Before the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, the only way to reach Marin County, north of San Francisco, was by boat. The Hyde Street Pier was built in 1922 to accommodate automobile and passenger ferries between San Francisco and Sausalito. In 1988, the Hyde Street Pier became the centerpiece of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and home to numerous historical vessels, some fully restored to their original beauty and others currently undergoing restoration.
She is a fully restored, square-rigged sailing ship built in Scotland in 1886 to haul California wheat to Europe. She is wooden hulled, 256 feet (77 meters), and has the distinction of rounding Cape Horn 17 times.
In 1922 the ferry was refitted to carry passengers and automobiles and rechristened Eureka. The steam engine was built in 1890 by the Fulton Iron Works, in San Francisco, and was originally coal fired but converted to oil in 1905. Of the surviving ferry boats in the US, the Eureka is the only one with a wooden hull and it is the sole surviving example of a walking beam steam engine in a floating vessel and is a must-see for those interested in steam power.
Hercules, 151 ft (46 m), spent the early part of her life as an ocean going tug often towing wind-powered vessels north along the Pacific coast against the prevailing northwest winds. On the return trip to San Francisco she would tow rafts of logs to become lumber for the rapidly growing city. Other times she towed equipment for the construction of the Panama Canal.
The Hyde Street Pier is free. That’s right; you can walk out on the pier and photograph all of the boats to your heart’s content, for free. If you want to board the boats it’s only 5 dollars for a full week’s access! And that includes access to several museums and a WWII submarine! There is a ship’s chandlery, a gift shop, and restrooms. There are numerous programs for both young and old teaching about the seafaring days of old San Francisco. For those who enjoy working with their hands you can volunteer to help restore some of the many wooden boats and learn woodworking skills to boot.
Hyde Street Pier is located in Fisherman’s Wharf, adjacent to Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square.
Here’s a portfolio of black and white photos taken mostly on board the Balclutha.