Whether young or old, native to the San Francisco Bay Area or not, the infamous sight of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge standing proud, the bark of sea lions and the smell of clam chowder along Fisherman’s Wharf are quintessential San Francisco elements waiting to be experienced again and again. With something for everyone, it’s no wonder Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s top attractions. This guide will help you capture the whimsical feeling of being young again, in addition to crafting the perfect San Francisco day with your family.
photo: Fisherman’s Wharf
What to Do
With a rich history, Ghirardelli Square – located on the western edge of Fisherman’s Wharf – is a beacon of trendsetting shops, restaurants, and of course chocolate. As of June, also miniature golf. Subpar Miniature Golf features iconic San Francisco monuments and destinations like the Painted Ladies, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and the Giant’s Stadium. You’ll be able to share a geography lesson with your little golfers, as well as hearty fun – without fretting about destroying historic relics, with all of those missed pars – while putting all 18 holes.
Miniature golf while munching and drinking? Sure! Their menu includes small bites, pizza, sandwiches, salads and drinks (even the adult kind) with cup holders at every hole! With comfy chairs outside to enjoy the northern views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, you don’t have to go far after your game to relax. Take note parents, Subpar is open until 10 p.m. for date nights, work parties, or simply a night out on the town. Whether you need to brush up on your golfing skills, quench your thirst, or feed a hungry belly, Subpar is a hole-in-one.
After warming up with miniature golf, venture out a few steps to the arcade across from Subpar’s front door. Teach your kids favorite games from your childhood, like the classic skee-ball and air hockey, or race them down international streets in Raw Thrills, a modern car racing video game.
Before moving on, take a pit-stop to re-energize with a bite of chocolate at one of three Ghirardelli chocolate shops within the Square before letting your child get creative in the Culinary Artistas kitchen where they will learn to make their own food and eat it too! While your kids are exploring their foodie side, explore your own at The Cheese School, a unique independent institution featuring a cheese school, cafe, event space, cheese shop and catering.
Practically across the street from Ghirardelli Square is Aquatic Park. If you need a respite from the day’s adventures, curl your toes in the sand and be mesmerized by the crashing waves and bobbing boats. The calm waters are also a delight for daring children who want to take a dip in the cool Bay.
Before moving on, take a gander at the showcase of eccentric street performers around the Powell-Hyde Cable Car Turntable. Often overlooked, this busy spot is quite relaxing. Enjoy the sunshine (hopefully) and fresh air while witnessing funny and fantastically free entertainment, not to mention watching history in action with the 150-year-old cable cars. Any young one fascinated by planes, trains and automobiles will love watching the cable cars in action.
Next, take a leisurely stroll to Madame Tussaud’s to dive into four different experiences—two of which are new, as of this summer. Meet your favorite stars and heroes of days old and new: sit proud and tall with Abraham Lincoln or test your moves alongside Steph Curry; cozy up to Al Capone and dance with Michael Jackson. The excitement and wonder of rubbing elbows with your favorite idol is most certainly not only for the young.
After meeting about half of our history’s leaders, step into the new Virtual Room, “Be a Hero.” This journey for the 12-and-older crowd, allows you to travel through time and space to experience daring adventures such as roaming with dinosaurs, diving to the depths of the ocean and traveling to outer space.
photo: Kate Loweth
Once you’ve geeked out on stardom and saved the world, test your puzzle solving skills at “Alcatraz – The Breakout” Escape Room. Think you have what it takes to decipher clues and escape in 60 minutes? Hopefully your brought the right gang with you to get out!
Continue to the San Francisco Dungeon, next door, to live and breathe through 200 years of San Francisco’s dark and notorious past in this live attraction. Recommended for 6th graders and above, this experience will bring to life the Gold Rush, the gangs of San Francisco and the Chinatown plague, to name a few.
Nearby, on Pier 45, walking through the doors of Musee Mecanique is truly like traveling to a different era. As one of the largest privately owned collections of antique arcade machines, musical instruments and modern video games, the museum will entertain and delight for hours. Be sure not to leave without getting your fortune told by Grandmother.
No trip to Fisherman’s Wharf is complete without visiting the eclectic Pier 39. With a bounty of dining experiences, The Aquarium of the Bay, shopping treasures to be found and up-close-and-personal introductions with noisy sea lions, you could spend countless hours along the Pier uncovering it’s gems. Read our Pier 39 guide here.
Where to Eat
The San Francisco Brewing Co. may specialize in small batch, craft brewing, yet this restaurant offers plenty of delights for kids of all ages. Play Russian roulette with your shishito peppers, play it safe with a burger, or try the tasty fish tacos. Skip the pub fare entirely and opt to play a family game of shuffleboard or pool, or cozy up outside next to a fire pit in the beer garden. Whether you’re beginning or ending your day at Ghirardelli Square, the San Francisco Brewing Co. meets all your needs, offering a relaxing, playful, delicious stop. They also win points for some neat bathroom sinks.
If a warm drink is more your speed on one of those famous foggy, crisp San Francisco days, head to the corner of Hyde and Beach Street for a world-famous Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista Cafe. This recipe has been around since 1952 and they don’t have any plans on retiring it.
Step out of the crowds and head upstairs above the famed Boudin at the Wharf flagship store to dine at Boudin Bistro. Enjoy seafood specialties like crab and corn bisque served in a Boudin bread bowl. Kids can get their soup in a turtle-shaped bread bowl or opt for the always tasty sourdough pizza. Take a break from running around and enjoy the views of the Bay!
Looking for a familiar snack, quick? Head to In-N-Out. Smack dab in the middle of it all, you can refuel quickly and be on your way to your next stop. However, if your sidekicks are a little more adventurous and love taco Tuesdays any day of the week, Taqueria El Farolito, located on Beach St., is the sister site to the one in the Mission. Serving the same favorite al pastor that we all love.
Where to Shop
If shopping is more in line with your activities, the shopping adventure within Ghirardelli Square will take you from children’s books and unique trinkets to creative boutique finds at Gigi + Rose (two separate stores—one for children upstairs and one for women downstairs) to quirky stationary and California inspired gifts at Lola.
Although not set up so much for little hands, apothecary and beautiful lifestyle goods at elizabeth W will inspire the gift giver and wannabe Joanna Gaines in you.
Closer to Pier 39, (and if you’re feeling a little grimy after the San Francisco Dungeon experience), stop by Lush to wash off the dirt and refresh with handmade cosmetics.
photo: Argonaut Hotel
Make it a Staycation
Photos by the author except where noted.