When it comes to fantastic travel experiences, few things match standing on the deck of a massive cruise ship as it sails underneath the Golden Gate Bridge before docking in everyone’s favorite destination city. If you are lucky enough for that to happen at sunset, it will be an experience that you won’t forget. The short cruise between the bridge and the docking site at The Port of San Francisco at Pier 27 holds its own set of thrills, but the fun really starts once you dock.
Cruise ships arriving at the Port of San Francisco dock at the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27, found on The Embarcadero along the city’s waterfront, midway between the famous attraction Fisherman’s Wharf to the northwest and the Bay Bridge to the southeast.
The Cruise Terminal acts as a “ground zero” for passengers arriving for a few days or just overnight. Unlike many cities whose cruise ship docking sites are far from city centers, the Cruise Terminal has the city at its doorstep.
In fact, there is such a variety of things to do and see, you can spend an entire day exploring the immediate Cruise Terminal area. Read on to discover some of the remarkable things you’ll find around Pier 27 and beyond.
What Is the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal?
Opened in 2014, the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal is a welcoming city entryway for first-timers and experienced cruisers alike. The fantastic views of the Bay Bridge, the city skyline, and Telegraph Hill give visitors a tantalizing hint of what’s to come. From there, passengers are literally steps away from seeing those sites in person.
Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: San Francisco is a popular West Coast embarkation port for many cruises. Passengers can enjoy cruises from San Francisco to Hawaii, Alaska, and Mexico, as well as coastal voyages and repositioning cruises.
San Francisco is a turnaround port for major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Holland America, Princess, and NCL Norwegian. The Port of San Francisco welcomes more than 80 cruise ships and 300,000 passengers annually. At 91,000 square feet, the Cruise Terminal itself can accommodate 2,600 passengers and ships with up to 4,000 passengers.
The Cruise Terminal itself is sleek and stylish with sky-high windows that let in an incredible amount of natural sunlight. As befitting a city that’s a tech hub, the facilities are state-of-the-art. And while cruise passengers might marvel at the Terminal’s ultra-modern features as they pass through, most of them will be itching to explore a city that’s right outside.
Attractions Close to Pier 27
Thanks to cabs and ride shares, visitors are within striking distance of many attractions far from the Pier 27 area, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach. But those who prefer to walk will find so much to do and see, there will be no need for a car. For our purposes, we’ll examine sites in the Pier 27 area that are easily reached by foot.
Just a stroll in either direction along the Embarcadero offers an amazing amount of popular attractions, hotels, pubs, and restaurants with magnificent views. Beyond that, it’s a short and scenic stroll to downtown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Oracle Park, Chinatown, and the hugely popular North Beach and South of Market (SOMA) neighborhoods.
The Ferry Building
Less than a mile walk from Pier 27 in the southwestern direction, the Ferry Building is one of the city’s great iconic structures. It’s always alive, with visitors taking in its many specialty shops and eateries or workers rushing to and from the many commuter ferries that dock here.
You can’t miss the 245-foot-tall clock tower and its four clock dials, each 22 feet in diameter, especially at night. The clock tower bells play a version of Westminster Chimes on the hour and half-hour.
Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building acts as the Embarcadero’s central hub. It’s especially popular on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday when it hosts a large farmer’s market that’s become well-known as one of the country’s best, featuring outstanding local farm products and artisan foods and crafts. The Ferry Building farmer’s market hosts 40,000 visitors every week.
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Takin’ It to The Streets
Depending on how extended your stay is, it’s always a good idea to hit the streets early, and visitors will find no shortage of coffee shops and brunch spots. Or visit the Ferry Building, where you can grab something quick, sustainable, and locally grown.
Strolling northwest along the Embarcadero is a great way to burn off those calories. Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf are a short walk away, and you can spend hours exploring these two popular tourist destinations.
Along the way, you’ll pass Pier 33, where you can catch a ferry to Alcatraz, while you can board the Blue and Gold Fleet of bay excursion ferries at Pier 47 in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. Ghirardelli Square, along with the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and The Cartoon Art Museum, all reward visitors who make it to Fisherman’s Wharf’s northern end.
Union Square and the Financial District
You can head straight up Market Street into the bustling shopping district at Union Square from the Ferry Building. From there, you can eat your way through Chinatown and the Italian enclave of North Beach, or explore the Financial District where you can take a selfie with the iconic Transamerica Pyramid or shop to your heart’s content at the Embarcadero Center.
Also in the Financial District is the recently opened public rooftop park at the Salesforce Transit Center that offers locals and visitors a peaceful green oasis in the middle of the city. Foodies will find no shortage of restaurants in the downtown area, everything from Michelin-starred fine dining to Mom and Pop burrito shops and everything in between.
Two blocks south of Market Street on Third Street is the magnificent San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), which is an absolute must-visit for art lovers. One block from SFMOMA is the popular Jewish Contemporary Museum and the pretty green space of the Yerba Buena Gardens, which is a great place to relax and mingle with locals.
Southwest and Beyond
Head southwest from Pier 27, and you’ll find even more to experience. Walk bayside along the Embarcadero, and you’ll pass the Exploratorium that’s popular with kids and adults alike, the Ferry Building, Rincon Park and the bow and arrow sculpture known as “Cupid’s Span,” the Bay Bridge, and it’s impressive LED light display, South Beach Park and the Harbor Marina, China Basin, Oracle Park (home of the baseball team, the San Francisco Giants), and the newly opened entertainment and sports venue Chase Center.
Along the way, you’ll see creative and quirky displays of public art, dog-friendly green spaces, neighborhood restaurants, and coffee shops. You can also enjoy the expansive views of the San Francisco Bay, which is always busy with boats and massive cargo tankers coming and going from the Port of Oakland just across the bay. The walk along the Embarcadero is entirely flat, which makes it easily accessible to strollers and wheelchairs.
Where Are the Closest Airports?
Some cruise passengers will be flying home after ending their vacations in San Francisco. Fortunately, Pier 27 is close to the city’s two nearest airports. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about 14 miles from Pier 27, and Oakland International Airport (OAK) is located approximately 20 miles across the bay. From ride share to taxis to public transportation, visitors have many options for getting to the two airports. Let’s break them down.
- Taxis: Those taking taxis to SFO from Pier 27 can expect to pay upward to $65 for the 20-minute ride (depending on the time of day). Cab fares to OAK can run as high as $85. A tip of 15% is customary, and most taxis will accept credit cards.
- Ride Share: Rideshares are a much cheaper option. UberX charges around $33 for the ride from Pier 27 to SFO, while Lyft charges $32 for the same trip. To Oakland, UberX charges $40-50 while Lyft can run around $48.
- Public Transportation: The cheapest and most convenient way to get to both airports from the city is by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) commuter subway cars. The fare from the city to SFO is only $9.65, while the fare to Oakland runs $10.20. A one-way ride to both airports is about twenty minutes.
Visitors will find a BART station at the Embarcadero Station at 298 Market Street in the city’s Financial District, a short, 10-minute walk from Pier 27. Ticket vending machines are available at all BART stations. Click here for detailed BART information, including fares, schedules, and convenient maps and guides.
Summing It Up
As if traveling abroad on a cruise ship isn’t thrilling enough, ending your trip at the Port of San Francisco can be a perfect capper to an excellent travel experience. With so much to do and take in, you may find yourself planning a return trip to the City By The Bay just as soon as you get home.