Thursday, May 8, 2008

Union Square vs. Fisherman's Wharf

It seems this question comes up a lot and I wrote a piece for the TripAdvisor Inside Pages on the topic that others have added to. It has now evolved into a point-counter point for the question. I thought I would post it on my blog since we just got a review from a guest on the topic. I can count on one hand the number of times someone has said that they wish they had stayed at Fisherman's Wharf instead of Union Square, but there are many that echo the comments in the review below.

Here is a portion of the review from the guest we just received on TripAdivsor:

“Lovely hotel”

May 4, 2008
We initially wanted to stay in Fisherman's wharf, but couldn't because the hotel was booked up. When we got to San Francisco we were SO glad we were staying in Union square instead! We chose this hotel based on the reviews on Trip Advisor, and it certainly met our expectations. On booking the room, we had asked for a room... more
Here is the Point - Counter point on the question:
People coming to visit San Francisco often ask "What area is best to stay in?" Although there are many great places in the city to stay, the most commonly recommended locations are Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square. Everyone is different, but here is the point-counter point in the age old battle of UNION SQUARE vs. FISHERMAN'S WHARF
The argument for Union Square -
Union Square is the premier area of San Francisco. The Wharf is a great place to spend the day, but Union Square is the Heart of the City. Union Square is to San Francisco what the French Quarter, Times Square, Michigan Ave and the Riverwalk are to their cities. Union Square offers a variety of hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, etc., that are unique to San Francisco.
Fisherman's Wharf, with a few exceptions, is filled with chain hotels and restaurants that have no character and once you walk inside you might as well be in Iowa. Union Square is in the center of it all. You can walk from Union Square to Yerba Buena Gardens, MOMA, Metreon, San Francisco Center, Chinatown, the Theater District, and Nob Hill. You can walk a little further to North Beach, the Ferry Building, the Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf or they are easily accessible by Street Car or Cable Car.
Union Square is a center for transit and all other areas are easily traveled to via bus, street car, metro or taxi. Check out With regard to safety, there is no difference other than at night. There is more activity at Union Square into the night with the cable cars running until 1am or so, the theatres letting out and bars open. This means there are more people out and about and most people feel safer in active areas. Fisherman's Wharf gets quiet at night and there are not as many people on the streets around the hotels and things.
The argument for Fisherman's Wharf -
Fisherman's Wharf has the fog coming in on the bay, the fishing boats and the sound of water. It FEELS like vacation, for many travelers! And yes, it does have t-shirt and novelty stores, as well as chain restaurants -- the Bubba Gumps, the Hooters, the Rainforest Cafes -- that you find in every tourist center.
For those who have heard of it or crave it, this is the one place you can get an In-N-Out Burger in San Francisco. It's a short and easy walk to the Alcatraz ferries and to Pier 39 to visit the sea lions who have taken over the decks nearby. If you have more time you can take a beautiful walk along the waterfront to the Ferry Building further down along the Embarcadero.
When you make a grand circle by coming down Market Street up to Union Square, you can take a cable car back to your hotel, or a historic streetcar along the waterfront back. Fisherman's Wharf is San Francisco's connection to its rich maritime history, just right under your nose if you look for it. The Maritime National Historical Park is here, the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, one of the last of the Liberty ships of World War II is docked at Pier 45 for tours. One can also tour the USS. Pampanito, a World War II submarine at the same pier, and the tall-masted ship the Balclutha, the 1895 schooner the C.A. Thayer are berthed at the Hyde Street Pier. Teaching sailboats are berthed there. That's another local's perspective on the particular charms of Fisherman's Wharf.
Conclusion -
A lot of people like the Wharf as a place to stay and a lot like Union Square. That's why there is chocolate and vanilla. There is no right or wrong answer. As long as you are in San Francisco, it's all good. For families traveling with young kids, the Wharf is often a good choice. For international visitors who want to do the touristy things then being slap bang middle of the wharf is a great time spend your vacation whilst taking the cable car to the Square. For people traveling as a couple or alone, Union Square is an ideal choice. And for everyone else, remember San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods. There is an ideal one out there for you.
Remember, there are other areas where tourists also stay, for a variety of reasons, from North Beach, to Japantown, to the Marina district (which abounds with motor lodges with free parking for those with cars), Pacific Heights, to the out by the ocean on the Great Highway. Not all may be convenient or ideal for a first-time stay; it just depends on your travel style. Additionally, a third, popular location often recommended after Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf is the Embarcadero, which boasts waterside proximity, convenient public transit, and the Ferry Building a short walk out the door.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tyler! I'll be visiting my mom in SF this December. As not to bother her, I'm planning not to stay home coz' I'll also bring with me our two kids. Thanks for telling that Wharf is the ideal place to stay if you're bringing kids. I hope they too have a website just like the ones we stayed in Fort Mcmurray, extended stay hotels, so that I'll see their hotel features and accommodation packages.

Any recommendation where to bring my kids in SF? Thanks Tyler!

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I've heard that Fisherman's is a very good place to stay, I've listened excellent commentaries that's the reason I'll be there as soon as possible.