The Embarcadero/ The Marina/ Fisherman’s Wharf
What to Do
They don’t call it “The City by the Bay” for nothing, and spending some time on or near the water is a must when visiting San Francisco. If you are in town on a Saturday, start off in the shadows of the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Plaza Building’s clock tower at the weekly farmer’s market. Sample seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, local cheeses, olive oils, chocolates and tasty hand-made tidbits like Argentinian empanadas and Swiss raclette. If it’s already lunchtime, you can eat at one of the many stalls out back or at one of the permanent stands/restaurants within the building. Continuing west along the shore, you will pass a number of piers, many with public access which are great for getting away from the crowds and watching the sailboats catching the bay breeze.
As you pass the Exploratorium, you’ll see a couple of public exhibits. If you have a few extra hours, take the kiddos in to check out this art and science museum which is known as one of the top in the nation. As you continue along the shoreline, you’ll come across Pier 39, one of the most touristy areas in the city. There isn’t much authentic about this spot, but admittedly, kids love it due to the eye-catching shops, merry-go-round, and famous sea lions. There’s also a plethora of family-friendly, if generic restaurants if you are feeling peckish. If the Golden Gate is beckoning, Pier 39 is also a great jumping off point for a 1.5 hour catamaran cruise out to the Gate and back. The boats are large and stable enough that parents can feel comfortable with kids of just about any size. Doing this trip on a catamaran, as opposed to a larger ferry-like boat, affords families a stronger sense of adventure, and maybe a chance to even steer the boat!
Continuing on, Fisherman’s Wharf offers more of the same, if with a little more historic significance. In particular, kids will love exploring the ships at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. This complex includes several historic ships including a schooner, square-rigger, a tug boat and more from the late 1800s and early 1900s. While admission is charged for visiting the ships, admission to the Maritime Museum and Visitor Center is free.
After all this exploring, take a load off at the Ghirardelli Square Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. With sundae combinations like Treasure Island, Painted Ladies and Strike it Rich, everyone is sure to find a tasty treat! Be forewarned, though, the line can seem endless at peak times during the summer. Nearby, you can board another heavily trafficked tourist attraction – the Hyde-Powell cable car line. More about this line can be found in my North Beach/Chinatown/Union Square segment below.
Leave the tourist crowds behind and head over the small wooded hill near Municipal Pier to get to the Marina, where the views of the Golden Gate Bridge just get better as you go. Marvel at multi-million dollar homes and play on the Marina Green. Head inland a bit to Union and Chestnut streets where a seemingly endless selection of shops, restaurants and bars await you for an evening of exploring
In the Ferry Building, El Porteño offers at least a dozen different types of very portable sweet and savory empanadas. If you’d like to have a more relaxed lunch with designated seating, consider Mijita, where you will enjoy tacos, quesadillas and breakfast favorites like chilaquiles (tortilla chips smothered in sauce topped with eggs, cheese, and other toppings). Even better, Mijita has aguas frescas (fruit water), micheladas (basically a Bloody Mary made with beer instead of vodka, and margaritas. Out the Door is the casual take-out alternative to the nationally-acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door. Their steamed buns, lemongrass chicken and noodle dishes are just some of our family’s go to meals. While you won’t get unique cuisine at Pier 39, both Fog Harbor and Bubba Gump’s have nice views and although they are fish- and seafood- focused, offer menus (including children’s menus) that will satisfy everyone in the family. You can’t come to California without getting an In-N-Out Burger, and thankfully this chain has an outpost in Fisherman’s Wharf. For a moderately-priced casual restaurant, check out the Blue Mermaid in the Argonaut Hotel for classic seafood options like clam chowder, salads, and sandwiches. In the Marina, Tacolicious has a menu of at least 10 types of tacos and other Mexican fare or head to Amici’s for an easy pizza dinner.