I recently set out to San Francisco’s North Waterfront with my coworker for a special photo project. With a limited amount of time, we were getting ready to hop on Muni’s new E-Embarcadero line when we noticed a Bay Area Bike Share station full of bright blue bikes. (Cue angelic “Aaaaah” chorus and a heavenly spotlight.) Needless to say, it didn’t take much deliberation to decide this would be our mode of transportation for the day. Fun, effective and cheaper than getting around by Uber.
For $9, we each purchased a 24-hour pass ($22 will get you a 3-day pass, and annual passes are a steal for just $88). It was undoubtedly the most exciting way to explore the area. Without further ado: the 49 Miles Guide to San Francisco’s Central Waterfront… via Bay Area Bike Share!
Bay Area Bike Share originally launched as a pilot program in two phases in August 2013. The first phase launched with bike stations strategically placed along San Francisco’s North Waterfront, Embarcadero, SoMa and Market Street. The second phase deployed an additional 300 bikes and 30 docking stations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. Bay Area Bike Share has not expanded into Fisherman’s Wharf… yet. The program will begin rolling out installations of new stations next year through 2017. Don’t let that discourage you! The nearest station is at Embarcadero at Sansome Street, and we’ve thoughtfully planned out your day.
While enjoying the day on a bike, don’t forget to wear layers. San Francisco weather can change drastically in an instant! Make sure to bring a jacket, hat, sunglasses and your camera to keep those memories forever. Enjoy the incredible views, vistas and sea life. Pay attention to the history and indulge in activities that you would never imagine such as an Alcatraz Cruise, Amusing America, Frequent Flyers, or Pier 39’s Musical Stairs.
San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building is a great starting point if you plan to spend any amount of time along the waterfront. While the landmark’s tower is plastered with the year 1915 (to commemorate the 1915 World’s Fair), it actually opened to the public in 1898. For over a century the Ferry Building has served commuters across the Bay Area. Today the Ferry Building remains a major commuter port, but is also home to gourmet bakeries, coffee shops, markets and restaurants. We recommend an energizing start to your day of biking adventures with a latté or New Orleans iced coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee Co., but you can check out our guide to the Ferry Building for an extensive list of dining and entertainment options.
Once you’re caffeinated, head across the street to Harry Bridges Plaza (between the Ferry Building and Justin Herman Plaza) to grab your bike and begin your journey along the waterfront toward the wharf. This is the closest station to the Ferry Building; if you choose to walk, you’ll pass a few other stations evenly spaced out up until Chestnut Street. These bikes do not include locks, so you do not want to leave them anywhere out of sight. If you have a bike lock at home, you may want to bring it with you.
FIRST STOP: Pier 7, Coqueta & La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Your first point of interest will come up a quarter-mile past the Ferry Building at Pier 7. Pier 7 is a popular location for fishing and people watching. This peaceful pier’s wooden appeal and incredible views of the bay, Bay Bridge, and Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands makes it a great spot for Insta-worthy photo opportunities. Locals also do some serious night crabbing at Pier 7 during the appropriate season. (We’re talking 2:00AM crabbing!!!)
Located alongside the Pier is Coqueta, Michael Chiarello’s phenomenal Spanish tapas bar, known for delicious family-style plates, signature cocktails (take your pick: Barça Gintonic or Spanish Holiday), and spectacular views. Stop here for lunch on your way to the wharf, or on your way back for a cocktail and light tapas. (Note: we do not endorse drinking and biking.) When you’re not biking the waterfront, Coqueta is a great spot for special dinner celebrations and gatherings with friends.
Down by Pier 3 you’ll find La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, another celebrity chef concept restaurant by Gastón Acurio, which serves up Peruvian seafood in a large, partially outdoor space. La Mar is famous for their Pisco Sour, extensive list of $6 cocktails, $18 empanadas sampler and a multitude of ceviches. When you’re not biking the waterfront, come here for happy hour!
Honorable mention: We can’t guide you through San Francisco’s North Waterfront without mentioning Hard Water, a New Orleans-style restaurant with an extensive American whiskey bar. Located on The Embarcadero’s Pier 3, this is a great spot for after-work drinks, or day drinking (they open at 11:30am, daily). Do not pass on the Oregon Pink Hushpuppies—YOU WILL REGRET IT.
