Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Looking for thrills in Fisherman's Wharf

Out There

The renovated Hotel Zephyr makes the most of its midcentury modern bones. Photo: Hotel Zephyr
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Out There's love of cultural adventures takes us all around the Bay Area and beyond. Earlier this month we were lured deep into the heart of what is usually terra incognita for us, namely the tourist mecca of Fisherman's Wharf right there on the San Francisco waterfront. We couldn't say no to an overnight stay at the Hotel Zephyr, which opened in 2015 after a $32 million renovation. We decided to be out-of-towners for a night.

The Hotel Zephyr is centrally located in the whole carnival atmosphere of the Wharf. Its redesign makes the most of its midcentury modern motel architecture, presenting an International Style facade to Beach St., complete with porthole windows. Our room didn't have a porthole, but it did have a nice balcony that overlooked the interior courtyard, see below. We also had a great view out over F-Wharf low-rises to the Bay and that strange little Forbes Island restaurant, and in the other direction, Coit Tower all lit up and spectacular.

The courtyard, known as "the Yard ," is home to many types of sporting games, such as shuffleboard, ping pong, billiards and the like. Darts and backgammon boards abound. Personally, OT doesn't go to hotels to play games, at least not the kind that involve checkers. But F-Wharf appeals to families and groups of all ages, so we see the logic, indeed the beauty of this decorating scheme. The children around us were all engaged and busy with games, which kept them out of trouble and far from our cocktails. So you might say it was a win-win situation.

There are fire pits and plenty of outdoor seating in the Yard, and a "periscope" through which you can see views from a rotatable camera set on the roof. We quickly warmed to the hotel's quirky design. We loved the vertical bike rack in the lobby and the wall hung with buoys. Where the buoys are. In our guest room, beds had pillows festooned with giant graphics of gulls. They reminded us of our favorite headline from a recent Brighton tabloid. "Cheeky Gull Grabs Crisps!"

Back in the Yard, a classic, 18-foot Shasta sleeper trailer dubbed "the Camper" has been refashioned as a food truck where guests can grab a locally-sourced bite (7 a.m.-7 p.m.) Our breakfast of fruit salad, yoghurt and hot black tea hit the spot. Then it was time to ride along for the Electric Tour Company 's private Segway tour. Now, your gay uncle OT is hugely uncoordinated, bur after a short training lesson in the back lot, even we could drive one of these things. Our charming young guide Cameron had us zipping over to Washington Square, up the hill to Coit Tower, and zig-zagging down that "crookedest" Lombard St. Highly recommended even for complete spazzes like OT.

Our last stab at an F-Wharf attraction was taking the San Francisco Dungeon Tour, a harrowing walkthrough of 10 scary scenes from gory SF history (Gold Rush, Barbary Coast , plague, Alcatraz ghosts) staged with actors, scenery and special effects. In one of these tableaux, it was a shivery thrill to be Shanghai'd by none other than our friend the arts writer Erin Blackwell , playing a runner who ferried drugged victims out to a ship headed for white slavery in China. We always knew that would be our fate. Later Blackwell told us about her role, "Nikko is a true historical character, originally from Lapland, although no one does that accent!" Great ghoulish fun!

And we had fun at F-Wharf. We like a neighborhood that knows how to play games. More info:,,


End note

Newspaper correction of the week, found in The New York Times Magazine. "Because of an editing error, an article on March 26 about Hawaii gave an incorrect English translation of the Hawaiian word 'Kilauea.' It is 'much spreading,' not 'mush spreading.'" Mush obliged.


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