Want a San Francisco waterfront experience without the crowds of Fisherman’s Wharf? Just ten minutes away, The Embarcadero is a San Francisco neighborhood adored for its great restaurants, iconic clock tower, Bay Bridge views, and proximity to popular points of interest.
Whether you want to board a ferry to Alcatraz or spend your morning strolling around the piers, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, has it all. Travelers with kids will love playing their way through attractions like the Exploratorium, while shopaholics will love hunting down souvenirs at the Embarcadero Center.
Traveling to the area for the first time? This complete San Francisco Embarcadero travel guide will turn you into a San Francisco pro, with tips on what to see & do, what to eat, and where to stay.
Looking for more ideas for your trip? Check out our California Travel Guide for more tips & recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do on your vacation!
What to see & do in San Francisco’s Embarcadero
A foodie’s favorite Bay Area landmark, the Ferry Building is a historic hub dating back to 1898, recently refurbished to become the city’s premier artisan food market. In addition to fresh produce, cheeses, meats, and pop-up restaurants, you’re likely to find flower and handicraft stalls scattered throughout.
Looking to enhance your Ferry Building experience? You can book a guided walking tour through the landmark every Tuesday and Saturday for a better understanding of its history. Alternatively, target one of their special events, including weekly mass yoga classes on Wednesdays.
Sometimes described as a “scientific funhouse,” the Exploratorium is a hands-on, multidisciplinary museum located at Pier 15. With both indoor and outdoor exhibits and hundreds of science experiments and artworks for self-led exploration, this top San Francisco attraction offers families a “choose-your-own-adventure” vibe.
Just a few of the activities you can expect to participate in at the Exploratorium include creating a cloud ring, stepping inside a giant kaleidoscope, screaming into an echo tube, creating a human circuit, and causing an earthquake with your foot.
Traveling with an adults-only crew? The Exploratorium hosts an “After Dark” night at the museum every Thursday. At this exciting event, you’ll play your way through all the exhibits with a cocktail in hand and a live DJ blasting tunes throughout the museum.
Looking for a little outdoor oasis to break up your otherwise hectic day roaming around Downtown San Francisco? Rincon Park is nestled along the waterfront, with a paved promenade and stunning Bay Bridge views. This park isn’t overly large and won’t take long to explore, but it is worth a stop on your San Francisco itinerary.
Rincon Park is what you make of it, so be sure to come up with a plan. Many visitors use the promenade to sneak a walk, run, or cycle into their itinerary, and the mid-size lawn area is perfect for spreading out a blanket and reading in the sun. Don’t forget to take a photo with the iconic bow and arrow sculpture known as “Cupid’s Span.”
SS Jeremiah O’Brien
A designated National Historic Landmark, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien is a living museum aboard one of the famous Liberty ships, retired from its service in the second world war and docked at Pier 45. In fact, it’s one of only two that remain out of the 2,710 originally built, making this an ultra-unique, all-American experience.
On the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, you’ll experience the life of a sailor on the high seas, headed to Normandy. In addition to looking through the captain’s scope, rotating the vessel’s guns, and stepping inside preserved living/dining quarters, you’ll have a chance to navigate multiple storytelling exhibits with wartime artifacts.
Searching for the perfect (non-cheesy) souvenir to bring home? Embarcadero Center is one of the city’s premier shopping centers with over 125 stores, but that’s not all. Located in San Francisco’s Financial District, this mega-concourse also features top-rated bars, restaurants, and fitness centers.
The Embaracadero Center is a great place to take a stroll, even if you only plan on window shopping since it’s laden with lush gardens and home to an extensive public art collection.
Visiting San Francisco during the winter months? Make some time to lace up your skates at this attraction’s pop-up ice rink.
Down at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 is a hub for popular San Francisco attractions, plus some casual shopping and dining. Since its 1978 construction, this dock has continued to grow and expand, gaining traction as one of the city’s top points of interest.
Just wandering around Pier 39, you’ll find plenty to do, like watching street performers, getting your caricature drawn for a unique souvenir, or riding the San Fransisco carousel. That said, if you’d prefer to add something a little more concrete to your itinerary, you can plan a visit to the video arcade and Aquarium of the Bay or embark on a sailing or whale-watching charter.
