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Your Guide to Pier 39 in San Francisco

Your Guide to Pier 39 in San Francisco

Check out everything you need to know about Pier 39 in San Francisco, from sea lions to great food. Team


3 min read

November 27, 2023

Pier 39 in San Francisco is an iconic waterfront attraction, buzzing with a vibrant blend of entertainment, dining, and shopping experiences. Situated at the edge of the Fisherman's Wharf district, it offers stunning views of the bay, including the famous Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a frequent guest, Pier 39 provides a delightful mix of activities and sights to explore.

Pier 39 was developed in the late 1970s and quickly evolved into a must-visit destination. Known for its playful sea lions, historic carousel, and diverse range of eateries and shops, it captures the essence of San Francisco's unique charm. This bustling pier is more than a tourist attraction; it's a celebration of the city's maritime heritage and a gateway to its maritime adventures.

Attractions and Entertainment

The Sea Lions

The sea lions at Pier 39 might be the primary image that people associate with the area. These California sea lions inhabit the floating docks. Their antics and distinctive barking attract visitors of all ages. There's also a fantastic educational exhibit for the sea lion and the connected conservation efforts. The Marine Mammal Center's Sea Lion Spot is open Thursday to Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Definitely take some time to check out the sea lions lounging around Pier 39.

The sea lions at Pier 39 are a consistent presence and major attraction.

The San Francisco Carousel

Handcrafted in Italy, this carousel is a work of art featuring paintings of famous San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street. It's a magical ride for children and a nostalgic experience for adults. The carousel is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. It's adorned with nearly 2000 lights and over 30 animals to ride. The carousel is located on the Bay End of Pier 39.

7D Experience

For thrill-seekers, the 7D Experience combines a 3D movie with motion seats and interactive gaming for an exhilarating adventure. This dark ride pits you against a scary range of monsters from werewolves to evil robots. It's a unique experience that stimulates all of your senses. Also there's a fascinating laser maze challenge. Remember those spy movies where the main character has to navigate a room full of lasers? It's like that! This is located in Building M on Pier 39.

Dining Experiences

Pier 39 offers a diverse range of dining options, from quick bites to upscale restaurants. Seafood, naturally, is a highlight here.

Chowder and Crab Stands

The pier is famous for its clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls and fresh Dungeness crab. Stalls and eateries along the pier offer these local specialties. Chowders is the primary place to grab a tasty bread bowl with chowder or snack on some fried seafood. Crab House is the go-to place to dine on some of the fresh crab that's available. It's elevated with great views of major landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pier 39 is always a busy attraction and for good reason, it's a ton of fun.

Waterfront Dining

For those seeking a more sophisticated dining experience, several restaurants offer stunning views of the bay along with their menus. Enjoy fresh, locally sourced seafood or a variety of international cuisines. Some places we recommend are Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant, Swiss Louis Italian & Seafood Restaurant, and Pier Market Seafood Restaurant.

Shopping and Souvenirs

With over 60 specialty shops and boutiques, Pier 39 is a shopper’s paradise. Whether you're looking for unique San Francisco souvenirs, artisan jewelry, or fashionable apparel, there's something for everyone. There's obviously souvenir shops to commemorate your trip. However, you can also visit some of the more unique options. Get some amazing toffie at Candy Baron and The Cable Car Store for the special San Francisco-themed trinkets.

Family-Friendly Activities

Aquarium of the Bay

Experience the rich marine life of San Francisco Bay at this engaging aquarium. Walk through clear tunnels surrounded by sharks, rays, and other marine creatures. There are two floors that feature over 24,000 animals from over 200 species. It's a full look at the breadth and diversity of marine life. The top floor of the aquarium includes touch pools where you can interact closely with baby rays and various invertebrates. Aquarium of the Bay is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are VIP tours available from Friday-Sunday an hour before opening. 

Aquariums are an opportunity to learn about the amazing world of marine biology.

Unique attractions

Pier 39 hosts several interactive museums, including the fascinating Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze and the educational Sea Lion Center. You can embark on an escape room adventure or stroll down the musical stairs. There are also virtual reality play areas and the fascinating puzzle store Solve It! Think Out of the Box.

Pier 39 hosts a variety of events throughout the year, ranging from fireworks on the Fourth of July to festive holiday decorations in December. Street performers and live music add to the vibrant atmosphere.

Pier 39 in San Francisco is an experience. With its lively atmosphere, scenic views, entertaining attractions, and diverse dining and shopping options, it captures the heart of the city’s culture and history. Whether you're a local or a tourist, a day at Pier 39 is guaranteed to leave you with lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for the unique charm of San Francisco.

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