San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier, built in 1922 for ferries, has been reborn as part of a vastly expanded San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
The maritime museum had consisted entirely of a white, ship-shaped 1939 structure at Polk and Beach streets, originally the Aquatic Park Bathhouse built by the Works Progress Administration. That building is still part of the museum, with its aquatic murals, some ship models, a chunk of an ancient vessel from the Gold Rush days and a nice view of the bay.
But there’s so much more to see now, and most of it’s free.
A few blocks east of the Bathhouse, at Hyde and Jefferson streets, the Hyde Street Pier is loaded with seafaring vessels and artifacts. A steam engine is revved up daily, and exhibits illustrate nautical knots and display engines.
More than a dozen sailing vessels are tied up, including the 256-foot Balclutha, an 1886 square-rigged ship from Scotland; the three-masted 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer; a funny-looking 1914 tug boat called Eppleton Hall that made it all the way across the Atlantic on its own in 1969; and the Eureka, a towering side-wheel ferry built in 1890.
You’ll also find on the dock the boat in which Kenichi Horie of Japan became the first person to sail across the Pacific Ocean in 1962. It’s quite tiny. Nearby sits a houseboat – a pretty big one, with bedrooms, an organ in the living room and a galley bigger than some apartment kitchens.
You can see plenty and read about the boats from the dock. But most of the large boats can also be boarded and explored. Doing so costs only $5, and your ticket’s good for seven days. Children younger than 16 can go aboard free, as long as you’re with them.
Then head across Jefferson Street to the Visitors Center. Don’t skip this part of the park, even though it’s indoors. It’s a terrific museum in an old cannery building – again, free – that tells the story of the rowdy former waterfront with exhibits and an excellent film.
It also has the nicest restrooms in the wharf area.