On Saturday, January 27th , at about 11:55 am, I was proven wrong for the second time that day. The first time happened during an early morning trip to Alcatraz Island while on a girlfriend getaway to San Francisco. I whined and complained, insisting we skip over this visit, or just do the spooky evening tour because, I argued, what the heck is so interesting about an old prison on a deserted island in the middle of San Francisco Bay?
I discovered, to the glee of my friends, who had put their collective foot down on seeing Alcatraz, that “The Rock” was a fascinating place. How could I possibly have thought an island full of riveting history, with a pretty cool retro prison whose cold steel gray walls echo with the voices of famous past inmates such as Al Capone and Richard Stroud, be at all boring? Add in gorgeous rock gardens bursting with color and laden with fragrant old roses, fantastic views of San Francisco Bay sparkling in the early morning sun, and I was hooked. I even wanted to sign up for all of the National Park events happening on island that day.
After being dragged back to the mainland by my friends, I then suggested, since we were only in San Francisco for the weekend, we ditch the waterfront and explore another part of the city After all I said, everyone knows that this city’s waterfront is not a happening place.
By 11:55 am we’d paid a visit to the sea lions basking in the sun on Fisherman’s Wharf, checked out a chocolate warehouse on Pier 17, shopped along the outdoor market stalls on Market Street and finally ended up in San Francisco’s new Ferry Building for some retail therapy and lunch.
San Francisco’s waterfront is evolving into a unique and exciting destination thanks in part to the devastating earthquake in 1989. The old Embarcadero Freeway along the waterfront was severely damaged, so the city decided to demolish the remnants and instead develop a ground level boulevard connecting the city with a walkable, bikeable and livable waterfront space. There is no better way to enjoy a sunny morning in San Francisco than by walking along the waterfront exploring this revitalized part of the city, and I’m glad I was proven wrong.
Top 5 Things to do on the San Francisco Waterfront:
Alcatraz Ferry Terminal on Pier 33
Start with an early bird (remember the early bird catches the worm) ferry to Alcatraz Island provided through Alcatraz Tours. Buy your tickets online to avoid lineups. The bonus of going on the first ferry boat of the day is you’ll be sharing the boat with a mere few hundred people as opposed to thousands, and yes I’m exaggerating, but not by much!
Fisherman’s Wharf on Pier 39
Once you’ve made the return trip from Alcatraz, head over to Fishermen’s Wharf and take a peek at the sea lions, they are a spectacular sight. The numbers of lions have fluctuated in the last few years. In the past the wharf was home to thousands of these cute creatures but in 2009 they suddenly disappeared, and are now slowly trickling back to the relief of tourists and the city. No one knows why the lions left; but I’m thinking Fisherman’s Wharf was getting too touristy for them!
TCHO Chocolates on Pier 17
Halfway between the Alcatraz Tours and Ferry Building, stop at the TCHO Chocolate Warehouse, where you can take a tour, or sample some of their wonderful rich hot chocolate. If you’re a true fan of the dark, try ordering a TCHOspresso, it’s quite an eye opener!
This quote on TCHO’s homepage describes TCHO perfectly:
“You know that chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Mr. Wonka takes a cup and dips it into the river, and when Charlie drinks it, it is perfectly creamy and delicious and warms him to his very toes. I’ve been looking for a chocolate experience like that for 40 years. The drinking chocolate – it is as close to chocolate nirvana as anyone will ever, ever get. I swear it. Now, go try it.” Yelp Feb 24, 2011
Head over to Market Street and Embarcadero, about a 10-minute walk from TCHO’s, to get a quick hippie fix at the outdoor stalls set up along Market Street, pick up one of many variations of peace sign jewelry and tie die creations on display throughout the market.
End your morning on San Francisco’s waterfront at the newly restored Ferry Building. This newly restored building is chock full of cool, hip boutique shops and food markets. San Francisco’s largest farmers’ market is held there on Saturdays from 8 am to 2 pm, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am – 2pm, year-round.
For lunch head over to the legendary Slanted Door Restaurant for some Vietnamese-inspired deliciousness but be sure to make reservations beforehand or grab a seat at the bar because this place is popular!
San Francisco City Guides is currently offering regular walking tours of the Ferry Building. Tours are free and start at noon on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Tours coincide with the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.