For the first millenia of human use, anyone wishing to come ashore at Monterey dragged their tule boats onto the beach. Vizcaino in 1602, and Father Serra in 1770, who looked hopefully to sea for provisioning ships, all relied on shallow-draft boats to convey people and goods between ship and shore since there was no wharf until the 1840s. Ships used small boats to ferry goods to and from the Monterey shore.
In 1846, Thomas O. Larkin used an existing tongue of land north of Custom House as the approach to a wharf of rock-filled cribwork.
In the 1870s, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company constructed a wharf at Monterey for regular passenger and freight service, with coastal steamers arriving four times weekly to haul lumber, tanbark, grain, fish and exotic goods such as dried squid or abalone for the China trade.
By 1916, the City had purchased the Wharf and expanded it to provide more services to the fishing fleet and freight businesses. Four years later, the Wharf boasted nearly 20 wholesale and retail fish outlets, warehouses, and an abalone-shell-grinding business. Around this time it became known as “Fisherman’s Wharf.” Over time, the City added 750 feet and a finger pier onto the existing wharf, and in 1926 constructed Municipal Wharf II to relieve congestion. A stone breakwater was extended in 1934 to protect the fishing fleet from storm damage.
When the sardine catch failed after World War II, Fisherman’s Wharf changed character again. By 1956, wharf tenants included gift and candy shops, a theater, an aquarium, snack bars, boat rental businesses, and marine machine shops. In 1960, a new marina for small craft including fishing boats and pleasure craft was built, and the protective sea wall extended again.
Where once tons of sardines were shipped daily, now thousands of visitors enjoy the Wharf’s theater, its many retail shops, and charter boats offering sport fishing, whale watching and harbor cruises.