MERCURYNEWS.COM: July 1, 2016
It’s been 46 years since the sea lions stormed Pier 39’s West Marina. Drawn by the herring and protected docks, the pinniped population grew to hundreds in just a few months. But these “Sea Lebrities,” as they’re now known, are not the real stars of this famed tourist area. It’s the crustaceans — the crabs.
One of my favorite escapes is an early morning walk along Fisherman’s Wharf. Before the queue starts to form for the Hyde Street cable cars, and before the first crab cocktail is put on ice, fisherman are bringing in their catch.
“They’re unloading salmon, sardines, cod, tuna and sole, but it’s the Dungeness crab that everybody talks about,” says Don Rea, who leads guided walks of the wharf for Extranomical Tours.
He took our group down a quiet side street called Al Scoma Way, a section of working docks and fish packing warehouses with unobscured views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge.
“You really feel Fisherman’s Wharf as a fishing area here,” Rea says. “You can see the fishermen rigging up their boats to go out, and sometimes you can see them bringing in their catch.” There is even a little brown church — The Seaman’s Chapel — built in 1981 for seafarers to worship on their journeys. “They have services there in different denominations. Anyone can go — they even do Mass in Latin.”
Nearby, a fleet of historic boats bobs whimsically along the Hyde Street Pier. It’s free to stroll through the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and you can even tour a Victorian-style houseboat, or arc, built in 1923.
It’s worth the modest fee to take docent-led tours of the bigger boats like the USS Pampanito, (a World War II submarine) the SS Jeremiah O’Brien (a beautifully restored Liberty ship) and the Balclutha (1886 clipper ship). And the free Art Deco Maritime Museum, built in 1938 as a WPA project, is full of nautical artifacts and murals.
Sharing the brisk coastal waters are swimmers — sans wetsuits — who make laps in Aquatic Park part of their morning ritual. Some people wake up with coffee. These folks plunge into the 50-degree chop. Rea says swimmers and rowers are a big part of the wharf’s history, and are directly responsible for the development and preservation of the neighborhood.
Walking the wharf, you can immerse yourself in the past or the present. Follow the historical walking tour signs to read stories of San Francisco’s Gold Rush and Barbary Coast days. Stroll through the old Del Monte Cannery. Pop into Jack’s Cannery Bar for some 68 beers on tap. Or put a coin in one of the dozens of early 1900s-era arcade machines at Musée Mécanique on Pier 45.
One of Fisherman’s Wharf’s best new attractions — and a super sunset spot — is across the street in the Ghirardelli Street tasting room of Bluxome Street Winery. If you feel like a little chocolate with your wine, Ghirardelli Chocolate’s gift shop hands out free samples.
And if all this isn’t reason enough to spend a few hours exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, then do it for a selfie with the astonishingly lifelike wax figure of Stephen Curry at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It’ll probably get you more Facebook likes than any shot of a sea lion or a crab cocktail.
Want to make it a staycation? The Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf puts you in the neighborhood and includes Drybar salon-quality hair dryers in the guest rooms. Go to: http://fishermanswharf.centric.hyatt.com/.