NEXT UP: The Exploratorium
San Francisco’s Exploratorium first opened in 1969, in the Palace of Fine Arts which was once part of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco’s Marina District. In 2013, the Exploratorium moved to where it stands today, on Pier 15 along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. The Exploratorium offers many engaging programs and events weekly. Purchase tickets here. Bike parking is encouraged and available near the building’s entrance. On Thursday nights the Exploratorium hosts adults-only programs called “After Dark”, complete with bars, galleries and special demonstrations/themes. Check out the Exploratorium’s After Dark schedule here.
QUICK BREAK: Port of San Francisco’s Cruise Terminal Plaza
The San Francisco Cruise Terminal was home to the 2013 America’s World Cup, and is now a temporary home to travelers visiting San Francisco by cruise ship. Every fall Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference takes over San Francisco, wiping out hotel and Airbnb inventories. This year, Salesforce chartered a ship, called the Dreamboat, to offer an alternative housing solution for conference attendees. The terminal is a great place to stop and take a break while biking or walking the Embarcadero.
END OF THE LINE: Fisherman’s Wharf
Further up the Embarcadero lays North Point and Fisherman’s Wharf. We biked our way over to the famous Pier 39, where all the tourists (and some daring locals) visit. Fisherman’s Wharf is exceptionally, and surprisingly, bike-friendly!
Pier 39’s construction began in 1977. In 1996, Aquarium of the Bay, formerly known as Under Water World, opened to the public. If you’re local, buy tickets here at a discounted rate. In January 2014, The Sea Lion Center (owned and operated by the Aquarium of the Bay) opened offering a free interpretive learning center focused on the California Sea Lion. It’s amazing.
Another staple in San Francisco is Alioto’s. It has been around four generations and is still family owned and operated. It began as a small, fresh-caught fish stand in 1925 and has grown into a San Francisco legacy. Enjoy crab, scallops, sandabs, salmon, clams, swordfish, and my favorite, Oysters Rockefeller. All fish is bought fresh, daily.
Across the street from Alioto’s is Boudin Bakery. It was established in 1849, and the family has nurtured their recipe since, using 160 year-old mother dough in every single loaf of bread it makes, making Boudin the leader of all breads and cafés in San Francisco. Boudin first moved into 319 Dupont (now Grant Avenue) in North Beach in 1852, and moved again in 1890 to 815 Broadway. The 1906 earthquake forced Boudin to move to its current location at 10th Avenue. 1999 marked Boudin Bakery’s 150th anniversary, and on May 11, 2005, Boudin at the Wharf opened to the public. Boudin’s is a classic, honest, family owned bakery and café that has been able to thrive around the world but most importantly, within San Francisco.
Below are a list of some fun activities, sites and restaurant to explore while in and around Fisherman’s Wharf:
Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze – The maze itself is located on Pier 39. It’s full of colorful mirrors attracting both children and adults.
The Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf – Inspired by the wax figures at the Seattle World’s Fair, Thomas Fong opened the museum on Jefferson Street in 1963 and today it features over 270 wax figures. Find yourself among celebrities, historical icons and sports heroes.
The Codmother Fish and Chips – A staple San Francisco food truck owned by Britons serving locals and tourists fish ‘n’ chips as well as other seafood and treats.
Scoma’s Restaurant – A landmark restaurant, located on Pier 47, serving seafood taken straight off the boat from the San Francisco Bay, since 1965.
The Original Ghirardelli Square – Born in 1852, this San Francisco chocolate maker serves its famous chocolate, fudge and ice cream to the world.
Buena Vista Cafe – The Buena Vista Cafe opened and served its first warm, Irish Coffee in 1916 on the corner of Powell and Hyde. This spot is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Hyde Street Pier – This historic ferry pier is located on the northern waterfront of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a great place to learn about the history and explore the preserved ships.
Forbes Island – Boy does this island have some history! The floating home was originally built in Sausalito in 1975 by millionaire houseboat designer, Forbes Thor Kiddoo. Today Forbes Island is located in Fisherman’s Wharf at Sea Lion Harbor “I” Dock.
Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s most famous waterfront community. The 3rd Annual Wharf Fest is Saturday, October 24th, 11AM-5PM. Catch events such as a chowder competition and tastings, live music and street performers, a segway obstacle course and more! The second Tuesday in November marks the opening of Crab Season and is a festive occasion down at the Wharf. The best time to buy fresh and seasonal crab at Fisherman’s Wharf is November – July. (Basically, it’s almost always crab season in San Francisco.) The holidays are a fun time to visit the Wharf too! November 21st is the Pier 39 Tree Lighting Celebration. December 11th is the Holiday Lights and Sights Boat Parade.