clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A commercial fishing boat.
You can usually find the Plumeria, a commercial fishing vessel, at Pier 45 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during Dungeness crab season.
Lauren Saria

Filed under:

Here’s Everything to Know About Buying Dungeness Crab Off the Boat in San Francisco

San Francisco’s 2024 Dungeness crab season is in full swing. Head down to Fisherman’s Wharf to get yours fresh.

Dungeness crab season is a cherished annual tradition in the San Francisco Bay Area, and thanks to the many options available for securing said crabs, it’s also a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure-style affair. On one end of the spectrum, some may want nothing more than to head to a local restaurant to crack into Dungeness crabs prepared by culinary experts, and on the other, some may want to hit the beach to catch and cook their own.

As a happy medium, there’s always the option to let the pros do the hard work of catching the beloved winter delicacy, and then taking it home to cook whatever way you please. If that sounds like the ticket, then the best place to get your fresh Dungeness crab is undoubtedly from the folks who caught them, which means planning a trip down to the docks. Before you head out, here’s everything you need to know about buying fresh-caught Dungeness crabs off the boat in San Francisco.

Where can I buy fresh Dungeness crab in San Francisco?

In San Francisco, you can head down to Fisherman’s Wharf to buy live Dungeness crab and other seafood directly from the fishers who bring them in from the Bay. According to the Port of San Francisco, the commercial fishing industry has long been centered at Pier 45, and many boats will dock there to sell.

Alternatively, you can also find boats at Pier 47. Locals will likely know it as the pier where classic San Francisco seafood restaurant Scoma’s serves its legendary cioppino. You’ll want to head down the L-shaped dock accessible by Al Scoma Way.

In either case, if you’re unsure if you’re at the right spot, look for the street signs advertising “Fish Sales From Boats.”

Two signs at Fisherman’s Wharf point customers to  areas where Dungeness crabs are sold from the boat. One reads, “Fish Sales From Boats,” while another reads “Live Crab” with an arrow pointing to the right.
Signs point the way toward Dungeness crab vendors. Look for signs with a distinctive orange crab on it that read, “Fish Sales From Boats.”
Lauren Saria
A sign at a pier reads “Live Crab Plumeria” with an arrow pointing left, at Fisherman’s Wharf. Lauren Saria

What days and times are fresh crabs available off the boat?

Per the port website, fishers will sell their catches on both weekends and weekdays. But if you want to be sure there’s someone around before you plan your trip, you’ll want to check the San Francisco Off the Boat Sales Facebook page, where a handful of local vessels share updates about their schedules.

Some of the fishers who sell directly off the boat at Fisherman’s Wharf also use their own social media channels to share updates. Instagram account @seafoodfromtheboat.sf has information about a few of the boats that dock regularly at Fisherman’s Wharf, so that’s a pretty safe bet when it comes to accurate updates.

In general, however, your best bet will be to plan on picking up your crabs on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday mornings. Commercial fisherman Matthew Juanes of the Plumeria tells Eater SF that most boats sell from sunup to sundown and that customers should try to get there as early as possible to ensure that there are still crabs available.

The earlier you come, the more likely you’ll also avoid the crowds of tourists that tend to choke up the area later in the day.

How much do fresh Dungeness crabs cost off the boat?

As of late January 2024, commercial fishers selling off the boat at Fisherman’s Wharf are charging $10 a pound for live Dungeness crab. Juanes says the crabs are generally coming in at around 2 pounds each, which means you can expect to pay about $20 per crab.

Before anyone balks at the price, yes, that might be more expensive per pound than the Dungeness crab at local seafood markets and grocery stores. But you’re paying a slight premium for these crabs for a few reasons. First, most fishers are selling what they caught the night before, which means their catches have only been out of the water for a few hours. Additionally, you can be confident these crabs are coming from local waters. Finally, you get the added benefit of knowing that you’re supporting local fishers directly.

One live Dungeness crab looks at the camera from a bag containing two other live Dungeness crab.
Dungeness crabs are typically packaged in plastic bags to take home, but a cooler is recommended for transporting them home.
Lauren Saria
A plastic bag with Dungeness crabs sits on a weighing scale at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Lauren Saria

Can I pay with a card?

As the saying goes, cash is king. But at least some of the fishers should be able to take card payments including Juanes, who allowed Eater SF to pay via Venmo. Holly Fruehling, who typically sells at Pier 45, also advertises that though she prefers cash payments, customers can pay via Zelle or Venmo.

Where can I park?

If you’re heading to Pier 45, you can likely get free short-term parking — i.e. you’ll be able to park long enough to pop out, buy your crabs, and get out — at the Fisherman’s & Seaman’s Memorial Chapel. You should be able to enter the building name into Google Maps to get directions.

At Pier 47, there are a few free parking spots on the right just before the bridge to Scoma’s. If you come early, you’ll likely be able to pull in there and leave your car long enough to grab your crabs and get out.

What do I need to bring?

Remember that these are live animals. Your crabs will probably be given to you inside of a tied-up plastic bag, but you’ll want to make sure you can keep them cold — both for freshness and so they don’t get too lively on route to your final destination. That means you’ll probably want a cooler or some sort of insulated and closed vessel, as well as ice. A couple of towels to clean up any excess water is also a smart move.

What do I do with the crabs when I get them home?

We’ll leave it up to your discretion when it comes to preparing your Dungeness crab but keep in mind that to maximize freshness, you’ll want to plan time to cook them within 10 hours, Juanes recommends. If you’re planning to travel with your crab, head to that San Francisco Off the Boat Sales Facebook page where crab enthusiasts have shared tips and tricks for transporting live crab by both land and air.

What else do I need to know about buying Dungeness crab off the boat?

Juanes says that as it gets later in the season, you can also expect some of the commercial fishers to bring in other seafood including fresh fish and shrimp. For now, however, it’s just the Dungeness crabs. He also shares that he expects this year’s crab season to last through the spring and into June, so keep an eye on the social pages for more updates on availability and pricing, which might also fluctuate as the season continues.

Three boats are tied to the dock outside of San Francisco restaurant Scoma’s; this is where the fishing boat Plumeria sells Dungeness crab. Lauren Saria
The fishing vessel, Plumeria, with equipment on it. Lauren Saria
A Plumeria crew member selects crab for sale. Lauren Saria
A Plumeria fisherman selects Dungeness crab for sale Lauren Saria
A customer purchases crab from Matt Juanes of Plumeria. Lauren Saria

San Francisco Restaurant Openings

Vegan Lumpia and Lechon Sisig Carbonara Shine at This Tiny New SoMa Restaurant

The Move

This Sunny Weekend, Grab a Musubi and a Latte and Hit the Great Highway

Three Hotly Anticipated Bay Area Restaurant Openings Not to Miss This Spring