I have so many childhood memories of walking through the tourist filled piers of Fisherman's Wharf with my latchkey program, surrounded by souvenir shops selling endless junk. So when figuring out what we wanted to do in San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf was definitely at the way bottom of the list.
But there's a naval history side of Fisherman's Wharf that gets buried under all the tourist attractions (aquarium! boat ride! Ripley's Believe it or not!), and our host Lisa highly recommended we check out the Maritime Museum (free) and also Hyde Street Pier ($10 entry, but good for 3 days). Knowing that I really wanted to avoid "crap", she thought this would be a great place for us to wander around.
Hyde Street Pier is a historic ferry pier, where you can actually go onto some of the historic ships and see all their inner workings. Reluctantly, I paid the $10 admission so we could actually get on the boats (I am so cheap, lol), but I definitely would have been more regretful not going after having such a great experience.
The Balclutha especially, pictured above and below, had such a robust history: it sailed to Europe before the Panama Canal, meaning it had to go all the way around South America. Crazy to think about. The cargo hold was MASSIVE, which I guess makes sense if you're sailing all the way around the world, but still wildly impressive to someone unfamiliar with the shipping industry.