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Dickens to dungeness: Fisherman's Wharf holiday doings.

A time warp occurs around San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf during the Christmas season. One minute you're dancing, trying on top hats, and eating plum pudding in Charles Dickens' England. Next, you're dodging a horse-drawn carriage, and returning cheers to a rowdy mob of carolers aboard a clanging cable car. Then a few steps away, you're back in modern San Francisco as a sidewalk vendor wearing a Santa's hat hands you Dungeness crab from a steamy cauldron. Weather may be bone-chilling cold, and windy enough to blow your hat into the bay. But the month-long Festival of Lights, now in its second year, brings dozens of caroling groups as well as strings of lights-some on boats' masts to add a touch of magic to this famous restaurant-shopping scene.

The liveliest times to go are weekends when the Dickens Fair is on, or when a party is brewing aboard a historic ship (see right). And many evenings, carolers are a bonus for diners in the picturesque Italian-owned wharfside restaurants.

From November through January or February, spending the night will be cheaper by up to half; at six wharf hotels, rooms for up to four persons will go for $49 to $110 a night. Participating hotels include Holiday Inn, (415) 771-9000; Hyde Park Suites, 771-0200; Marriott, 775-7555; Ramada, 885-4700; Sheraton, 362-5500; and TraveLodge, 392-6700.

Replaying history-aboard antique ships and at the Dickens Fair

When was the last time you sang songs like "Blow the Man Down"? Such chanteys will ring out from the decks of two historic ships at the recently designated National Maritime Historical Park at Hyde Street Pier. Two "Christmas at Sea" parties will re-create a 19th-century Yule aboard ship. Visitors sing, help trim a tree below decks, sip hot cider, munch cookies, visit Santa, and tour the ships.

The free parties are from 6 to 8 p.m., on Saturday, December 10, aboard the CA. Thayer, an 1895 three-masted lumber schooner; and Sunday, December 18, aboard the handicapped-accessible Balclutha, a 102-year-old Cape Horn squarerigger. To reserve, call 556-2904.

Much more elaborate is the rollicking Great Dickens Christmas Fair, at neighboring Pier 45. It runs Saturdays and Sundays from November 19 through December 18 (and Friday, November 25). About 100,000 square feet of old warehouses are transformed to 1882 London at twilight, Continuous entertainment is offered on four stages.

At Fezziwig's dance party, folk in tails and hoop skirts may invite you to join a jig or reel, played by a live orchestra. In a Victorian parlor, you can learn games of the era. Fifty shops sell carefully chosen crafts and foods. (A popular French onion soup is $4; goose dinner with stuffing and salad is $6.)

A thousand volunteers train for several weekends to learn how to dress and talk in the manner of England from 1840 to 1870-Dickens' most prolific years, Some 300 appear in costume at a time.

The line between audience and actor blurs as guests, many in costume, are deliberately brought into the action.

The fair's hours are 10 to 7. Tickets cost $10.50, $7.50 for students and seniors, $3.50 ages 12 and under, $35 for a season's pass. Call 922-4757.

Christmas entertainment at the four main shopping areas

The four main retail centers (see map for locations) spruce up with memorable Christmas trees and window dressings, and bring in holiday entertainment, especially on the weekends. Most extend December shopping to 8:30 or 9 P.M.

The Anchorage. Bring new presents for children to the "Sharing is Caring Tree." It's on the second level in the courtyard. Gifts will be wrapped by The Anchorage and delivered by the Salvation Army. From November 25 through December 24, musical groups perform 1 to 3 Sundays, 2 to 4 Tuesdays, 1 to 3 Fridays, and 5 to 7 Saturdays. Jugglers perform 1 to 3 Saturdays.

The Cannery. Strolling carolers and musical groups perform throughout the complex, afternoons and evenings from November 25 through December 24. Special activities the three weekends before Christmas include puppet shows and holiday cooking classes.

