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Embarcadero North

On any sunny day, scores of walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, and skateboarders are likely to be streaming along Herb Caen Way, the wide bayside promenade that runs for three miles along San Francisco's Embarcadero from South Beach Harbor to Fisherman's Wharf. The northern portion of the promenade described here (see Embarcadero South for the southern stretch) runs from the...
On any sunny day, scores of walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, and skateboarders are likely to be streaming along Herb Caen Way, the wide bayside promenade that runs for three miles along San Francisco's Embarcadero from South Beach Harbor to Fisherman's Wharf. The northern portion of the promenade described here (see Embarcadero South for the southern stretch) runs from the Ferry Building, the city's historic water transport hub and now a mecca for fresh, organic local foods, to Fisherman's Wharf; we have extended the tour to include nearby Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square.

Visitor center: The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park visitor center, tucked away inside the Argonaut Hotel at Jefferson and Hyde streets, is a treasure trove for anyone interested in San Francisco's maritime history. Among the displays are a tule reed canoe similar to those used by the native Yelamu people and a Fresnel lens once used at the lighthouse on one of the Farallon Islands, 30 miles outside the Golden Gate. You can take a simulated walk along the waterfront through the ages, and a computer kiosk provides a virtual tour of the inaccessible places in the park, including inside the antique boats moored at the Hyde Street Pier across the street.

Trail/Pathway Details

Ferry Building to Aquatic Park

Trailhead: Southeastern end: The Ferry Building is on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market St. Northeastern end: Aquatic Park is between Hyde St. and Van Ness Ave. and Beach and Jefferson Sts.

Length: Over 4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Ramped walkways make the climb through Aquatic Park moderate, but the Larkin Street entrance to Ghirardelli Square is on a very steep hill.

Terrain: Hard

Description

Start your trip at the Ferry Building (described in the Embarcadero South[LINK] hike), where you can stock up on provisions at one of the many shops and restaurants—or, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at the farmers market. Then head north to the office of the Port of San Francisco in Pier 1, where you will find a display on the port's history (open during business hours only). Follow the sidewalk out and around the pier for views of the bay and Treasure Island, and back toward the city's skyline.

Continue along the public walkway that hugs the edge of the bay between Piers 1 and 3. Peek inside the piers' arcades to see photos of the old produce district that operated from 1857 to 1962 on Front Street, where the Golden Gateway Center now stands. Back on the sidewalk, continue north to Pier 7, a beautiful 840-foot-long, wood-decked recreational and fishing pier, and Pier 15, which houses the Exploratorium science museum.

Pier 31 is the docking spot for ferries to Alcatraz[LINK]. Along this stretch, look east across the Embarcadero for views of Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill. Passing a small park, you come to the Aquarium of the Bay and adjacent Pier 39, a multilevel complex of shops and restaurants arranged around a merry-go-round and performance area. Don't miss the sea lions lounging on floating docks on the north side of Pier 39.

Past Pier 39 is Fisherman's Wharf. With its street performers, steaming crab pots, and souvenir shops, the Wharf is San Francisco's top tourist destination, but it can be a lot of fun for residents, too. Crowds can be dense, especially along Jefferson Street. Look for panels that relate bits of local history in words and images. Pier 45, at the end of Taylor Street, houses the Musee Mechanique, a working collection of antique coin-operated musical instruments and games. To escape the throng and get a feel for the old working waterfront, follow the Embarcadero past the Musee Mechanique and the warehouses where fish processors still operate.

Back on Jefferson Street, head west from Fisherman's Wharf to the Hyde Street Pier, which is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. It's worth stopping by the park's visitor center, across the street in the Argonaut Hotel, to learn more about the city's maritime past before venturing onto the pier itself, where you will see antique boats moored, including the ferryboat Eureka and the Balclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship. The lower deck of the Eureka is accessible, and the main deck of the Balclutha may be accessible when the tide is out, though the gangway is always somewhat steep.

Just past the foot of Hyde Street Pier is Aquatic Park. The park is on your left; to your right is a cove backed by a small beach. Several ramped walkways lead up through the park to Ghirardelli Square, with its shops and restaurants, and to the Maritime Museum on Beach Street, also part of the Maritime Historical Park. The westernmost walkway has the most gradual slope. There are accessible entrances to Ghirardelli Square on Beach Street and on Larkin Street, but the latter is on a very steep hill. Ramps and elevators allow you to navigate the square's interior.

Be sure to drop in at the Maritime Museum, a three-story streamline moderne building that looks like a ship, to see the fantastic maritime-themed lobby murals created in the 1930s by artist Hilaire Hiler, and mosaics by Sargent Johnson on the veranda. The museum's entry door is very heavy, but a ranger is stationed in the lobby to assist visitors.


Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Parking in downtown San Francisco can be expensive and difficult to find; the Ferry Building is well served by public transportation, including Muni, BART, and several ferry lines. Metered street parking is available along the Embarcadero and there are numerous fee lots near Fisherman's Wharf, all of which have accessible spaces.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park visitor center, Hyde St. Pier, and the Ferry Building (on busy days, and especially during farmers markets, there can be long lines to use the Ferry Building's restrooms).

Along the route, accessible public restrooms are inside the Port office at Pier 1, in the arcade at Pier 3, at Alcatraz Landing between Piers 31 and 33, at Pier 39, in the octagon building inside the parking lot on Taylor St., and at Ghirardelli Square. The restrooms at the Maritime Museum at Aquatic Park are fairly accessible except the main entry is narrow and the toilets are low. There are also several accessible unisex toilets in green and gold kiosks along the route, but they're often occupied or dirty.

Other Things of Interest

From June through November, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers a ranger-led interpretive sailing program (fee) aboard the historic scow schooner Alma, which is wheelchair-accessible with some assistance. The tours, which depart from Hyde Street Pier, are about three hours long.

If you don't feel like wheeling all the way from the Ferry Building, you can take a historic streetcar along Muni's F line to Fisherman's Wharf, with accessible stops along the way, though in summer the F line can be very crowded. You can also rent an electric GoCar with hand-operated controls near Fisherman's Wharf to tour the waterfront.

Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, March 18, 2013

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Transamerica Pyramid from Pier 7
Transamerica Pyramid from Pier 7 (Eileen Ecklund)

Features icon key

  • bicycling
  • fishing
  • hiking
  • particularly good for families
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Nearest City: San Francisco
Hours: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park visitor center and Hyde Street Pier: Daily, 9:30 am-5:30 pm (June, July, August) and 9:30 am-5 pm (September-May); last entry to Hyde Street Pier is half an hour before closing. Both facilities are closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Maritime Museum: Daily, 10 am-4 pm.
Fees: Entry to the historic vessels on Hyde Street Pier
Dogs: On leash
Public Transportation: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, BART

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