Visit Historic Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when there was no Golden Gate Bridge. How on earth did drivers get back and forth between San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay during this time? Well up until the late 1930s, they made their way to the Hyde Street Pier and loaded their automobiles on large ferry boats. This route across the bay was part of US 101 until the opening of the iconic bridge made it defunct.
The Hyde Street Pier, now part of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, is home to a collection of historic ships. Tucked in between Fisherman’s Wharf and Aquatic Park, it would be easy to overlook the pier, but you’d miss out on a great living history experience.
The Historic Ships at Hyde Street Pier
The Eureka, in particular, is a nod to the regular transportation that used to take place here. A 300-foot auto ferry built in 1890, it was the last ferry in service. Inside on the auto deck, there are a dozen cars including a 1931 Chevy Woody Depot Hack (a type of taxi that once served the San Francisco waterfront), a 1924 Dodge Express Wagon, and a 1933 Packard sedan.
When my son first spotted the stately square-rigger Balclutha, he gasped and exclaimed, “It’s a pirate ship!” While it’s easy to see why a little boy’s imagination would immediately go there, this three-masted workhorse built in 1886, has held many jobs. It was used to haul California wheat to Europe, for salmon fishing in Alaska and timber hauling from the Pacific Northwest to San Francisco. It is amazing that it still exists when you consider that of the 10,000 ships like it built in the Glasgow, Scotland shipyards, the Balclutha is one of three that survived.
Visitors can walk the decks the ship’s 29-member crew came to know all too well during a voyage, peek into the bunk room, cargo areas and other facilities on the vessel. Park rangers are regularly out on the Balclutha answering questions and conducting 30-minute walking tours.
Eppleton Hall is another amazing example of a survivor vessel. Built in 1914, it is the only remaining intact example of Tyne river tugboat. It is quite a collision in histories when you view this boat with its impressive stack and dual paddle wheels with the modern San Francisco skyline in the background.
Another ship that left quite an impression on my son was the Hercules, a 1907 steam tug. A 151-foot long steam tug intended for ocean towing, the Hercules has connections to Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal. Its tight quarters felt claustrophobic to me, but my son didn’t notice as he was dazzled by all of the machinery inside the boat.
Other historic ships anchored at the Hyde Street Pier include the 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer, 1891 scow schooner Alma, 1915 steam schooner Wapama, and scores of smaller watercraft.
Tips for Visiting Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco
You can walk the pier and check out the ships from land free of charge, but entrance to these historic vessels is $5 per person. If you’d like to break up your ship explorations or revisit any of them, your ticket is good for seven days. Supervised children under age 16 can board the ships free of charge. Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Hilton San Francisco Financial District are both within two miles from the Hyde Street Pier and other popular San Francisco attractions.
You may also enjoy:
- Your Guide to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park
- Berkeley Family Weekend Mixes Culture and Nature
- The Hidden San Francisco Itinerary – 5 Unique Places to Visit
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Know Before You Go
- Golden Gate Park has many activities – there are countless trails to walk, lakes, ponds, fields for sports activities, and even a Conservatory for Flowers.
- Check out these spots for great photos: Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, Dolores Park, and Alamo Square.
- Always dress in layers for the weather. Even in the summer, it can be chilly!