Corbitt's National Parks
     San Francisco Maritime
               National Historical Park


1988: National Historical Park

Size: 50 acres

2008 visitors: 4,086,211

Stamp: Yes

Rating (1-5):

About the Site

This Park celebrates the long sailing history associated with San Francisco harbor. Native peoples paddled the harbor with reed canoes while European explorers charted the coastline. In 1776, the Spanish settled on the site of present-day San Francisco. It wasn't long before sailors were searching for seal and otter, and whalers and Boston merchants paid visits to the harbor to trade for California cowhides. Then, when gold was discovered in 1849, over 700 ships arrived in one year. Some sleek cutters graced the harbor, but prospective miners chartered anything that could float if it got them to the gold fields quickly. Some of these ships were immediately abandoned and they still lie underneath today's Financial District.

Flat-bottomed inland waterway traders, deep-keeled oceangoing traders, warships from World War II, whalers, submarines, ferry boats, pleasure craft -- the harbor has seen them all. What a joy it must have been to see the bustling harbor at the height of its romantic period. This Park preserves a bit of the history with several ships tied up at a pier, and a museum offers an interesting guide.

What You're Going to See

Hyde Street Pier, originally built in 1922 to ferry autos across to Sausalito, is the main attraction here. Six vessels of all different types are tied up alongside, open to visitors. There's the Eureka, a side-wheel steam ferry, used to carry autos and railroad cars. The square-rigged Balaclutha regularly sailed around the Horn, ferrying men and wheat. The C.A.Thayer sailed up and down the coastline, hauling Douglas fir from the north to lumberyards that built California's cities. The Alma, the last San Francisco Bay scow schooner afloat, transported cargoes like pork and crops from the delta inland communities to the great harbor. Tugboats and smaller craft are also visitable.

There's a neat museum just to the west of the pier, filled with photographs and models and in the top room a hands-on exploration of radio and navigational equipment. The Maritime Museum is shaped like a ship and is fun for kids and adults alike. On Pier 45 is the USS Pampanito, a restored WWII submarine, operated by the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association. Don't forget, this is in San Francisco, so there's plenty to see and do!

Personal Observations

What a fun place to visit! For a landlocked desert dweller, seeing all these ships was an afternoon of delight. My kids ran from ship to ship, pretending they were sailors, they touched ropes and turned wheels and had a great time. The museum was a blast too. It has a good view of the harbor, and plenty of seafaring exhibits and anchors and maps. Upstairs is a radio room.

I highly recommend this park! Apart from all it has to offer, it's right in San Francisco, so it can easily become part of anyone's plans who visits the area. Definitely stamp-worthy.

Getting There

The park is at the west end of Fisherman's Wharf, at the Hyde Street cablecar terminus, in San Francisco. Take Hyde Street and go to the water, you can't miss it. Or, follow the Embarcadero around to the west, past Fisherman's Wharf, and you can't miss it.

Nearby Attractions

Within 40 miles of San Francisco you will find: Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, John Muir National Historic Site, Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, Fort Point National Historic Site, Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument, and Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site. Let's not forget California Coastal National Monument either.

Visited July 2003.