Are you a San Francisco rookie? Avoid tourist traps on Fisherman's Wharf by consulting this guide.
Start Your Day at Darren's Café
Skip the continental breakfast at the hotel, you’ve got better options. Darren's Cafe isn’t exactly off the beaten path—it’s just a few blocks east of Ghirardelli Square—but it’s somehow remained under the radar. Stop in for delicious plates of eggs Benedict or three-egg omelettes with cheese and avocado. They even have pho to help warm you for when Karl the Fog makes an early move.
Go Sailing, Not Cruising
It's still a bay tour, but is one of those San Francisco experiences that you won't regret. Forgo the crowded steam-powered boat and try Adventure Cat Sailing instead. They've been chartering catamarans on the bay for 25+ years. When you're in a catamaran, you can feel the wind whipping your face, and the waves licking the boat beneath you. It's a full sensory experience! Adventure Cat even takes the same route as most bay cruises, along with some great tunes and plenty of beer and wine (bring cash) to keep you imbibing happily. There won't be any audio tours, though listening to the sounds of the bay is way more inspiring. $45 per person for afternoon sail; $60 per person for sunset sail; Pier 39
See the Sea Lions
If you’re not from California this is a really unique experience, and it's absolutely free. Go Take a peek at the sea lions from Pier 39—you’ll likely see them all flopped on top of one another for nap-time. It’s best to time this with your bay sailing, since they hang out on the piers next to Adventure Cat, giving you an even closer look at their whiskered faces and a real understanding for just how large they really are. To get the real sea lion experience, listen for them at night—you can hear them all the way from North Beach to Russian Hill.
Indulge in a Classic California Burger
Again, if you’ve never been to California, you have to go to In-N-Out. It’s a rite of passage. In-N-Out is the west coast’s older, more-established Shake Shack (which now has locations in both Palo Alto and Marin County's Larkspur) and we will gladly wait in line for the fries that are both crispy and slender, shakes that are just the right amount of creamy, and those delicious burgers with the crispest lettuce and the softest buns. The good news is that the line moves fast and the burgers are always made fresh. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, order “animal fries” off the secret menu or go “protein” style on your burger and replace the buns with lettuce. Remember, this is your time for indulgence.
Relax at Aquatic Park
The perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf is but a few blocks away. Aquatic Park is home to a beautiful, protected cove you’ll see locals swimming laps in the waters (the local Dolphin Swimming Club makes its home there) with views of Angel Island, Tiburon, and of course, the Golden Gate beyond. It's a great place to just soak in the view and maybe even watch the sunset later in the day. Don't forget to swing into the Maritime Museum for a history lesson on San Francisco’s ports.
Head to the Bar at Gary Danko
Gary Danko restaurant is one of the country's hottest tickets, which usually means it’s impossible to get a table (unless you’re really good at scheduling things months ahead). But here’s a local hack: sit at the bar. You can still order off the eatery's exceptional menu and enjoy a glass of wine or champagne while socializing with the bartender. This way you get an unforgettable experience but without any pre-planning or excessive wait.
The bar is sure to be three rows deep on a busy day, but sipping an Irish Coffee at the more-than-century old place that first brought it to the U.S. is a quintessential SF experience, and one that's a big cut above any souvenir shop or Wharf wax museum. Served frothy, hot, and delicious, Irish coffee imbibing is easy, so try and drink slow. The Powell/Hyde Cable Car turnaround is just outside, making the whole experience as San Francisco as they come.