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Embarcadero South

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 along San Francisco's Embarcadero from South Beach Harbor to Fisherman's Wharf. The southern portion of the promenade described here (see Embarcadero North for its continuation) is anchored on the south by 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 along San Francisco's Embarcadero from South Beach Harbor to Fisherman's Wharf. The southern portion of the promenade described here (see Embarcadero North for its continuation) is anchored on the south by the San Francisco Giants' baseball stadium and on the north by the Ferry Building, the city's historic water transport hub and now a mecca for fresh, organic local foods. In between you will find vistas, public artworks, sleek new cafes and old waterfront dives, a marina, and green open spaces, with bits of history sprinkled along the way. Above all you will see a waterfront in flux, as it continues to evolve from a working port into a recreation and sightseeing destination. Keep in mind that all the piers south of the Ferry Building are even-numbered; the odd-numbered piers are north of the Ferry Building.

Trail/Pathway Details

Herb Caen Way, from China Basin to the Ferry Building

Trailhead: China Basin Park, next to the Barry Bonds Jr. Giants Field

Length: 2-4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Hard

Description

Start your trip at China Basin Park, situated in what was once the docking area for Asian trade ships. Here you get a southern view of the San Francisco Giants' baseball stadium and the ferry terminal across McCovey Cove, where hundreds of game-goers arrive from across the bay. If children are with you, bring a ball and bat to enjoy at the Barry Bonds Jr. Giants Field, a small softball field located next to Pier 48. Concrete benches--engraved with dedications as well as the names and statistics of Giants players since 1958, when the team moved to San Francisco--wind along a wide paved path toward McCovey Point and the towering statue of Willie McCovey, a Hall of Fame inductee.

From McCovey Point, head for the stadium by crossing the mouth of Mission Creek on Lefty O'Doul Bridge, the Third Street drawbridge. A free viewing area, where you can take in both the baseball game and the views, is along the public promenade on the northern shore of McCovey Cove, near the ferry landing. Inside the ballpark, below the giant Coca-Cola bottle, a small accessible play area is open free of charge when the team is out of town (Sept.-May: Sat.-Sun., 10 am-4 pm; June-Aug.: daily, 10 am-5 pm); an elevator will take you up to the playground level. This is also a great vantage place from which to look down into the ballpark.

From here you travel along the bay side of the stadium and continue north past South Beach Harbor, where the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS) docks at Pier 40. BAADS offers free sailing lessons on weekends by reservation. South Beach Park, next to the harbor, has a 70-foot kinetic sculpture by Mark di Suvero as its centerpiece, a stepped seating area overlooking the bay, and a fenced children's play area with picnic tables. Here King Street turns into the Embarcadero, San Francisco's wide waterfront thoroughfare, with traffic breezing by. Along the wide bayside sidewalk are black-and-white striped posts with text and photos related to the waterfront's history. Piers 34 and 36 were demolished in 2012 and the small open space park that has taken their place is a pleasant place to stop and enjoy the views.

Passing the old waterfront hangout Red's Java House, you soon come to the western end of the Bay Bridge soaring high above. By Pier 24 Photography, look to see if the gate is open (during business hours only); if so, walk in and look for the old rail tracks that run alongside the pier and out into the bay. You will also see several photos of the Bay Bridge under construction. Pier 24 Photography houses the Pilara photography collection and is open to the public free of charge by appointment, Monday through Thursday.

The Ferry Building's clock tower now comes into view, as does a giant red-and-yellow bow-and-arrow sculpture, "Cupid's Span," by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The sculpture, in Rincon Park, is surrounded by native grasses. Seating walls adorned with bronze sea creatures are along the trail. Pier 14, which stretches 637 feet into the bay, was rebuilt and reopened in 2006; roll out along its paved surface for views through the barred railings, and to watch the fishermen in action. Near its foot, look for cheerful painted tiles depicting various types of boats. Just past Pier 14 is a plaza that hosts a revolving series of sculptures.

Past the plaza is the Ferry Building, a key feature of San Francisco's waterfront since it opened in 1898. Damaged in both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, it was extensively renovated after the latter, reopening in 2003. It now features Bay Area foods and those who grow and prepare them, mostly on a small scale. At tables inside the building or on benches outside, facing the water, you can enjoy a great Japanese, Mexican, or French meal, oysters from Tomales Bay, or organic coffee with organic milk from Marin County. You can order salads, sandwiches, and soups to go, and buy fruit, vegetables, and organic meat to take home from vendors inside and, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at the outdoor farmers market. Behind the Ferry Building, past the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, commuter ferries dock, linking the city's downtown with Sausalito, Tiburon, Vallejo, Larkspur, and Oakland/Alameda. (The ferry for Alcatraz leaves from Pier 33.)

Accessibility Details

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

Two accessible spots are in the lot at the Barry Bonds Jr. Giants Field near China Basin Park, and one is on the street nearby

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At the Ferry Building (on busy days, and especially during farmers markets, there can be long lines) and near China Basin ferry landing, behind the Giants' stadium (these are mostly accessible, but there is a 90-degree turn into the main entry and the faucets are not operable with a closed fist). Accessible restrooms can also be found behind Pier 40 (the turnaround in the stall is a little tight), and free kiosk toilets are on the Embarcadero at Harrison St. and at the south end of Justin Herman Plaza.

Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, February 15, 2013

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The Cupid's Span sculpture
The Cupid's Span sculpture (Eileen Ecklund)

Features icon key

  • bicycling
  • boating
  • fishing
  • hiking
  • particularly good for families

Additional Information

View Map  
Nearest City: San Francisco
Hours: Open 24 hours
Dogs: On leash
Many owners take their dogs to play at South Beach Park. Dogs are allowed on leash on city sidewalks but not inside the children's play areas.
Public Transportation: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI)
Useful Links: Ferry Building Marketplace,San Francisco Giants

Did You Know?

The stretch of San Francisco's waterfront from the Bay Bridge to Broadway--including the iconic Ferry Building--was cut off from the rest of downtown by the Embarcadero Freeway from 1959 until 1991, when the freeway was demolished after it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

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