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At San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, history, culture, and ethnic pride form a distinctive blend that gives it a strength and vitality all its own.
From the Gold Rush days until the turn of the century, the city's fishing fleet was composed of lateen-rigged sailboats known as "feluccas", copies of the crafts the Italian fisherman used in their native land. Having no luck in the quest for gold, the Italian immigrants were much more skillful at the seafood trade. Today, the fishing fleet and many of the Wharf's internationally-acclaimed restaurants are operated by the grandsons and great-grandsons of these past generations of hardworking folk.
Things to do:
Hyde Street Pier, Pampanito, & Maritime Museum
Ever wonder what it was like to live 20,000 leagues under the sea? Then climb aboard the U.S.S. Pampanito, a fully restored World War II submarine that offers visitors an inside perspective on torpedoes, compact crew quarters, and a super-efficient control room. A self-guided audio tour narrated by WWII submarine Captain Edward Beach is included in admission. Open daily 9am-6pm (Summer till 8pm) Fri-Sat 8pm year round at Pier 45. 415.775.1943.
Explore the nooks and crannies of the world's largest collection of historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier, America's only floating National Historic Park. Home to the 1886 square-rigging sailing ship Balclutha, the three-masted 1895 lumber schooner C.A. Thayer and the 1890 ferryboat Eureka, the pier provides ranger-guided tours and hands-on demonstrations. Just a short walk from the Maritime Museum at Hyde and Jefferson Streets. Open daily, 9:30am-5pm. Information: 415.556.3002.
The Maritime Museum is housed in an historic art deco "streamline moderne" structure resembling a cruise ship. The museum features ship models, authentic figureheads, paintings and artifacts from life at sea. Permanent exhibitions include a history of West Coast steam navigation, unique WPA murals and WPA murals depicting an artistic interpretation of Atlantis. Located at the foot of Polk Street. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Admission is free. 415.556.3002.
Alcatraz sits isolated amidst the cold winds of the bay. Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala named this foreboding rock for the pelicans nesting there. This infamous island, the subject of legend, lore and a few Hollywood movies, once held scores of prisoners incarcerated above its cliffs. First used as a prison by the U.S. Army during the Civil War, "The Rock" became a maximum security penitentiary in 1934. Many notorious criminals did time on this harsh island, such as mobster Al Capone and bank robber Leon "Whitey" Thompson. Numerous escapes were attempted, though there is no evidence that anyone ever made it through the icy, shark-infested waters to freedom. The prison closed in 1964 due to prohibitive operating costs, and was taken over by a group of Native American protesters until 1971. The crumbling ruins are now one of the Bay Area's most popular visitor stops. It's a tour you won't soon forget! Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes and bring a jacket. Book Tours here
Some of the loveliest views of San Francisco are enjoyed from the deck of a cruise boat on The Bay. Red & White Fleet at PIER 43 1/2 offers relaxing narrated Bay Cruises. Blue & Gold Fleet at Pier 39 & Pier 41 depart for Angel Island as well as ferries to Sausalito and Tiburon several times daily. They also feature Bay Cruises and fery service to the East bay.
For the ultimate Wharf experience, take a stroll down Taylor or Jefferson Street and order up a fresh Dungeness crab from one the vendors with the big steaming cauldrons. Don't worry when he cracks your crab with his mallet and opens it on the counter - it's a tradition that began at the turn of the century when fisherman Tomaso Castagnola offered fresh catches to the tourists who came down to see the colorful fishing fleet. Folks have enjoyed the "show" ever since. No utensils necessary.
At the time of the San Francisco Gold Rush, French baker Isidore Boudin created a tart, tasty loaf of bread that had a distinctive crust and a chewy, soft heart. 150 years later, his recipe lives on. Instead of yeast, it is the bacteria from yogurt that makes sourdough rise. Boudin's first sourdough was made with the same strain of bacteria used in the Boudin bakeries today. All sourdough bakers use a bit of the previous day's mother dough, keeping the distinctive flavor of San Francisco's sourdough bread consistent throughout the decades. Boudin Bakery has three locations in the Wharf.
The Wharf that remembers and honors the men and women who battled brutal waves and freezing winds to bring us delicacies from the sea -- many of those brave souls lost their lives in the process. The Fishermen's and Seamen's Memorial Chapel, housed adjacent to Pier 45, holds a diverse collection of plaques, banners and flags that represent the diverse religions that use the turn-of-the-century-style building.
Cable Cars & F-Line
No visit to San Francisco is complete without taking a ride on a clanging cable car. When London-born engineer Andrew Hallidie invented this form of transportation in 1873, no one believed they could work ("there's no engine, after all!"). The cable car is pulled by a steel cable embedded in the street. The speed of the car depends on the speed of the cable, always 9.5 miles an hour, never more, never less. There are three cable car lines: Powell-Hyde is the most scenic, offering magnificent panoramic views of the city and bay. It begins at Aquatic Park and ends up a bit past Union Square at Powell & Market. Powell-Mason runs over Nob Hill and turns around in Fisherman's Wharf; this is the line you want if you're headed for North Beach, Chinatown or the Cable Car Museum. The California line runs from California & Market in the Financial District to Van Ness Avenue. Fares are $6 each way. Information: 415.673.6864 San Francisco's newest streetcar line is the F-line. The F-line stretches 5 miles linking Fisherman's Wharf, Downtown, The Civic Center, and the vibrant Castro District. The F-line was dedicated with 17 newly restored PCC trolleys representing cities from around the U.S. and several historical trolleys from around the world. Look for the bright colored cars on the streets of San Francisco. The F-line operates 365 days a year from 6 a.m. to about 1 a.m. Adults: $2.00; Youths (ages 5-17): 50 cents. Information: 415.673.6864
Fisherman's Wharf Interpretive Sign Tour
Tthe Port of San Francisco has installed 30 signs for a memorable self-guided walking tour of Fisherman's Wharf. Fun to read and informative, each display explains the history and current workings of the fishing industry, geographical information and other highlights of this vibrant area.
Parking & Muni Bus
Parking can be difficult in The Wharf with its limited hourly spots. On the street, pay attention to the signs and curb colors. Curb wheels on hills - wheels into the curb when parking downhill and out for uphill. Pedestrians and Cable Cars have the right of way.
The San Francisco Municipal Railway - MUNI - offers many ways to get around the city: buses, streetcars, Metro (underground). Adult Fare: $2, Cable Car Fare $6. Lines 19-Polk, 30-Stockton, 42, 15 & F-Line will deliver you to the Wharf. MUNI discount passes are "Passports" that entitle riders to unlimited rides on Cable Cars, Buses & F-Line. MUNI Information: 415.673.6864. Or get a MUNI Passport as part of CityPass.
Fog & Weather
Did you know that the San Francisco Bay is actually an estuary, a mix of salt and fresh water? Sixteen rivers ety into it and flow out past the mouth of the Golden Gate into the Pacific. It is this great body of water that's responsible for our famous fog: A northwesterly wind blows in off the coast, whipping up the California Current. The cold, deeper water mixes with the warm air on the surface and forms a frothy fog that rolls in off the Bay like a magical floating blanket. Higher temperatures draw the fog inland, over the coastal ridges and into the valleys. In summer, when the Central Valley really heats up, the fog has been known to linger on the shore for days.
Dressing in layers is always a wise decision in San Francisco, since its 49 square miles contain as many different kinds of weather as there are boats in the marina. The Mediterranean climate means the warmest months are August and September, though most of the time it's just predictably unpredictable. As Mark Twain once observed, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
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