Want to see the famous sea lions? The California cuties sun themselves on the marina pier daily. They’ve become so much of a fixture that Pier 39 now has a Sea Lion Center where you can touch a sea lion pelt, measure your size up against a real skeleton, and play with interactive displays to learn about your new flippered friends.
Where to eat & drink
If you love seafood, make time to visit Hog Island Oyster Co., located in the historic Ferry Building Marketplace. Your official destination for slurping oysters, this restaurant takes both an ocean-to-table and farm-to-table approach, with produce shopped from local farmer’s markets. The menu is ever-changing, but some staples you’ll always find are sake oyster pairings, shrimp or oyster po’boys, clam chowder, and seafood pasta.
Want to have a tapas night with your travel companions? Coqueta is The Embarcadero’s top choice. This flirty Spanish restaurant offers bite-size skewers, small plates where veggies are the star of the show and sharable meat cuts straight from the grill, and seafood presentations. All this, plus wine and cocktails on the waterfront? You don’t want to miss out on this one!
Looking for a summertime hangout? The Waterbar Restaurant patio is bursting with palms and offers up premium views of the Bay Bridge, nestled at its feet. This stylish seafood spot serves up tons of iced shellfish, caviar, and grilled fish. This indoor dining room has a quirky “under the sea” vibe, with nautical features and floor-to-ceiling aquarium columns.
Open until 2 am, Cafe Terminus is where you’ll want to go to keep the good times rollin’. Serving a mean cup of coffee and a selection of salads and sandwiches, this cocktail lounge also has midday appeal, with the vibe constantly changing as the clock ticks on. One of the best things about this bar is its unique range of spirits and aperitifs, so be sure to make time for a happy hour at the bare minimum.
A meal at Perry’s Embarcadero is a staple of the San Francisco experience, with a few locations throughout the city. Atop their vintage blue-checked tablecloths, this restaurant is serving classic American comfort food, including their signature Perry’s Hamburger. With casual plates and an unstuffy atmosphere, this bistro is the ideal choice when you’re looking for something quick, easy, and delicious.
If you find yourself down by the bay, be sure to stop at Sens for a happy hour special. Located on the second floor for an elevated wharfside experience, this restaurant celebrates from 3:30 pm to 8 pm, giving you plenty of time to sip and dine on a dime. Their Mediterranean menu has plenty of innovative small plates and a few entrees to satisfy larger appetites, all with a sophisticated, upscale vibe.
Where to stay
With its central location, The Embarcadero is one of the most popular areas to stay in San Francisco. If you run out of accommodations here, expand your lodgings search to neighboring areas like South of Market (SoMa), Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, or North Beach.
Harbor Court Hotel
Just a five-minute walk from the historic Ferry Building, the Harbor Court Hotel provides a sleek and modern way to experience the waterfront. The lobby lounge spaces are perfect for unwinding after a busy day of touring or fitting a few extra hours of work in on a business trip, and there are three great dining outlets right onsite.
Want to hit up a gym to reenergize each morning? The hotel fitness center has all the equipment you could ever need, with TRX, Peloton, free weights, and strength training machines. Plus, they have yoga mats, resistance bands, and plenty of floor space for lower-impact workouts.
Hyatt Regency San Francisco
The Hyatt Regency San Francisco gives off boutique hotel vibes with a slight nautical theme throughout. Guestrooms in this historic brick building along the wharf feature porthole mirrors above the bed and a seafarer’s telescope. Looking out your window, you’ll be treated to rows of palms and unparalleled views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.
Throughout the course of the day, all your food and refreshments needs will be taken care of. A continental breakfast of pastries and fresh juices is available each morning, there’s a complimentary wine hour each afternoon, and the Ozumo Sushi Bar is located right next door for a quick Japanese dinner.
1 Hotel San Francisco
1 Hotel San Francisco takes total wellness to a whole new level. This luxury hotel with a nature-inspired design has a huge focus on sustainability with water refill stations, LEED clean-energy certification, fully electric rental cars and e-bikes, and charity partnerships—being environmentally friendly has never looked so good!
The hotel spa has outdoor stone tubs for a mineral soak treatment on the rooftop terrace, in addition to massages, facials, and more. Plus, if the gym is your thing, you can take advantage of a full calendar of group classes or one-on-one personal training.