What Is Fisherman's Wharf?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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Fisherman's Wharf is a tourist attraction found on the waterfront of San Francisco, California. In the 19th century, immigrant fisherman from Italy settled here, and many of the area's restaurants and fishing boats remain in the hands of their descendants. The area is considered famous for its seafood, especially its crabs. Other attractions in the area include the Hyde Street Pier and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Visitors to Fisherman's Wharf can also tour the area on one of San Francisco's historic streetcars.

There are a plethora of tourist attractions in the San Francisco historic district known as Fisherman's Wharf. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses the Hyde Street Pier portion of Fisherman's Wharf. Shopping can be done at Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, or the Cannery Shopping Center. The area boasts a Wax Museum, a Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and a Musée Mécanique. Visitors can explore the Balclutha, a whaling vessel from the 19th century, and the USS Pampanito, a submarine from World War II.


Historically, San Francisco's fisherman worked from Fisherman's Wharf. While the area is a busy attraction for tourists today, most of San Francisco's career fisherman continue to work from the area. The first fisherman to settle in the area were Italian immigrants, who began to appear around the time of the Gold Rush in the 19th century. The boats these original fisherman used were sailboats very similar to those they once used in their Italian homeland. Gasoline and diesel-powered boats came later.

The Dungeness crab may be one of the most famous foods available at Fisherman's Wharf. These crabs are native to the waters off of the San Francisco coast. Crab season at Fisherman's Wharf typically begins in November, and is usually greeted with much celebration among locals and tourists. While the Dungeness crab was once plentiful in the waters close to the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, declines in the crab's natural food animals have obliged modern fisherman to catch them much further out to sea.

The crabs are typically trapped by lowering crabbing pots to the ocean floor, then collecting them very early the next morning. Fisherman traditionally boiled and sold the crabs from their stalls. Most offered both whole crabs and cups full of crab flesh. Today, restaurants in the area sell boiled crabs, crab chowder, and cups of crab cocktail on the street.


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