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Fisherman’s Wharf: San Francisco Sourdough Bread from Boudin Bakery

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco: the Best Attractions and Souvenirs

souvenir tat cable cars

Steel yourself as you make your way past tatty souvenir stands hawking miniature made-in-China cable cars.

Fisherman’s Wharf is the Times Square of San Francisco– you know it’s a complete tourist trap, but you still feel compelled to visit anyway. Walking past the never-ending stream of chain stores, restaurants and wax museums can make you feel like you’re in a giant outdoors shopping mall instead of on a historic pier. One review I read summed up the experience perfectly– “I felt like I was trapped in an amusement park with only one ride.”

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But if you persevere and make your way through the glut of mass commercialism, you’ll find the real reasons to visit Fisherman’s Wharf:

  • the colony of sea lions (usually found on the wood docks of Pier 39, but on my recent visit they had mysteriously disappeared)
  • spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge and the San Francisco bay
  • the ferry to Alcatraz
  • Hyde Street Pier’s National Landmark vessels, including the schooner Alma and the 1890 ferryboat Eureka
  • the fishing boats lined up along the piers, most run by the same families for generations
  • the seafood shacks serving up the catch of the day
  • Ghirardelli Square– both for the chocolate and for the surrounding shops featuring local products

After sightseeing Fisherman’s Wharf for these attractions, you can hit the oldest sourdough bread factory in the country and pick up an edible souvenir.

The Best Sourdough Bread in San Francisco?

Fisherman’s Wharf is home to the oldest sourdough bread factory in country, Boudin Bakery. Established in 1840 by descendants of French master bakers Boudin Bakery invented modern day sourdough by applying French techniques to the sourdough used by local gold miners.

So while we know Boudin Bakery is the oldest, is it the best sourdough bread in San Francisco?

For me to figure what the best sourdough bread is would require tasting all of San Francisco’s sourdough bread. While this actually sounds like a delicious and worthy endeavour, it’s not one I had time for one a short trip (and would still only be my subjective opinion anyway).

Even after checking various foodie sites, I still could find no real consensus about the best sourdough bread in San Francisco. But I did learn that sourdough bread lovers are passionate about their favorites— not unlike fans of NYC pizza. Boudin had many fans, as did another oft-mentioned bakery, Acme (insiders recommended picking up Acme loaves at a local Whole Foods). Others recommended new indie bakers in out-of-the-way neighborhoods. But I stuck with Boudin because to me San Francisco sourdough is as much about the history and tradition behind it as the flavor— not to mention the convenient Fisherman’s Wharf location where– let’s face it– every tourist ends up anyway.

┬áVisiting Boudin Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf

You could spend a lot of time at Boudin Bakery watching the bakers in action, taking a museum tour or enjoying a leisurely lunch in their restaurant. I skipped the tours and headed straight for the takeout counter. Though the sandwiches were ridiculously tempting (especially the grilled cheese on thickly sliced sourdough) I went for the most popular item– chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. The chowder was tasty (but needed a generous sprinkle of pepper) and the bread the perfect foil.

Taking Home Sourdough Bread Souvenirs

Boudin’s sourdough bread comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Of course they have classic sandwich loaves, boules and baguettes. But they also bake all sorts of crazy shapes like teddy bears, turtles and even a giant alligator (options change monthly). They also have some interesting flavor variations, like olive and jalapeno. The bread will stay fresh for up to five days (they also have a shop at SFO airport so you can pick it up on the way home). Or for longer-lasting options, you can pick up some sourdough croutons or a can of their signature chowder.

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I brought home two loaves and popped one in the freezer. I can confirm my sourdough bread made excellent sandwiches and stayed fresh through the fourth day. By the fifth day it was still tasty, but served better as toast.

Have you been to Fisherman’s Wharf? What do you think is the best sourdough in San Francisco? Share in the comments below!

13 Responses to Fisherman’s Wharf: San Francisco Sourdough Bread from Boudin Bakery

  1. Anne 08/07/2014 at 5:52 pm #

    Haha – as a resident of San Francisco this post makes me chuckle. Beautiful photos! And a great representation of the tourist spots in the city. Now I want some sourdough…mmmm.

  2. Kristin Francis 08/07/2014 at 6:08 pm #

    How great to have a local weigh in! It was fun but can’t wait to write about some other less known parts to visit and shop (like the Mission!).

  3. Brad Bernard 08/07/2014 at 6:21 pm #

    I love sourdough bread but never was able to find anyone to show me great food when I worked in San Francisco. I definitely have to try this stuff. I bet it’s a whole lot better than the buns at Burger King.

    • Kristin Francis 08/08/2014 at 12:09 am #

      Brad, I know an excellent walking tour guide in SF, I’ll be posting soon about her Mission tour. You should look her up the next time you’re in San Francisco, she knows the best spots!

  4. Shannon Entin 08/07/2014 at 8:29 pm #

    I miss that Northern California sourdough bread so much. The brand didn’t matter much to me. If you’re from the East, there’s nothing here that can come close. But you can’t get a good bagel in California.

    • Kristin Francis 08/08/2014 at 12:07 am #

      As a New Yorker surrounded by great bakeries (and I love sourdough) I wasn’t expecting the SF bread to be much different than the delicious bread here but it surprised me and it really was amazing (or I wouldn’t have hauled two loaves back!). Totally agree! Yes can’t beat NYC bagels, I’ll be posting about my favorite spots soon. : )

  5. culturalxplorer 08/08/2014 at 4:30 pm #

    That bread looks so delicious! How did I miss this at the wharf (must have been distracted by the seafood and wine)

  6. Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds 08/09/2014 at 12:46 am #

    I always dread when someone wants to visit me and they want me to take them to Fisherman’s Wharf! haha such a tourist trap. In high school a lot of my friends were obsessed with going to Boudin for lunch, but I must say….OVER-RATED. Wayyyyy better bread to be found elsewhere, even Acme, as you mentioned. (But glad you enjoyed the chowder in a bread bowl….bread is bread, afterall, and even overrated bread is still the best food ever.)

  7. Yvonne 09/24/2015 at 9:08 pm #

    The Sea Lion Cafe, at the end of the Fisherman’s Wharf pier, is a great place for lunch! Even though we are locals, we love to take our out-of-town guests here because the food is great, and the view is fabulous. Prices are good, too.

  8. Anonymous 05/23/2016 at 11:32 pm #

    i hope they make Rye Sourdough ,Last time i visited the USA in Hollywood and Texas i could not find good Rye bread.So maybe San Francisco will be better for great bread and coffee. Joey WNCO

    • Kristin Francis 05/28/2016 at 9:30 pm #

      hmm not sure where there is good rye, but interesting question, I’ll have to google it!

  9. Debra 05/24/2016 at 11:52 am #

    Standing on the wharf and eating a warm slice of sourdough from Boudin’s is one of the best experiences around! At that moment-there is no better sourdough!!

    • Kristin Francis 05/28/2016 at 9:28 pm #

      Debra, I totally agree! I was just back again a few weeks ago and it’s just as good as ever.

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