Fort Mason Center

The Marina, Fisherman’s Wharf & the Piers

San Francisco takes subversive glee in turning military installations into venues for nature, fine dining and out-there experimental art. Evidence: Fort Mason, once a shipyard and embarkation point for WWII troops, now a vast cultural center and gathering place for events, drinking and eating. Wander the waterfront, keeping your eyes peeled for fascinating outdoor art-and-science installations designed by the Exploratorium.

The mess halls are replaced by vegan-friendly Greens, a Zen-community-run restaurant, and also the Long Now Foundation, whose compelling exhibits reconsider extinction and the future of time. Warehouses contain cutting-edge theater at the Magic and improvised comedy workshops at BATS Improv. The Herbst Pavilion counts major arts events and fashion shows among its arsenal – see the website for upcoming events. Hidden art exhibits include the 'Tasting the Tides' water fountain, which lets you taste, with the touch of a button, the varying salinity of the bay – it's next to the firehouse, with glorious water views.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby The Marina, Fisherman’s Wharf & the Piers attractions

1. Maritime Museum

0.39 MILES

A monumental hint to sailors in need of a scrub, this restored, ship-shaped 1939 Streamline Moderne landmark is decked out with Works Progress…

2. Ghirardelli Square

0.49 MILES

Willy Wonka would tip his hat to Domingo Ghirardelli (gear-ar-deli), whose business became the West’s largest chocolate factory in 1893. After the company…

3. Aquatic Park


Everyone loves this easy-access cove at Van Ness Ave's northern end, flanked by the massive comma-shaped Municipal Pier, where fishermen cast their lines…

4. Wave Organ


A project of the Exploratorium, the Wave Organ is a sound sculpture of PVC tubes and concrete pipes capped with found marble from San Francisco's old…

5. Cartoon Art Museum

0.53 MILES

Founded on a grant from Bay Area cartoon legend Charles M Schultz of Peanuts fame, this bold museum isn't afraid of the dark, political or racy – cases in…

6. Lombard Financial Center Mosaics

0.55 MILES

A couple years ago, blighted trees in front of this bank were cut down and a treasure hidden for almost half a century was revealed: mosaics by California…

7. Maritime National Historical Park

0.57 MILES

Five historic ships are floating museums at this maritime national park, Fisherman's Wharf’s most authentic attraction. Moored along Hyde St Pier, the…

8. National Park Visitors Center

0.59 MILES

San Francisco grew from its docks, and this 10,000-sq-ft visitors center for the nearby maritime national historical park details how, with a permanent…