Savoring the Legacy of Fisherman’s Wharf: San Francisco’s Seafood Sanctuary
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is not just a destination; it’s an experience steeped in maritime heritage and culinary delight. This historic waterfront area, known for its vibrant fishing fleet and delectable seafood, has been serving both locals and tourists alike for over a century. Among its most cherished attractions are the historic seafood stands, where the aroma of fresh steamed crab and clam chowder fills the air, inviting passersby to indulge in a feast of the senses.
A Rich Maritime History
The history of Fisherman’s Wharf is intertwined with the story of San Francisco itself. Originally the home of the city’s colorful fishing fleet, the wharf has evolved from humble beginnings into a world-renowned hub for seafood lovers. The annual Dungeness crab season, beginning in mid-November, marks a festive time at the wharf, with cauldrons boiling and the community coming together to celebrate the harvest.
Did you know?
- The tradition of serving seafood, particularly crab cocktails, to visitors in paper cups began even before the establishment of sidewalks or restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf.
- The opening of crab season is traditionally preceded by a religious procession and a blessing of the fleet, underscoring the community’s deep-rooted connection to its maritime heritage.
- In the early days, the best crab catches were made just outside the Golden Gate, but today, crabbers have to venture as far as the Farallon Islands to lay their traps.
Today at Fisherman’s Wharf
Today, Fisherman’s Wharf remains a bustling epicenter of seafood gastronomy, where historic seafood stands like Alioto’s Crab Stand #8, Crab Station, and Sabella & La Torre’s continue to draw crowds. While some stands, like Alioto’s and Tarantino’s, are currently closed, the legacy of serving fresh, delicious seafood to eager patrons lives on through those that remain operational.
Visitors can delight in a variety of seafood items, from fresh steamed crab and seafood cocktails to clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls and shrimp salad sandwiches. Each stand offers a unique taste of San Francisco’s seafood tradition, prepared with recipes passed down through generations.
Not to Be Missed
Fresh Steamed Crab
Experience the quintessential Fisherman’s Wharf treat with a whole steamed Dungeness crab, cracked and cleaned, ready for you to enjoy with a side of melted butter.
Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl
A visit to the wharf is incomplete without savoring the rich, creamy clam chowder served in an iconic sourdough bread bowl, a San Francisco culinary staple.
The Seafood Stands
Explore the variety of seafood stands along the wharf, each with its own history and specialty, offering a glimpse into the area’s fishing legacy and the families behind the counters.
Location and Information
Location: Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA Taylor Street at Jefferson Street
The Historic Seafood Stands at Fisherman’s Wharf
The stands offer a variety of seafood items such as fresh steamed crab, seafood cocktails, clam chowder, fried seafood, and shrimp salad sandwiches.
- (curently closed) ALIOTOS CRAB STAND #8 Fisherman’s Wharf | 415-673-0183 | Website
- CRAB STATION AT FISHERMAN’S WHARF 2803 Taylor Street | 415-474-8796| Website
- GUARDINO’S CRAB STAND 2801 Taylor Street | 415-775-3669
- NICK’S LIGHTHOUSE NO. 5 CRAB STAND 2815 Taylor Street | 415-929-1300 | Website
- (currently closed) NUMBER 9 FISHERMEN’S GROTTO CRAB STAND #9 Fisherman’s Wharf | 415-673-7025 | Website
- SABELLA & LA TORRE’S CRAB STAND 2801 Taylor Street | 415-673-2824 | Website
- (currently closed) TARANTINO’S CRAB STAND 206 Jefferson Street | 415-775-5600 | Website
About Dungeness Crabs
Fisherman’s Wharf, which has been the home of San Francisco’s colorful fishing fleet for nearly a century and a quarter, is world famous for its wide variety of seafood. Much of this fame is due to the annual harvest of that most delectable of all crustaceans, the Dungeness crab of San Francisco.
The opening of crab season in mid-November is a festive occasion. It is the day when the cauldrons along Fisherman’s Wharf are lighted, ready to receive the boxes piled high with Dungeness crab hoisted from the decks of the first boats that come chuffing back into port. It is a time for gourmet feasting that will last for many months to follow.
Traditionally, the opening of the crab season is preceded by a religious procession and a priestly blessing of the fleet. The boat decks are piled high with crab traps. The first day’s harvest is anxiously awaited as an indication of what the season will bring the crabbers as a reward for their hard work.
A century ago, crabs were in plentiful supply from the Straits of Carquinez on the inland reaches of San Francisco Bay to the sandy shorelines off Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda. Over the years, clams, the natural food of the crab, disappeared from the Bay. The best crab catches were then made just outside the Golden Gate. Today, the crabbers must drop their crab pots far out near the Farallon Islands in 18 to 35 fathoms of ocean water.
When the crabbers arrive at their fishing ground, their first chore is to set the crab traps, made of wire and about the size and shape of a tire. Inside each, they place a bait jar and drop the weighted pot over the side. A small marker buoy painted with the owner’s colors and tethered to the trap floats to the surface. Each of the boats may drop up to 200 pots. By the time the last pots have been dropped, night has fallen. In the early dawn it is time to begin hauling in the traps. Only the largest crabs are selected. The smaller ones are returned to the water.
In the early days of the fishing fleet, the homes of the Italian fishermen boasted the area’s finest cuisine. But, even before there were any sidewalks or restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf, some of the fishermen set up cauldrons of boiling water for cooking the freshly caught crabs, dispensing them in paper cups as a crab cocktail to be enjoyed by visitors.
During the last quarter century, many restaurants have been established, with the traditional steaming crab cauldron in front of their place of business. Men in smocks attend the cauldrons and still offer the visitors paper cups of fresh-cooked crab meat cocktails, or whole-cooked crabs to take home.
Many of the dishes available at these restaurants are based on the seafood dishes that today’s fishermen’s parents, grandparents or great-grandparents prepared in their native Italy, or in their San Francisco homes. It is dining such as to be found in no other place.
Fisherman’s Wharf, where historic seafood stands serve up fresh Dungeness crab, clam chowder in sourdough bowls
Visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and its historic seafood stands offers more than just a meal; it’s a dive into the heart of San Francisco’s fishing culture and history. It’s where culinary tradition meets the bounty of the sea, served against the backdrop of the bustling waterfront and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf invites you to be part of a story that continues to unfold, one crab cocktail at a time. It’s a place where every bite tells the tale of San Francisco’s vibrant maritime past and present, making it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to experience the soul of the city.