Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf and San Francisco for the Tourist
Having gone to SF, Fisherman's Wharf and the famous Pier 39 numerous times, this hub may be a little jaded.
I know tourists come from thousands of miles every week to see the Golden Gate Bridge span across the bay, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. They come from all countries and walking down the avenue or sitting at a curb side restaurant is interesting listening to all the languages, people watch etc. But to be totally honest, I really think most walk away a bit disappointed with the visit to Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, maybe even the Golden Gate Bridge, some consider the 8th wonder of the world. I think that after spending maybe over $5,000 to spend time in SF for a week, including airfare, they would expect more--maybe not. Everyone is different. I know I would greatly disappointed in SF if I was tourist from Europe. Why?
Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 together is not much more than one mile long, if that. Both were simply waterfronts along the SF bay until recently. There are only a few things of real interest, depending on your point of view. At the west end of Fisherman's Wharf there is a cool, 1890's Clipper sail ship to peruse, of course the bay is there also. It is also the base for the infamous Trolley car pulled up a hill by cable and costs around $5 per person. I find it incredible as there is always a long line. Some wait hours to take a 10 min ride. Our friends from Germany did. Insane! Parking is equally insane, expect to pay at least $20 for the day. If you simply walk from one end to the other, it is not more than 30 min, of course, you will pass many small restaurants, which by European standards would not be a "restaurant", but just an eatery, noisy, and expensive. A Bowl of Clam Chowder soup in a bread bowl is $7. If you eat curbside you have two battles: a crowd of tourists walking past staring at you or on a typical day, cool and windy. You might be fascinated about the curbside handling of crabs and fish as they are prepped but it is only as you walk by.
As you walk towards Pier 39, you will pass many, many typical trinket type shops selling SF this, SF that, all souvenirs made in China, paying outrageous prices like $20 for an "I love SF" t-shirt. You do have a chance to tour an old WW2 submarine, take a ferry to Alcatraz Prison Park (this is the famous prison on a island in the middle of the bay, east of Golden gate Bridge, it is now a National Park, the tours are interesting but do get on boring side. A prison is a prison. The sights from the island are great on a nice day, non-existant if its fogged in), there is also a WW2 transport ship to tour on in the Wharf. If none of these interest you, keep walking, soon you will be at Pier 39, which is yet more shops and little eatery's. For entertainment, some of the street vendors include rappers, guitarists, magicians, actors, it varies a lot. They do their thing for exhange for a few donations from you. Some are downright lunatics or drunks, totally disgusting. The shops at Pier 39 are of much higher caliber than the trinket shops of Fishermans Wharf. The prices are higher also, for instance, to ride on the merry-go-round ( 1 min. for $3). That is about it.
Maybe a tourist would consider this to be well money spent, it is a very hefty price to see the SF bay panoramic vistas from the shore and the Golden Gate spanning miles of the bay, connecting what seems to be two continents. The Golden gate IS a great thing to see. So massive. It is also carries over 150,000 cars daily. Walking across it is inspiring for its views and brisk, cold winds. But, it is just a massive bridge. Going to Chinatown is like going to China. Horribly crowded and condensed. A city within a city. Some will love it, for others, it will be a mess of humanity. There are plenty of great Chinese restaurants without dealing with Chinatown.
Many foreigners feel at home in SF because unlike most American cities, it has a real European style to it. There are homes all connected along a street much like row housing in the UK or France. The facades are stylish. Plenty of hills and trams. It is very condensed for its 800,000 inhabitants. The world is totally different if you go to San Jose, 30 min. south, which is totally spread out over a very large area.