San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier, once part of US Hwy. 101, offers living history amid historic ships!


The stately three-masted, square-rigged Balclutha, built in 1886 in Scotland, was a workhorse for California for many years; it's open and decked out for daily, realistic historic tours on the pier!

Only the Captain and his family had luxury quarters on the 1886 Balclutha; the balance of the 29 person crew lived a much more Spartan lifestyle!
Across the pier from the ferry Eureka is the old Eppleton Hall, built a hundred years ago in England, a side-wheel steel tug that once plied the Bay.   The Balclutha lies at anchor to the right in this photo.
Aboard the old ferry Eureka are over a dozen classic cars that once made the voyage, including this 1931 Chevrolet Depot Hack, a type of taxi that served the SF waterfront.
Two of the first items of history on the Hyde Street Pier are an old Steam Donkey engine, that displaced the work of horses and mules via steam power, and a 20′ tall paddle wheel off an old ferry boat.
Hyde Street Pier entrance as it looked in the early 1930s, when the ferry Eureka would load scores of autos and trucks, and hundreds of passengers for the run from SF to Sausalito.  Soon after the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, this ferry route ceased operation.

Step back in time to the days before the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge inter-connected portions of the Bay Area. Up to the late 1930s, ships were the life-blood of the San Francisco Bay, bringing goods from around the world and moving passengers and vehicles throughout the Bay before the bridges took the life out of the ferry system.

Offering living history of the days before the bridges’ completion are the two anchors of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, the National Maritime Museum, overlooking Aquatic Park, and the Hyde Street Pier, on the park’s eastern edge. Both yield a memorable tour – enthralling for kids – which can be as brief as an hour or take up the better part of the day. Fortunately, Fisherman’s Wharf is right next door – for libations and great food.

The Hyde Street Pier was built in 1922 for automobiles and passengers bound from San Francisco to Sausalito. The ferry route was part of US 101 until the Golden Gate Bridge opened in May 27, 1937 (the pier closed its Sausalito service right after the iconic bridge’s opening). Also helping lead the demise of the Bay’s auto and passenger ferry system, the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge opened six months earlier, on November 12, 1936.

Along the pier are more than a dozen historic ships and boats, ranging from the small to very large, ships that brought life and commerce to the San Francisco waterfront.  Ships include the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, 1895 schooner C. A. Thayer, 1890 steam ferryboat Eureka, 1891 scow schooner Alma, 1907 steam tug Hercules, 1914 paddlewheel tug Eppleton Hall, 1915 steam schooner Wapama and scores of smaller watercraft. 
One can walk the pier at no charge; to tour the vessels, cost is $6 for adults, kids under 16 no charge, open 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM.  If you have a Federal Senior pass (cost, just $10) you get in free and can bring four others along with you!

The ferry Eureka, built in 1890 and measuring almost 300 feet, was the last auto ferry in service, sailing the bay until 1957. Inside on the auto deck, don’t miss a dozen classic cars from the ferry’s hey-day. They include a 1931 Chevy Woody Depot Hack (taxi), a 1924 Dodge Express Wagon, a 1937 Diamond T pickup, a 1927 Nash sedan and a handsome 1933 Packard sedan.

Further down the pier is the 1886-built, three-masted, square-rigged Balclutha. In the stately ship’s 128 years, it lived many lives, hauling California wheat to Europe, fishing for salmon in Alaska and hauling timber from the Pacific Northwest to San Francisco.  Built in the Glasgow, Scotland shipyards on the Clyde River (Clutha is Gaelic for Clyde), it is one of only three (of 10,000) ships built at that shipyard to survive today!

Blaclutha’s 29 member crew worked long days and long nights. The main deck, and the two decks below, are decked out just as if the crew had recently departed, with cargo below including canned salmon, produce from the San Joaquin Valley, fine window glass from Scotland and more. Kids pay rapt attention during the ship tours offered twice daily! Even though we missed the afternoon’s scheduled tour, a park ranger gave my buddies and me a marvelous, personal 30 minute walking tour of the old ship!

Another ship with a direct Stockton connection is the Alma, a 59 foot scow-schooner built in 1891.  It was built with a very shallow draft to be able to sail throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Deltas – 130 similar scow schooners were built to supply and ship agricultural products from ports like Stockton, Woodbridge and Lockeford (the Alma takes guests on regular Bay cruises for an additional fee).

Adjoining the pier is the Aquatic Park Historic District, boathouse and National Maritime Museum.  The museum tells more of the story of SF Bay history and how ships played a major part in the city’s evolution.  The park offers stunning views of the bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge – all at no charge!

How to get there: The Hyde Street Pier is 90 miles from Stockton, about 1.75 hours.  Take Interstate 5 south to Tracy, I-205 west to I-580 and continue across the new Bay Bridge (the concrete sections were made in Stockton); once in San Francisco, take the first exit to the right (Essex Street), follow the signs to the Embarcadero, then go left to the pier (take your binoculars!).

What’s nearby: National Maritime Museum is just a block from the Hyde Street Pier, as is the Hyde Street Cable Car turnaround.  Two WWII warships (liberty ship USS Jeremiah O’Brien and submarine USS Pampanito) are just two blocks east at Pier 45, in the thick of Fisherman’s Wharf, with fishing boats, many restaurants and plenty of tourist attractions.

Ft. Mason is just two blocks further west, separating the Aquatic Park District from the Marina District; visitors can walk or bicycle a path through the old fort to the Marina District, with ever-more stunning views of the SF waterfront at every turn!

What to take: Good walking shoes, snacks, drinks, sunscreen, a good map or GPS unit, camera and binoculars!

More info: For the San Francisco Maritime Historic Park and it’s Hyde Street Pier, go to or call 415-447-5000.   For the USS Jeremiah O’Brien, and the USS Pampanito,, both docked at Pier 45; for fees to tour the Pamponito or Jeremiah O’Brien, see the web sites.

Next week, we’ll give you an arm-chair view of a walking tour of historic downtown Stockton and the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre!
For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Happy travels in the west!

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