5 Days in San Francisco

September 14, 2014

Day 3: Farmer’s Market, Alcatraz & Fisherman’s Wharf

It was Saturday and our day’s itinerary would focus on the waterfront area. We planned to visit Alcatraz on this day and had booked tickets in advance (as you should) for a noon departure at Pier 33 ($30 for a day tour). Saturday mornings (and Tuesdays & Thursdays) provide you with a great opportunity to visit a California farmers market, in the city. We headed to the Ferry Terminal Building via the Market St. streetcar, on the southern end of the Embarcadero. The building itself is unmistakable, with its clock tower designed after the famous Giralda in the Seville Cathedral in Spain. This 1898 building used to be very busy with bay area travelers before the Bay & Golden Gate bridges were completed. Nowadays, it’s an embarkation point for the surrounding towns in Marin County and Oakland.

  • San Francisco Ferry Terminal

It’s also a great place for food. The farmers market brings together local producers from around the area selling lots of organic stuff and regular fruits & vegetables, flowers and great food – all with the great background of the Bay Bridge. Inside, you’ll find more gourmet and specialty shops selling anything from olive oil to fresh pastries. We grabbed some breakfast and headed outside for breakfast with a view.

  • San Francisco Farmers Market

From the ferry terminal, we continued along the Embarcadero towards Pier 33. This wide boulevard has come a long way and it’s now a favorite jogging spot for locals, also boasting seafood restaurants with bay views. Pier 33 is the departure point for Alcatraz, one of the highlights of any holiday to San Francisco.

Embarcadero San Francisco

The boat ride to ‘The Rock’ offers great city and bay views and takes about 15 minutes. As soon as you disembark, you really feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Alcatraz is a major tourist spot so they’ve really invested a lot of effort making this experience special. Now a US National Park, Alcatraz was originally an army fort until converted to a federal prison in 1934. Housing the worst criminals in the US until 1963 like Scarface Al Capone, ‘The Rock’ became infamous for a place with a one-way ticket.

  • Alcatraz

Nowadays it’s an extremely popular destination. You can visit Alcatraz on a day tour in which your $30 ticket includes the boat ride, park entrance, and an audio tour, or a night tour which includes a more intimate tour (and quite recommended from what I’ve heard). The audio tour is a must. It takes you around the must see areas of the former prison. The story is told through the eyes of former guards and prisoners. With all the legend around Alcatraz, it’s really cool to walk around and see how these inmates lived. You can even step into one of the solitary confinement cells for a few minutes, which goes pitch black – hard to imagine how someone would endure this for weeks. Allow at least 2.5 hours for a visit to Alcatraz and be sure to enjoy the great view from the outside deck. This is certainly an ‘achievement unlocked’ and we can now tick that box on our ‘must see places list’.

Pier 39 Seals San FranciscoContinuing on the Embarcadero, we eventually reached Pier 39, another tourist hotspot. This little complex is packed with souvenir shops, cafes, arcades, and restaurants. It has a county fair atmosphere to it. We came here to watch the dozens of seals that have been calling this place home since the 1989 earthquake. They soak in the sun, swim around for food and mainly make a lot of noise.

A few more steps along the Embarcadero and you’ll see the familiar sign welcoming you to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was once the center of the fishing industry but that’s long gone and today, this place draws the tourist crowds. Fisherman's Wharf San FranciscoA popular spot for street performers, you’ll also find here souvenir shops and touristy seafood restaurants. It’s cool to walk around and see the fine crab and lobsters being prepped up for a meal. Another popular item here is the bread bowl seafood chowder – where the bowl is actually the bread. Head over to nearby legendary Boudin Bakery, famous for its sourdough bread. Breadmakers put on a show for the tourists, just look for the large window. You can also grab a tour and a meal inside.

Before dinner, we continued to explore Fisherman’s Wharf. We headed over to Musée Mécanique (free) to experience what an arcade used to look like many decades ago. These vintage arcade machines have been restored and you’ll find old ‘love meters’, pinball machines and also a few other vintage machines that may have been considered ‘X-rated’ at the time. There are other, more maritime museums to explore if you’re into that like the Hyde Street Pier.

