Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.


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Pat and I did the tourist thing and went to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We took a tram directly there from the Castro, which was rather fun, as the driver chatted to all the passengers through a microphone, and was very entertaining.

Can’t say I’ve ever been hugely entertained by a Brisbane train driver.

Fisherman's Wharf gets its name from the city's early days during the gold rush where Italian immigrant fishermen settled in the area and fished for the Dungeness Crab. Despite its redevelopment into a tourist attraction during the 1970s and 1980s, the area is still home to many active fishermen and their fleets.  Not that we saw any amongst all the tourists.



At the end is a little beach, with families doing beach things.


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During the California Gold rush in the mid 1800s, Domingo Ghirardelli shrewdly discovered that the exhausted miners in from the fields were starved for luxuries and needed something to spend their gold dust on.

To capitalize on this opportunity, he stocked chocolate delicacies to ensure that they patronised his shop, which has been in continuous production ever since.

We were given a free sample – yum!


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In the early 1960s, Ghirardelli Square was developed from old factory buildings by leading modernist architects, landscape architects, and innumerable allied artists.

One of the artists was Japanese American Ruth Asawa, whose sculpture included a breastfeeding mermaid.  In 1968, one of the landscape architects demanded its removal, as being inappropriate for a public space.

This demand galvanized debate over men's domination of the symbols and design of urban public space. The feminists of San Francisco are very vocal in asserting their rights to breastfeed in public, and in the local context, the mermaids offered a wholesome, maternal alternative to the neighbouring topless club scene. At any rate, the sculpture stayed.  (I did find myself idly wondering how mermaids manage to give birth…..)

Ruth Asawa (born 1916) was interned in 1942 at the age of 16 for 18 months in primitive conditions, and did not see her parents for six years.  She studied to be an art teacher but was unable to find a position owing to lingering ill will towards the Japanese.  She married at 23 and had six children, working on her art when she could.  She competed for and received commissions for public art, such as the mermaid sculpture, and her talent was gradually recognised.

She co-founded the Alvarado School Arts Workshop in San Francisco, that some of her children attended.  (We saw this school, from the outside, anyway.)

In 1973, Asawa helped organize the Music, Art, Dance, Drama, and Science (MADDS) Festival, which has become an annual citywide youth arts festival sponsored by schools, civic leaders, neighbourhood groups and museums.

In 1982, Asawa founded a public high school for the arts, School of the Arts (SOTA).

She also served on the San Francisco Arts Commission, President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health on “The Role of the Arts”, the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and became a trustee of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

"Art is for everybody," according to Asawa. "It is not something that you should have to go to the museums in order to see and enjoy.”


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The Hyde Street Pier housed the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.  The Balclutha, built in 1886 in Glasgow, sailed around Cape Horn bringing coal and general cargo from Europe, and returning with California grain.  

From 1903 to 1930, the ship made yearly visits between San Francisco and Alaska, carrying men and supplies to the canneries and bringing back packed salmon.  She must have been really pleased to be retired now!



Balclutha masts.


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This sturdy little tug, the Hercules, was built in 1907 to live and pull in the open ocean, and could steam for 30 days or 3,000 miles without  refuelling.  She was built in New Jersey and towed her sister ship, the Goliah to San Francisco via Cape Horn.  Can you believe it!

Hercules worked until 1961, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.



USS Pampanito is a World War II Balao class Fleet submarine museum and memorial that is open for visitors daily at  Fisherman's Wharf. Pampanito made six patrols in the Pacific during World War II during which she sank six Japanese ships and damaged four others.


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The SS Jeremiah O’Brien is one of two remaining fully functional Liberty ships built and launched during WWII. She has the distinction of being the last unaltered Liberty ship and remains historically accurate.

The ship makes several passenger-carrying daylight cruises each year in the San Francisco Bay area and occasional voyages to more distant ports such as Seattle and San Diego.

She is also a film star - footage of the ship's engines were used in the 1997 film Titanic to depict the ill-fated ship's own engines.

And – for an added treat – approved groups can even bring their own sleeping bags and spend a night aboard.

I didn’t even suggest it.


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Occasionally we would see some swimmers between some piers, not splashing around (it was far too cold) but swimming purposefully up and down in straight lines.

See the Golden Gate in the background!


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From Fisherman’s wharf, you could see the former notorious prison, the rock of Alcatraz, which now concentrates on captivating tourists.  We were told that there is a very good tour to go there, but Pat said he had already seen one prison (Boggo Road) and that was enough.



The closest Pat planned to get to Alcatraz.


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We took an hour’s cruise in a small fishing boat under the Golden Gate and back.



This gave us an appetite (and a thirst) so I had some famous Fisherman’s Wharf clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, while Pat had a very tall beer.


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Some restaurants, like Alioto's #8, go back for three generations of the same family ownership.


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If you park on Fisherman’s Wharf, you have to be prepared to accept the consequences.


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The busker was playing “”If you’re goin’ to San Francisco…”


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Pier 39 is Tourist Central.



It includes every tourist trap known to humankind – an aquarium, mirror maze, 100 berth marina, boat cruises, bungee trampolining, Italian carousel, street performers, and two levels of restaurants and shops.


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Even the views are sponsored.


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However, one of the main attractions of Pier 39 are basking sea lions (“sea-lebrities”) who first arrived after the 1989 earthquake, possibly disoriented.  They took over boat docks, destroying the structures with their sheer weight.  The boat docks (and boats) were removed, and replaced with sturdier sea lion floats.  These are now hosed down regularly to reduce the smell – more for the comfort of humans trying to eat at nearby restaurants than for the sea lions.


As we were walking along the street, I was somewhat startled when a large man leapt out from behind some branches and yelled at me, while a tourist took a picture of me being yelled at.  I later found out that this was the World Famous Bushman, a homeless man who has been scaring passers-by along Fisherman’s Wharf since 1980.  Crowds gather to watch him “work”, and photograph his unsuspecting victims. Someone must pay him to do this, because apparently he employs a bodyguard to protect himself against attacks by the unamused, and to alert him to the approach of elderly people so he can avoid scaring them.  I suppose I should feel flattered that I wasn’t considered too elderly to scare.

Fisherman's Wharf merchants have tried to shut him down, but he is still there, believe me.


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There are lots of ways of getting around on Fisherman’s Wharf.

On a blue bus (or a red one)……



On a Duck, for a land and sea experience…..


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On a bicycle built for two…..



Or four…..


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Or a Segway…..

These people are actually at Sausalito, but you could hire Segways at Fisherman’s Wharf as well.  I tried to book us a Segway tour – I could really see us doing this – but they were booked out.


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Or on the high-speed, strap-in, get-soaked Rocket Boat.

But mainly we walked.


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We did however decide to leave by cable car.

The most desirable place to ride a cable car is on the step.



The cable car line was extremely long.


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This gave us plenty time to read the safety instructions.


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We took special note of hanging on around curves.


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When the cable car reached the “turnaround” it was physically “turned around”.


IMG_0350 This man’s job seemed to be to sit in a little hideyhole until a cable car came along, about every 15 minutes, and come out and supervise while the driver did the pushing.

We were wedged very tightly into our seats – at least we were lucky enough to have seats – as more people crammed in along the way.  Just one of those San Francisco experiences.

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