Local SFers… aren’t usually the biggest fans of Fisherman’s Wharf. To them…
It’s smelly. (It really is.)
It’s a tourist trap. (It is full of tourists…)
It’s not worth the visit….
But to me, it is. It is soworth the visit.
Here’s why I love Fisherman’s Wharf so much.
I love being able to go there and walk around knowing I won’t see anyone I know. Because everyone I know who lives in SF, is not hanging around Fisherman’s Wharf. They just… don’t go there. So to me, it’s a little corner of the city that I can escape to where I feel a little freer than usual. It’s a spot where I can go when the day has just turned to shit and I just need to get out and walk around with my headphones in– somewhere to go and just sink into the city. A place where I don’t have to worry about my appearance or attire at the time. Again…chance of seeing people I know? Quite unlikely.
When I’m genuinely upset or sad… I need to walk. Just get out and walk and be with my thoughts. When my Grandma passed away, when I had to get out but still wanted to be alone… I can guarantee you I wasn’t walking up and down Union Street, or in North Beach, or in the Mission, or SoMa.. I retreated to Fisherman’s Wharf. Because there, I felt safe knowing that my “was that chick just crying?” face would not be seen by an acquaintance whom I promise I would NOT have wanted to talk to in the moment. That neighborhood offered me a place to hide away but still get outside.
Fisherman’s Wharf gives me some kind of calm. I love seeing all the boats lined up together. The barks of the seals. I love seeing the faces of families who are visiting, tourists… sure, but you see how happy they are to just BE in San Francisco. It kind of gives you a reminder that, Whoa, I actually LIVE in a city where people go to escape and make real life memories. With all the complaining that can happen in San Francisco (the rent’s too high, the traffic sucks) I like moments that say… Oh, but it’s worth it. Isn’t it? Moments as simple as a person’s face full of wonder as they watch the cable cars go by. I enjoy that so much.
Because it’s so touristy, we often forget the history Fisherman’s Wharf holds within our beautiful city. It’s still home to many fishermen’s work today. But back in the 1800s? Oh it really was a HUGE fishing industry. And all the Italian fisherman back then started moving into North Beach -close to the wharf- which then became our own “Little Italy”… so do we owe that hood to Fisherman’s Wharf? I don’t know, but likely! 😛 (I sincerely love North Beach as well.)
Fisherman’s Wharf holds history of our military (Maritime Museum), and that’s something to honor. I like thinking about what it was like back then. All of those handsome sailors walking around- all the citizens so proud of them and thankful for their service. How excited they must have been to be docked and back into the city. And San Francisco of all cities… what a magical place to come home to! Can you imagine pulling up in your big ass ship after WAR and seeing that bridge? I bet it never looked so beautiful to someone.
In this neighborhood also sits the U.S Pampanito- an old Navy war submarine from World War II. This ship may seem like a simple “tourist attraction” but take that tour today with someone who had family on that ship and you’ll see it serving far more purpose than a mere attraction. My Grandfather was a sonar operator on that ship, and watching my Dad tour the Pampanito was something incredibly personal and special. The way he touched the walls as he walked through, poking his head in every nook and cranny. Just imaging his Dad at work ~70 years ago. Feeling connected to him… proud of him. Such a cool thing to see.
My Grandfather had lived in San Francisco for 33 years. 1939 to 1972. My Dad recalls an old Fisherman’s Wharf: “when there were no street performers yet, it was more laid back…” him and my Grandfather loved this part of the city. They’d go and have lunch, then hang out at the beach. Times have changed… but the neighborhood still holds memories. I envision it without the In-N-Out, without the giant ROSS… I walk through and I imagine it 50+ years ago. There’s actually something really enchanting about it.
But today, there is something about those street performers that I gladly welcome. Because they are often so quirky- and San Francisco is, among many things, quirky. But then some of the performers are so full of soul. Opposite end of the spectrum. Like that one singer with the glorious Frank Sinatra voice… what’s his name? (Just googled him) Matthew Stewart. Ohhh Matthew Stewart. Once, on an extra cold night, I stood around like a total creep (solo… by myself) and watched him play for at least 5 songs straight. Well after the crowd had left. That dude puts some serious rhythm and blues into Fisherman’s Wharf. He’s so good. And when I hear him playing… it just romances the scene. And I only ever see him performing at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Just like the Mission has all the best ice cream spots, Fisherman’s Wharf has THEE clam chowder bowls. That perfect sourdough bread… the locally famous seafood restaurants. I can’t help but really love this because ever since I was a little girl and my family would venture into the city, I knew going into SF meant stopping by Fisherman’s Wharf for some bomb ass clam chowder. I mean.. for that reason alone, you can’t knock this neighborhood.
And then there is the Balclutha. At the end of Fisherman’s Wharf. Where I love to stand on the dock and take in the view of the ship’s beautiful colors… only to turn and see the staple Ghirardelli sign, brightly lit and overlooking the bay. Then you turn again and see one of the most glorious views of the Golden Gate Bridge in arguably all of San Francisco. One that so many SFers have yet to take advantage of. The end of Fisherman’s Wharf is truly a wonderful place to just sit and “be.”
I know I’m not supposed to like Fisherman’s Wharf. I’m supposed to abhor anything overly touristy in the city. But for the memories, the escapism it provides, the simple pleasures like sea lions barking and a warm bread bowl… I just can’t discount this neighborhood as anything less than the others. I love it too much. Bumping shoulders with tourists will never change that for me.
Photo by: Daniel Fabia