Read Meiggs’ Wharf of Byways Around San Francisco Bay, free online book, by William E. Hutchinson, on

North from the ferry building, and near the foot of Powell Street, is one of the old landmarks of San Francisco, known as Meiggs’ Wharf.

In the early sixties an old saloon was located on the shore end of this wharf, and connected with it was a museum which contained many quaint curios from other lands, some of them of considerable value.

The occupant of this saloon never allowed the place to be cleaned, and for years the spiders held undisputed possession, weaving their webs without fear of molestation, until every nook and corner was filled with their tapestry, and from ceiling and rafter hung long festoons of gossamer threads that swayed back and forth in the breeze. It was a place much visited by tourists, and a trip to San Francisco was not considered complete without visiting this “Cobweb Museum,” a name bestowed upon it by its many guests.

It is said that Robert Louis Stevenson loved to visit this wharf and listen to the tales told by the hardy sailors, and that out of them he wove some of his most delightful South Sea Island stories.

Meiggs died in Peru in 1877, where he fled, a fugitive from justice, and has long since been forgotten except by the older residents. The wharf still remains, however, though more familiarly known to the people of this generation as “Fisherman’s Wharf”; but the old cobweb saloon and museum are things of the past.

From here the Italian fishing boats leave for their fishing grounds out beyond the heads, and if you visit the wharf in the early morning you may see hundreds of these boats sail out past Land’s End, and through the Golden Gate, making a picture worthy of an artist’s brush.

When the sun comes flashing over the hills, and the dancing waves glisten with its rosy light, then the waters of the bay take on the color of the amethyst. Go then to Meiggs’ Wharf, and see the fishing boats start out with lateen sail full set; hear the “Yo heave ho” of the swarthy Italian fishermen, as they set their three-cornered, striped sail to catch the breeze, and imagine yourself on the far-famed bay of Naples. Your imagination does not suffer by comparison, as San Francisco, like Naples, is built upon the hills, and Mount Tamalpais across the bay, with wreaths of fog floating around its summit, might well be taken for Mount Vesuvius.

Out through the portals of the Golden Gate they sail, like brown-winged pelicans, to drop their nets and cast their lines into the mighty deep; but these picturesque boats are fast giving way to more modern conveyances, and the fussy motorboat, that is not dependent upon wind or tide, will soon relegate the lateen sail to total obscurity.

Go again to the wharf in the late afternoon, and watch these same boats come laboring in against the tide, sunk deep in the water with their day’s catch. See them unload, and spread the nets to dry, and if you can find one of these grizzled old salts off duty, and he feels so inclined, he will tell you (between puffs on his short, black pipe) strange and interesting stories of adventure at sea or of shipwreck on lonely island.

Then, as the sails are furled, and all made snug aloft and below, and the boats bob up and down on the long swells, straining at their moorings, the sun sinks down behind the ocean, leaving the wharf in shadow. The lights begin to gleam in the city, the tower of the ferry building gleams like a beacon, outlined with its thousands of incandescent lights, and the ferryboat takes us across the bay and home, to dream of queer-shaped sails, of ancient mariners, and the “Golden City” on the bay.