From a bowl clam chowder at Fog Harbor to a hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli’s, here’s how to eat your way along Fisherman’s Wharf on your next trip to San Francisco.
Pretty much everyone visiting San Francisco takes a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf. People come for the history — it’s been a working wharf since the Gold Rush days and, these days, fishermen unload about 19 million pounds of seafood here a year. People come to see the few million pounds (give or take) of sea lions barking, snoozing and just goofing around on their own special docks. And they come for the food and drink. Between old favourites and a few new ones, you can easily take down a sea lion’s worth of great seafood and other delights. Here are 10 suggestions to get you started:
1. Tear into a bread bowl of the people’s chowder
Despite the fact there’s no clam fishery in the waters off San Francisco, clam chowder is a big deal around here. Every fall, locals flock to Wharf Fest to sample a dozen or so chowders and vote for their favourite. Fog Harbor has brought home the People’s Choice award a few times. They bring in east coast clams and toast the roux for added flavour. The chowder is served in a scooped out loaf of sourdough bread that’s still warm from the oven. After you shovel in a few spoonfuls you’ll want to tear away at the bread (making a wonderfully gooey mess) and shovel that in, too.
2. And try the judge’s favourite chowder
At Cioppino’s down the street, they also serve their clam chowder, the 2018 Wharf Fest Judge’s Choice, in a sourdough bowl but they get their bread from Boudin’s Bakery a few doors down. Boudin’s is renowned for their loaves, their bread-making museum and for the fact that Louise Boudin rescued her sourdough starter (loaded with bacteria Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis) from a burning building during the 1906 earthquake. Cioppino’s chowder includes Canadian clams, fresh thyme and tasty bits of honey bacon pancetta. Sample sizes are served in mini loaves.
3. Grab a feast to go at a crab stand
Not long after fishermen started unloading their catch at the wharf back in the day, crab stands started popping up to turn the fresh seafood into hearty meals for people wandering by. Menu options include fresh rolls stuffed with crab, shrimp salad sandwiches and mussels.
4. Go upscale with a crab doughnut
About the same time the Golden Gate Bridge was going up in 1935, The Grotto opened as the first sit-down restaurant on the wharf. The newly-renovated and very stylish resto made history again when the chef invented the crab doughnut. The dumpling-esque treats are served in a trio, with little slices of fried lemon and drizzled with sweet pepper jelly. You may try not to, but you will eat all three.
5. Dig into a hot fudge sundae
When you’re at Ghirardelli Square, just up from the wharf, it’s pretty much a requirement to hit up Ghirardelli’s for a hot fudge sundae. You can share the mound of ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce or take the whole thing down yourself. Whether you get the sundae with a brownie on top (just over from the maraschino cherry) is up to you, but consider it’s pretty hilly in San Francisco and you may need that extra boost of energy.
6. Brand new spot for cocktails and dim sum
Directly underneath the iconic Ghirardelli sign, the Palette Tea House is opening its doors any day. Owned by the Ngs, a long-time restaurant family in the city, it will offer a stunning décor, specialty teas, cocktails, seafood and dim sum.
7. Get schooled in cheese
Whether you enjoy the best grilled cheese of your life at the café, pick up a chunk along with wine and meats for later, take an evening class on pairings or a workshop on how to open your own cheese shop, the Cheese School in Ghirardelli Square will meet you — and feed you — wherever you are on your “cheese journey.”
8. Pour a Fog City IPA
San Francisco Brewery Co, a popular craft brewer in Ghirardelli Square, serves more than beer and burgers. On summer afternoons, you can take a well-hydrated yoga class in the outdoor beer garden/yoga studio (you bring your mat, they pour the beer) and enjoy après-yoga curled up with a pint in front of a fire pit.
9. Take down a tater tot between holes of mini golf
If you’re short on time but want to see all the sights, you can cheat by putting past tiny replicas of Alcatraz and other San Francisco landmarks at Subpar Mini Golf in Ghirardelli Square. If you get peckish order some tater tots or a corn dog.
10. Sip a hard-won Irish coffee
The martini, Mai Tai and Pisco punch were all invented in San Francisco, but another boozy bevvie may have the best story. In 1952 the owner of the Buena Vista Café was determined to replicate an Irish coffee a regular customer (and Pulitzer Prize winning San Francisco Chronicle columnist) had enjoyed in Ireland. The two kept experimenting with whiskey, coffee and cream but the cream kept sinking. After a pilgrimage to Ireland and a consult with a dairy farmer (who happened to be the mayor of San Francisco), the owner nailed it. Today, the café serves about half a million Irish coffees a year.
5 more places to eat and drink in San Francisco
• Soak up more than a century of history with a glass of wine under the elegant chandeliers at the Palace Hotel’s GC Lounge.
• Feast on charred Chinese broccoli and Kung Pao Firecracker Chicken at China Live’s Market Restaurant and Bar and stock up on jars of their Chili Bean Sauce at the retail shop.
• Feel like a mogul with a bourbon cocktail in one hand and a deviled egg in the other in the original art deco Redwood Room at The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel.
• For cool kid spotting along with cocktails and tasty Brussel sprout bites, head to the Proper Hotel.
• Do not miss Le Colonial for wok-seared and bite-sized morsels of filet mignon along with sautéed prawns with garlic egg noodles, bean sprouts and onions.