San Francisco's waterfront underwent a renaissance after the 1989 earthquake. A massive freeway ramp that once snaked along the waterfront, dwarfing everything in its path was torn down. That was the beginning, but the transformation continues, with renovations and new parks along the water's edge.
This waterfront tour takes you from the Bay Bridge to Pier 39, a distance of about two miles. If that sounds too far for you, don't worry.
If you tire our, the F-Line historic trolley runs along your path and you can get on at any station along the way.
San Francisco Waterfront Sights
Start your walk at or near Pier 24, beneath the Bay Bridge, then walk northwest toward the Ferry Building and Pier 39.
The Bay Bridge often suffers in comparison to the Golden Gate Bridge across the Bay, but it graces the span from San Francisco to Oakland most handsomely. The elegant eastern span is complete and is more beautiful since old bridge next to it was demolished. To older span closer to San Francisco is both bridge and artwork. The evening display called the Bay Lights is an artist's installation of twinkling LEDs that create a nearly hypnotic effect.
Waterfront Dining: You'll find two nice-looking restaurants near the Bay Bridge, tempting for their views and boasting gorgeous interiors by designer Pat Kuleto. Sadly, their cuisine doesn't match up to scene and prices are quite high.
Go at lunch to enjoy the ambiance and view without going into debt to do it.
Rincon Park: This small park is home to an outdoor sculpture that looks like a bow and arrow called Cupid's Span. It's located next to the fireboat pier, and when the boats vent their hoses, the arching water spray adds even more to admire.
Pier 14: Dedicated to former Mayor Art Agnos, whose vision created today's revitalized waterfront, Pier 14 replaces the original pier built in the early 1900s, when 100,000 ferry passengers traveled through the nearby Ferry Building every day. It's the best place in town to get a view of the Bay Bridge.
Ferry Building: The tower of this city landmark is modeled after the Hiralda Tower in Spain, and the interior houses local artisan food shops and restaurants. The shops are open every day and on weekends, it's all surrounded by a lively farmer's market. Get all the details in the Ferry Building Guide.
Herb Caen Way… The sidewalk between Pier 1 to Pier 42 is named Herb Caen Way... in honor of Herb Caen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than 50 years. The three dots after the word "Way" are part of the name because of Caen's writing style, which included lots of - you guessed it - ...'s. Historical displays, poems and quotations are set into the sidewalk, all worth a moment to read. The glass blocks set into the sidewalk here are called the Embarcadero Ribbon, tying the wharf-front together with a continuous line of glass block surrounded by concrete walkway.
It Looked Like That???: Detour across The Embarcadero at Washington Street, where you'll find a display showing how the area looked before the 1989 earthquake damaged the old freeway beyond repair, setting off a chain of events that resulted in the ongoing improvements. You'll appreciate the waterfront's new look even more.
Pier 7: This public pier extends 900 feet out into the Bay, edged with Victorian-style light fixtures and benches. It's the second longest fishing pier in San Francisco. If you bring your fishing pole, you might catch starry flounder, sea perch, halibut or striped bass.
The Exploratorium: San Francisco's justifiably-famous, hands-on science museum is located at Pier 15. It's so much fun that you might not even realize you're learning something and in the unlikely event that you get bored, their panoramic San Francisco Bay views are some of the best on the waterfront.
It's well worth a stop even if you don't think you like science much. You can find out more about it in the Exploratorium Guide.
Pier 27: This pier houses San Francisco's cruise ship terminal.
A little further down the waterfront, the tourist area around Pier 39 begins.