San Francisco's popular Fisherman's Wharf, a noted tourist attraction, is also a favorite hangout for locals. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco's popular Fisherman's Wharf, a noted tourist attraction, is also a favorite hangout for locals. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

‘Renaissance’ underway at SF’s Fisherman’s Wharf

There’s a lot of new stuff happening in Fisherman’s Wharf, and the place is not just for tourists.

That’s the mantra of Rachel Brown of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District, a group of business and property owners aimed at enhancing San Francisco’s waterfront and enriching visitors’ experiences in the 30-block, 143-acre region that got its name in the late 19th century, when Italian immigrant fishermen came to The City.

“While maintaining its rich historical ties, the neighborhood is experiencing a renaissance,” Brown, the group’s spokesperson, said during a recent treasure hunt in which teams of members of the media — Sea Lion, Sea Gull and the winning Sharks — competed to take the most Instagram photos of the area’s sites.

Decked out in crab hats, Brown, Molly Blaisdell, Mike Castro and other representatives from the district led their charges on a multi-stop tour.

The event began at Surisan, the Korean-American fusion eatery (Yelp’s “most popular restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf” in the former Andersen Bakery space) owned by Steven and Jiyeon Choi with a menu by chef Nick Yoon. They laid out a spread including menu favorites such as “millionaire’s bacon” and KFC (Korean fried chicken).

Even newer to the area is the Cartoon Art Museum, which, moving from Mission Street, opened in October. Executive director Summerlea Kashar introduced the first exhibits in the new Beach Street location: a tribute to “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola, a spotlight on emerging graphic novelist Nidhi Chanani, and a showcase of work by San Francisco native Raina Telgemeier, author of “Smile,” “Sisters,” “Drama” and “Ghosts.”

Ghirardelli Square has some new food-and-beverage developments in progress, slated for an April 2018 opening.

Standing in an empty space still under construction, brewer Josh Leavy poured ale samples and showed where the tap room and dining room, serving “elevated pub food,” will be in the San Francisco Brewing Company. It’ll be the wharf’s first brewery, according to Brown.

Also coming is a new branch of Cheese School, the organization on Mission Street dedicated to teaching about — and selling — the esteemed dairy product.

Ghirardelli assistant property manager Katie Mitchell also mentioned that Subpar, a mini golf course with San Francisco landmarks the theme of each of its 18 holes, will open next spring in the historic site’s former chocolate factory.

Meanwhile, another landmark, the restaurant Fishermen’s Grotto No. 9 owned by Chris Henry, has undergone a $6 million transformation.

General manager Lisa Robins, who said the 1935 eatery was the first free-standing restaurant on the wharf, mentioned the historic etched door was retained in the building’s restoration, but that the new upscale seafood restaurant opening mid-November, The Grotto, will have a modern appeal.

Across the street on Pier 45 is the Musée Mécanique, home to antique arcade machines and coin-operated mechanical musical instruments that amused visitors at San Francisco’s Playland decades ago. It’s free to go in and take a look at the famed, and creepy, Laffing Sal.

The hunt only allowed time to take a photo at the front the San Francisco Dungeon, a 60- minute interaction attraction with lively, funny actors detailing The City’s dark and nasty past from the Gold Rush to Alcatraz; it also has a new “Escape Alcatraz” drop ride, and shares a lobby with Madame Tussauds wax museum, where a figure of Robin Williams welcomes visitors.

The event closed with a visit to Hard Rock Café (and a photo playing air guitar), followed by a reception with signature wings and sauce, fish and chips, and drinks.

Brown, mentioning that the area has 10 bars within a 15-minute walk of each other (including the Gold Dust Lounge, moved from Union Square, and Fiddler’s Green of SF, an Irish pub), says millennials are becoming fans of the area, an undeniable tourist trap. The Wharf is the No. 1 destination in The City, Brown said, receiving 12 million visitors annually. It supports more than 8,000 jobs, about 1,500 of which are at 13 hotels.

Savvy visitors are finding “unexpected gems,” Brown said, such as a food truck row on Jones Street and discovering that the area isn’t overcrowded on weekday evenings and during winter’s low season.

Mike Castro, a native San Franciscan and the benefit district’s operations manager, said he has noticed the area’s establishments are making a shift, catering toward people from the Bay Area as well as tourists.

Castro, whose job includes answering everything from calls about homeless people and assisting members of district with various needs, said, “We’re here to make sure everything is peaceful and businesses are functioning to their highest capacity.”

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