.

Fishermans Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf Central – Junction of Tourism Crowds

Top 5 Reasons Fisherman’s Wharf Sucks:

1.) Crowds, crowds, crowds. Pushy, rude tourists overflow the wharf streets. If you want an intimate or unique experience — this is not the place to go.

2.) Parking: The Fisherman’s Wharf parking charges $6 per hour up to a maximum of $30. There are few or no discount places for parking and street parking is a joke.

3.) Activities: The basic Wharf scam is that people come for the Alcatraz tours, and end up with huge waits (up to all day) – and get stuck shopping and “dining”. Here’s our best tip – you want the boat ride – the shopping is a waste of time and the restaurants………..(see below!)

4.) Awful Food: If I wanted to set up a restaurant to charge the highest prices — for the worst food — with a captive audience — Fisherman’s Wharf would be at the top of my list. If you think you are dealing with a family fisherman’s restaurant taking fish out of the Bay and onto your plate — you’re in for a rude — and expensive awakening. Make sure you know what you’re getting from the clam chowder stands, we review and rank them all.

5.) Scams: From flocks of panhandlers to a variety of questionable charitable organizations; timeshare marketers; etc.; etc. — this is the place to get talked out of your money. Be wary at the Wharf and hold onto your wallet.

Fishermans Wharf Boats

Photo by: Peter McLaughlin

Top 5 Reasons Fisherman’s Wharf is “Awesome”(?):

1.) Sea Lions – The sea lions at Pier 39 are a very cool and totally unique experience. If you are sucked into the wharf – do not miss the sea lions at Pier39.

2.) Boat Tours: The Wharf isn’t the point of why you are there – it is a takeoff point to cruise San Francisco Bay. Don’t waste time at Fisherman’s Wharf without taking an Alcatraz tour or Bay Cruise.

3.) Fresh Street Crab: Vendors selling fresh crab have high prices – but very fresh product. Give it a try – it’s the Wharf’s original attraction for decades.

4.) Convenient Location: The Wharf is convenient to walk from downtown hotels for the very hardy and to a variety of public transit and now historic streetcars. It is also close to other popular attraction neighborhoods like North Beach and the Marina.

Fishermans Wharf Performers

5.) Street Performers: Every kind of music, art, mime, and performance can be seen on the streets of Fisherman’s Wharf — night and day. Performers are creative, clever, and know their audience of throngs of visitors from around the globe. Typically, tips / gratuities are expected (although not mandatory) by the performers who often also sell CD’s, movies, and art.

6.) Breadth of Experiences: They might not all be awesome experiences – but there are a lot of things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf. From boat tours to restaurants to commercialized “museums” and souvenir shopping – there are many things to do there.

Every good thing supposedly attainable here is much better and cheaper elsewhere…. If you want seafood, check out our restaurant reviews. Safeway has great sourdough bread. Parking is beyond horrible. A parking lot is available at very creative prices. Many ferries do leave from here, which is a worthwhile reason to stop briefly.

When you’re ready to fight crowds for ice cream and chocolate – check out Ghiradelli Square and their chocolate shop – located right at the end of the wharf to get your energy pumping again….

R.K. writes on his great experience at the Wharf, “The Wharf is a GOOD place to take tourists, because of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, and the Wax Museum, Ghirardeli Square, the sea lions, the clam chowder in a bread bowl, sidewalk entertainers, and the souvenirs (they don’t burn a hole in your wallet). I agree it’s not an accurate picture of San Francisco, but its a pretty fun place for kids and grownups. And the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz aint half bad!”

sea lions fishermans wharf

Sea Lions Chilling at the Wharf = Very Cool

M.C. writes with an opposing viewpoint, “I disagree with your review of the Wharf. Maybe because I went either early morning (after the Alcatraz tour) or later in the evening, but I thought it was beautiful!!! If it makes me a stupid tourist to be amazed by the fog and the fact that I couldn’t see Alcatraz from a sunny shore, so be it!!! I found it very relaxing as well as amazing to sit and watch the Sea Lions. Unlike New York, where I come from, I found very little gouging of prices on the tacky souvenirs I brought back for friends and family, and even better buys on the nicer things I purchased for myself. (prints, sweatshirts, t-shirts)”.

Recommended Wharf Activities

Fisherman’s Wharf Hotels – Reader Opinions