The Embarcadero in San Francisco

San Francisco's Embarcadero Promenade is the highlight of any Bay City trip. With its stunning Bay Bridge views, farmers market, gourmet shops, unique boutiques, and waterfront attractions like Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf-this boardwalk hot-spot is a must-stop destination.

Quintessential for any visit to California’s Golden City, this oceanside walkway is a sunny stretch of piers, museums, galleries and cafes, where guests can stroll, ride, skate, jog or Segway. The Embarcadero is also a foodie’s dream with popular draws like the acclaimed Slanted Door and the elegant Waterfront restaurant by the bay featuring the best oysters, seafood chowder, salads and smoked fish in town.

Photo Alert: Don’t miss the beautiful evening Golden Hour photo opportunities as the light casts a glow along the legendary Bay Bridge.

family looking over san francisco bay and golden gate bridgeExperience the culture, music, history, art and cuisine of the one true City by the Bay. From historical sites like the iconic clock tower and the 1989 Ferry Building, the Embarcadero is a popular hub for tourists and locals.

Derived from the Spanish word, embark, the boardwalk starts near Oracle Park and travels north, under the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, past the Ferry Building, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and stops at Pier 45. The Embarcadero, a wide boardwalk that runs along the city’s eastern shoreline, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fun Fact: Just as notorious as its stunning views, the San Francisco fog adds an extra layer to its beauty. Did you know the famous fog, called “Karl the Fog,” has its own Instagram account?

The Embarcadero History

During the Gold Rush era, the area initially called Yerba Buena Cove transformed into a booming city with makeshift tents, stores, saloons and hotels as the population exploded. In 1898, the Ferry Building opened to meet the needs of the busy waterfront district.

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In the 1920s, over 50,000 commuters passed through daily, traveling up and down Market Street. With the building of the Embarcadero Freeway in the 1960s, automobile transit efforts improved but detracted from the city's aesthetics. Then in 1991, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the freeway and forced city planners to reexamine the area. Redevelopment efforts reestablished the promenade as a significant economic enhancement for the city. Before the Bay Bridge construction, the Embarcadero piers were used for trade and transportation. The waterfront became a military center for troops and supplies during World War II.

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Embarcadero’s Must-See Attractions

  • Embarcadero Center: Spanning four blocks, the Embarcadero Center is one of the largest mixed-use complexes in the country. With hundreds of shops, restaurants, and state-of-the-art cinemas, the center is the hottest spot on the boardwalk!
  • Ferry Building Marketplace: The Ferry Building offers views of its award-winning architectural design, A list Bay area chefs, and fantastic produce vendors. The farmers market is open on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
  • Sea Lions: These Sea Lebrities have created a following that rivals a free Beyonce/Jay Z concert. Come early because this popular draw attracts tourists in droves. At one point there were over a thousand sea lions chilling on their newfound home at PIER 39.

Fun Fact: Most of the sea lions at PIER 39 are male. Sea lions may live up to 25 years old and are different from seals with their external ear flaps.

  • Clock Tower at the Ferry Building: This architectural feat is a 245-foot clock tower with four clock dials each 22 feet. The clock features a set of horn loudspeakers that play portions of the Westminster Quarters every full and half hour. The clock’s design was modeled on the famous clock tower of the Seville Cathedral in southern Spain.

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  • Hornblower Cruises at Pier 3: With an ample selection of bay cruises, this waterfront venue features some of the best San Francisco views. The Commodore Hornblower seats up to 5,000 guests and offers an outdoor event space where guests can dine and dance the night away.
  • The Exploratorium: This science museum highlights human perception with interactive displays. Visitors of all ages can enjoy the hundreds of exhibits through its six spacious indoor and outdoor galleries.

Pro Tip: Check out the Exploratorium’s Tactile Dome for an amazing adventure and one-of-a-kind experience through a pitch dark Dome with various textures.

The Embarcadero Highlights

  • Pier 33 Alcatraz Cruises: These ferry cruises take guests to the legendary Alcatraz Island, one of the country’s famous prisons and home to America’s notorious criminals.
  • Aquarium of the Bay at PIER 39: With three main exhibition areas in its 50,000 square foot building, the museum hosts more than 20,000 marine animals, including numerous rays, jellyfish, octopus, and lethal sharks. The Aquarium is open seven days a week.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf: This cultural mecca is always great to experience, packed with restaurants, arcades, galleries and food stands. Crowds of tourists flock daily to taste the waterfront diners, drink at the pubs, and see Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the magnificent Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.

close up of Fisherman's Wharf sign with crowds of people walking through the streets in San Francisco, California, USAEmbarcadero Fine Dining

  • Waterfront Restaurant: The Waterfront is the ideal spot to capture a great dining experience. This elegant venue features spectacular ocean vistas and an awarding winning menu.
  • Ferry Building: With over 50 top-notch restaurants, cafes and stalls, not to mention the shopping galore – there’s no better place to pass the afternoon than at this iconic destination, which some say is the anchor of the Embarcadero. Try Ray Bay’s for a great cup of Joe, or the Acme bakery for the best bread and desserts, or Gott’s for a juicy burger – there’s something for every craving under the sun.

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  • La Mar: This Peruvian eatery offers a bright, airy festive vibe alongside delicious seafood-influenced dishes and specialty cocktails.
  • Waterbar: For innovative dishes and a wine list that goes on forever, not to mention the best patio views in town, hit this oyster bar's happy hour from noon to 5:00 p.m.


Pro Tip: If you’re really living it up, try the new Four Seasons Embarcadero. Guests can head up to the hotel’s glass-encased sky bridge on the 48th floor to spot the city’s best landmarks.

    • SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45: This National Liberty Ship Memorial is one of only two ships built and used during World War II. Restored to historic accuracy, the ship is a living museum and National Historic Landmark.
    • Ghirardelli Square: No trip to the Embarcadero is complete without stopping by the historic Square. The area is rich with boutiques, shops and restaurants. Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae or chocolate bar, that’s truly worth the calories! Once the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory is now a magical Embarcadero destination.

Embarcadero Parking Tips

Parking in the area can be expensive and hard to find. If you’re lucky, you might find a street spot with a parking meter that charges $3.50 an hour. If not, here are some of the best deals for parking lots and garages:

Best Parking Lots

  • Pier 27: $15 for the first two hours. $20 per weekday, $25 per day on the weekends.
  • Pier 15 Exploratorium: Come early (before 9:00 a.m. to get the flat $20 a day rate. After that, the price increases to $35 a day.)

Pro Tip: Always pay the machine or a verified attendant. Some crooks sometimes pose as parking workers. Also, don’t leave any valuables visible in the car!

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Best Parking Garages

  • Pier 23: A large parking garage with a flat $20 a day rate.
  • Pier 3, Hornblower Landing: This garage near the Ferry Building costs $20 a day, but only $10 if you do the Hornblower evening cruise.
  • 80 Francisco Street: Daily rate is $22 and $20 on weekends. For early birds Monday through Friday, it's only $18 a day!

close up of Erin smiling on a sunny day

Written By Erin

Erin Poche` is a Utah-based writer and editor for Tripster and contributing writer for BeyondType1. She also writes and edits for an indie publisher of fanta ...

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