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

Even though the restaurants are touristy around here, when in Fisherman’s Wharf, you must taste the local seafood. We ate at Alioto’s Waterside Cafe which offers good combination options for those of us who are not seafood experts and just want to taste. We had ½ a crab and ½ a lobster to share, along with salad and fries. It’s not too expensive, the food was good and hey, you get to wear ridiculous lobster aprons!

  • Alioto’s Waterside Cafe

Any Regrets?

  1. We really wanted to visit Alioto-Lazio, one of the last family-owned and operated fishing companies in San Francisco. This place opens and closes early but apparently, you can see fish wholesaling at its best.
  2. One of the better seafood restaurants in San Francisco is the Franciscan Crab Restaurant. Unfortunately, they were fully booked.

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20 comments

  1. hi! we’re goin on a trip in august and i love your recommendation for biking over the Golden Gate to Sausalito ..but if we bike there,is there a place to drop off the bikes so we can take the ferry back over? ..i missed that in case u mentioned..
    ps thank you for your trip itinerary! VERY helpful!!

    1. Hi Stephanie!

      Thanks for the feedback, glad you find it useful! Nothing keeps me more motivated to continue writing that fellow travel readers joining the newsletter 🙂

      As for your question, the Sausalito ferry is very bike friendly so you’ll actually take the your rented bike on the ferry. It’s all very organized.

      Have fun in SFO and don’t forget to pack some warm clothes 🙂

  2. Hi Avichai,
    I’m planning a vacation for my family in September in California. We plan to fly into San Diego and drive to San Francisco making our way through important points such as disneyland, LA, coasts, etc.
    I’ve started with planning the San Diego side of the trip and there are so many things we want to do there that I was planning to give it 5 days (Seaworld, zoo, safari park, USS Midway, Coronado, etc, etc) [Your post was very helpful btw!] I was only planning for 1-2 days in San Francisco but now that I see you took 5 days there I’m a little confused. Do you think we should spend less time in San Diego and more time in San Francisco? We want to go to the parks as well as the beaches!

    1. Thanks for reaching out. I can understand why you would want to spend this amount of time in San Diego. There’s more family stuff to do there with the Zoo, Seaworld etc. I think 5 days might be a bit too much though, depending on how old the kids are and how quickly you can get from place to place. Keep in mind that you’re talking about a very long drive with both L.A and the PCH on the way. Since I spent a lot of time in San Francisco, I got to see a lot of it. I wouldn’t think places like The Mission, Golden Gate Park & Chinatown are musts if you’re on a family trip with young children so perhaps 3 full days in SFO are OK. I would say the musts in SFO are: crossing the bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf area (for the kids), Alcatraz, a bit of nature (Muir Woods) and a bit of walking around. So to make a long story short – if the kids are young and you’re looking primarily to entertain them, your plan seems to be right. Maybe just reduce SD by one day. Have a great trip and feel free to ask anything else!

  3. Great guide! I used to live in San Francisco and it always makes me sad that tourists waste their time going to Pier 39, which only contains restaurants and stores you can find all over the US, if not the world. That being said, I guess I don’t really understand the tourist mentality having lived there. To add to your list: hiking Land’s End, exploring the Presidio, Lyon Street steps in Pacific Heights for some beautiful views and breathtaking mansions, walking down Clement Street in the Richmond, shopping and dining on Fillmore Street, California Science Academy in Golden Gate Park, and taking a tour of the Anchor Steam brewery (with free tastings – must reserve in advance).

  4. Hi there. Great info and so thoughtfully laid out! My husband is travelling to SF for work the first week in March and my 13 month old daughter and I are going to join him. We get a Tuesday-Friday, just the two of us, to explore and have an adventure, then will be staying Friday-Sunday with my husband not working so we can enjoy the area as a family. I feel confident that we can do most of what you suggested and am so excited. The only part that’s a bummer is the biking, because she’s just too young to haul around in a bike trailer. I wear her and have a lightweight, very fold-able stroller. Any tips for substituting the biking with a combo of walking and public transit? Perhaps other travelers with small children would gain some insight from this as well. Again, great post!

