Detour: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park


It was the middle of Monday afternoon, September 9, and Sean and I had finished our trip to Alcatraz Island. With the rest of the afternoon in front of us, we decided to walk over and have a look at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The Park, established in 1988, celebrates San Francisco’s history as a major port city, as well as seafaring traditions along the entire West Coast.

But first, Sean had to get on a work call. We walked across the street from Pier 33, where we’d just disembarked the ferry from Alcatraz, and found a couple shady benches in front of a low-slung office building. While Sean was on the phone, I sat on a bench and caught up on notes from the trip.

By a little after three we were walking along the Embarcadero toward Fisherman’s Wharf.

We stopped for a hot dog, then kept walking.

Fisherman’s Wharf

As we walked along, Sean got a call and sent it to voice mail. When an explanatory text followed, he answered his phone the next time it rang. It was an urgent work matter. He motioned for us to keep walking while he got up to speed.

We reached Hyde Street Pier and National Park property.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park encompasses Hyde Street Pier, where its historic ships are docked, as well as the curving Municipal Pier, the Aquatic Park north of Ghirardelli Square, and the Aquatic Park Lagoon.

The Park’s visitor center is on the ground floor of a historic warehouse building that also houses the Argonaut Hotel.

While Sean took a second work call, I had a look inside the visitor center.

Poor guy.

I chatted with the volunteer at the desk. Although it’s possible to explore the historic ships, everything would be closing for the day in an hour and fifteen minutes at 5pm. If we’d had another full day in San Francisco ahead of us, I’d definitely have wanted to come back and spend the better part of the day exploring the exhibits, the ships, and the maritime museum. We will definitely make this Park a priority the next time we’re in San Francisco.

Sean wrapped up his call and came inside. We stamped our National Park Passports and walked around the visitor center having a look at the exhibits.

Farallon Islands lighthouse lens

Image: Sean M. Santos

Map of named shipwrecks north and south of the Golden Gate

Image: Sean M. Santos

Model of the Alma, one of the restored historical ships owned by the Park

When we exited the visitor center, it was already ten minutes after four. We’d decided agains getting tickets to board the ships since we had so little time, but we wanted to go and have a closer look at least.

Sternwheel of the Petaluma, the final riverboat to serve the bay area and its upriver cities. The boat that this wheel belonged to ceased operations in 1950 before being lost in a fire in 1956.

Hyde Street Pier

We walked as far as we could without tickets. We almost caved and got tickets so that we could walk onto at least one of the ships, but ultimately said that no, we’d return another time.


C.A. Thayer

The Park has an active program of restoring and rebuilding vessels, particularly historic small vessels, in its large collection.

Aquatic Park Lagoon, Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin Headlands

Aquatic Park Lagoon

Aquatic Park Lagoon

We left the pier and headed along the beach of the Aquatic Park Lagoon toward the art deco Maritime Museum.

While we walked, Sean got a voice message from his doctor that he needed a few further tests from his most recent physical. (In the months that have passed since this day, he’s had the tests and everything is just fine. He’s completely healthy.) This news, on top of the work issues, all piled up upon the foundation of his dislike of Alcatraz, meant that Sean was having probably his worst day ever visiting National Parks.

Alcatraz Island

The Maritime Museum was already closed when we got across the park, so we headed back toward the cable car turnaround.

The ad on the right is funny.

Aquatic Park Historic District

Aquatic Park Historic District

That abandoned french fry is so close, Western Gull!

Aquatic Park Historic District

Our SFMTA passes included rides on cable cars, so we fully intended to take advantage. The line for the Powell and Hyde line that departed from the Park was ridiculous. So we decided to walk several blocks away to Powell and Taylor line.

The line there was much shorter.

Clearly the “Danger. Stay behind chains” sign is for everyone except you.

One cable car departed, and we moved up, but would be unlikely to be on the second. But as the conductors finished the boarding process, they asked if anyone wanted to stand at the back. We were the next people in line willing to do it, so we hopped aboard.

It had to have been a much better ride (and views) than sitting in the cab facing the other riders.

As we left North Beach, we passed what claimed to be the world’s first Bikram Yoga studio.

The ride significantly lifted Sean’s spirits.

We hopped off at the end of the line at Union Square.

From there, it only took us fifteen minutes to walk back to our hotel.

After we dropped off our things, we got in the car and headed over to REI to gear up for the nine nights of camping we would embark on the next day. We opted for a couple biodegradable coolers made of recycled materials. We didn’t want to get something made of styrofoam, and we didn’t want to get something we couldn’t fly home with. Other than that, it was the usual: camp stove fuel, dehydrated meals, bars and granola, and such.

Back at the hotel, we found what appeared to be the last parking spot. Whew!

We rested back at the hotel for a while before we hopped on the Mission Street bus toward the block adjacent to the new, gigantic Salesforce Building. Our destination was the seafood restaurant, Anchor & Hope, which we’d very much enjoyed on our previous visit to San Francisco.

On this Monday, it was pretty quiet, save for a big group of middle aged tech folks from Belgium and Germany. Our table was near the bar, and at one point they literally gathered around us, chatting across our table with each other. The host noticed what was happening and quickly finished preparing their large table. Then he came over and apologized.

The food was good, but we didn’t enjoy the restaurant as much as we had three years earlier. By the end of dinner, Sean was sad and ready to go back to the hotel, relax, and put this unhappy day behind him. So we did, stopping for a couple candy bars at a 7-11 on the way back.

Also, this is gross, equating a park on corporate property with a truly public park by using a cutesy National Park Ranger.

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