Ghirardelli Square. Christmas season begins November 25 at 6:15 with the lighting of a 50-foot white fir, and Santa handing out Ghirardelli chocolates to children. December 4 through 24, carolers entertain from 2 to 4 on weekends and noon to 2 on December 17, 18, and 24.

Pier 39. Winnie the Pooh will light Pier 39's 70-foot tree at 6:30 on November 23. Other holiday events include a Disney cartoonfest November 26 and 27 from 9 to 11 A.M. in the San Francisco Experience Theatre, Carolers will sing near the tree many evenings and weekends.

Holiday cruises

Ferries and charter boats offer Christmas cruise specials; some especially the dinner dances sell out early.

The Red & White Fleet at Pier 41 offers two 2-1/2-hour cruises, with ham and turkey dinner and trimmings and a live dance band. The parties, aboard the fleet's largest boat, are December 9 and 16, departing at 8 P.M. For reservations ($45 per person), call Teletron at 392-7469.

The Blue & Gold Fleet on Pier 39 offers Holiday dinner cruises on Fridays and Saturdays, November 4 through December 17 (except Thanksgiving weekend) from 7:30 to 10:30. Cost for roast turkey and baked ham buffet, and dancing to a live band, is $33. To reserve, call (800) 426-8687 in California, 781-7890 from elsewhere.

Hornblower Dining Yachts at Pier 33 offers holiday lunch cruises from noon to 1:30 weekdays ($24); and brunch, including Dixieland jazz, from 11 to I Saturdays ($29) and Sundays ($31). Friday and Saturday night dinner dance cruises, with a band, cost $49 to $59 per person. December 31, a black-tie dinner dance, from 9 PM. tO I A.M., costs $150 per person. For reservations, call 394-8900.

Getting there, parking

Area parking lots aren't as jammed in December as they are in summer. But just before and after Christmas, especially on weekends, parking is difficult and expensive. Even with validation from some stores, parking ranges from $8.50 to $15 a day. Some hotels offer free or reducedrate parking, and most lots offer 2 hours of validated free parking.

Come by ferry. The Red & White Fleet runs to Pier 41 Wednesdays through Sundays from Vallejo (round trip $13.90, $6 ages 4 through 12) and Sausalito and Tiburon ($8; $4 ages 5 through 11). For a timetable, call (800) 445-8880 in California, (415) 546-2896 from elsewhere.

Park and bus. Parking is much cheaper at lots south of Market Street. Buses 30 and 15 connect Third Street with the wharf. You need exact change (85 cents).

Cable cars. The most romantic way to arrive is still by cable car, but even in winter, lines for the car from Powell and Market streets to Hyde Street can seem unmercifully long, especially if it's cold. Tickets ($2; $1 ages 5 to 17; 15 cents 65 and over) are good for about 2 hours of riding-in any direction.

So where are the fishermen?

Visitors who think Fisherman's Wharf no longer has much to do with fishing are mistaken. The Wharf remains the West Coast's major fresh fish center, though much of tbe catch is actually brought in by truck from such places as Seattle and Fort Bragg.

Come at dawn to the area known as "Fish Alley," located among small back passages on the wharf behind Jefferson Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth streets. Trucks unload fresh fish for Bay Area outlets, and pass along catches to Los Angeles-bound rigs. "It's amazing to see how much fish touches down here," says one long-time observer.

Dungeness crab season is at its height during November and December. And from November 30 through December 21, mostly along piers 45 and 33, tons of herring will be sluiced ashore via giant vacuum pumps, from boats so full they look ready to sink. After time off for the holidays, herring fishing resumes January 1, sometimes continuing as late as March. Fishing activity will only increase. San Francisco's Port Commission has adopted an $18 million plan to rehabilitate all the wharf's fishing facilities. Completed in October 1987 was a breakwater protecting some 30 acres of harbor. Within it, if funding comes through on schedule, a 7acre harbor will be built in 1990, east of the historic ships. New fish wholesale and distribution facilities have been planned but not definitely scheduled.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Dickens Fair
Date:Dec 1, 1988
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