    1. FYI, we are staying in near Fisherman’s Wharf the entire time. Tues-Fri my husband will be working, so it’s just the baby and myself exploring. Friday night through Sunday night (taking a red-eye home, so have all day Sunday as well) my husband will be off work and joining us.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I just came back from San Francisco and it helped me so much, basically I did everything you have in this itinerary and I really I felt like I didn’t miss a single thing of the city.
    You should do this to every other city in America!, this guides help us so we can avoid wasting time in the middle of our trip asking ourselves what can we do next.

    1. Thanks so much Madeleine!

      I’m glad you found the itinerary useful. Working on getting more published, so stay tuned, and tell your friends 🙂

  6. Hello, do you have a recommendation re. where to stay/what area is a good central location, if a family with teens is planning to do this itinerary?

    1. Hi Shannon

      You can’t go wrong with Union Square area hotels. Though on the expensive side, the location is central and you’re close to everything. Another option is by Fisherman’s Wharf. There are lots of family hotels just behind it. Airbnb has a lot of options if you’re comfortable with that. For the ‘real’ experience, you can find a place in Nob Hill or Russian Hill (though you’ll have to negotiate the hills). I put a few recommendations for hotels I stayed on the second page. Enjoy!

  7. Hello Avichai,

    Considering your 5 day itinerary, do you think is usefull to take a hop-on hop-off bus service? or your itinerary considers to walk and use of public transportation to reach every spot.

    I am going to stay 5 1/3 days in SF and your itinerary looks fantastic. Let me know your opinion.

    Thanks in advance

    Ricardo

    1. Hi Ricardo

      I used the trams to get down to fisherman’s wharf, subway to get back from Bernal Heights and cable car to get back from that day of cycling. We did a lot of walking though (a lot), which is something I enjoy very much. My friend who went with her mom to SFO (who can’t walk so much), did the hop on / hop off bus and it was ideal for them. The bus does stop at all these attractions and if you don’t want to use public transportation, it’s probably a convenient thing to have. Let me know if you have more questions and have fun in SFO!

  8. Hello,
    We’re coming from New Orleans to SFO and Napa. Our first time visiting.
    Any suggestions for our trip there? We’ll be staying 6 days and would like to do the wine train and coast as well.
    Thanks in advance for all info.

    1. Hi Beverly

      If it’s your first time in the area, I would recommend doing a combination of days 1,3 & 4 from this SFO itinerary http://xdaysiny.com/5-days-san-francisco-california-itinerary-guide/ and days 2 & 3 in this Pacific Coast Highway itinerary http://xdaysiny.com/3-days-pacific-coast-highway-california-road-trip-itinerary-guide/ Napa Valley requires one day from SFO and simply means one person will need to be the designated driver. It’s a bit tight to squeeze everything in 6 days but possible. Enjoy!

  9. Hi Avichai,

    Really interesting subjects covered. Thank You

    Me, my wife and two kids (2 & 4months) are staying in fremont with family and plan to visit SF in three days. Few questions we had was how to travel (Car back and forth or bart train ) We are not staying in SF so would visit , see sites and come back to fremont each day. Can you suggest some itenaries and also how with kids one would reach from one point to the other (For eg Union Square to Fishermans Wharf ). Further down we will drive down to LA from fremont and spend 5 days there (staying in a hotel). and then moving to San Diego for 3 days and back to fremont.

    1. Hi

      So normally I would suggest to take the BART and then Uber around town but you need car seats… If that’s not an issue then you can probably leave the car behind and avoid the parking fees in town. As for itineraries considering you have small infants, that’s difficult for me to say b/c I don’t know how comfortable you are carrying the kids around. However, I would say that Golden Gate Park, Crissey Field area (waterfront + Golden Gate Bridge), Fisherman’s Wharf area (watch the seals), Bernal Heights (get a ride there), Alcatraz – are all sites that you can enjoy as a family (Alcatraz is probably more for the adults). You could also check if Blazing Saddles rents bicycles with child seats or small ‘carriages’ in the back and then enjoy what is (for me) the highlight of visiting SFO – riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. If you do have a car, you can also check out Muir Woods. Hope this helps. Enjoy!!

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