Pier 39 is one of the must-see places in San Francisco during a visit to California. Located not far from Alcatraz, we went there before and after our visit to the famous prison.
Why is Pier 39 famous? What is there to see? I will introduce it to you and tell you what Denis and I thought about it in this article.
What is Pier 39 in San Francisco?
A pier is a structure built on a coastline that extends over the water.
You can see dozens of them along the coastline of San Francisco. The piers are more or less developed and overlook the San Francisco Bay.
Pier 39 is one of the piers installed in San Francisco. Open since 1978, it is known for its layout, with its various stores and attractions, as well as for the view it offers of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the sea lions that live there.
Where is Pier 39 located in San Francisco?
Pier 39 is in Fisherman’s Wharf, which is a very busy area of San Francisco, and very popular with tourists for its restaurants, hotels and attractions.
If you’re already planning a visit to Al Capone’s prison, you’ll head to Pier 33 to catch the boat to the prison. Pier 39 is only a 5-minute walk west from Pier 33. Just walk along the docks and you can’t miss it.
When we went, we took an Uber because we were staying out of town. If you rent a car, you should know that there are two paid parking lots. Otherwise, you can get to Pier 39 by public transportation on the famous Cable Cars or by bus.
What to do and to see at Pier 39?
In addition to the pleasure of strolling close to the sea, Pier 39 has been extensively developed to make it a point of interest in the city and to bring people there. You’ll find a multitude of restaurants, stores, rides and other entertainment.
An open-air shopping mall in San Francisco
The Pier 39 area is very touristy, so it is not surprising to find many stores on this pier. To bring back souvenirs of your stay, you will be spoiled with stores dedicated to Alcatraz, the cable cars, the city of San Francisco or the Golden Gate. This is where we bought a magnet of San Francisco for Denis’s mother.
But you will also discover shops selling various clothes, jewels and other accessories as well as chocolates and sweets.
So, there’s plenty of room to stroll around in the alleys of Pier 39.
As far as restaurants are concerned, Pier 39 has something for everyone: seafood, bakeries, pancakes, tacos, pizzas, donuts…
If you like seafood, you will have a wide choice. Indeed, at the moment, 6 restaurants are specialized in seafood:
- Crab House
- Bubba Gump Shrimp
- Fog Harbor Fish House
- The Hook
- Pier Market Seafood Restaurant
San Francisco is by the ocean, so it’s not surprising that you’ll enjoy eating local food.
As for us, since we were still at Pier 39 at noon, but we were not very hungry, we had eaten on the run and opted for a snack. We had a hot dog, our first one in the United States! Unfortunately, we were not won over by the spicy sausage and the bread…
Pier 39 and its attractions
I can’t tell you much about the different attractions because we didn’t do any of them. Nevertheless, I put here a list of the type of activities you will find on Pier 39:
- Rides: carousel, Bay Plunge, 7D Experience, virtual reality…
- Visits: Aquarium of the Bay and the sea lion information center,
- Escape game,
- Street artists,
- Sales for various cruises,
- People offering to draw a caricature of you.
The sea lions have taken up residence at Pier 39
One of the major attractions of Pier 39 is the opportunity to see a group of sea lions up close. These animals, part of the sea lion family (and no, they are not seals!), arrived in January 1990, a few weeks after the Loma Prieta earthquake.
If the presence of the sea lions was initially not appreciated by the locals, this totally changed. Once the city understood the interest, they liked them. Tourists started to come in greater numbers. This helped the business around Pier 39 (restaurants and stores).
The sea lions in San Francisco are not captive animals, but free to come and go as they please. Wooden platforms have simply been installed to encourage them to stay at the K-Dock and the boats that were there have been moved.
By the way, there are better times than others if you want to see the sea lions. Indeed, summer is the season of reproduction of these animals and most of them leave and go to the South. However, in winter, sea lions come back and there can be more than 900 of them living in the San Francisco Bay.
In October, they were already back at the K-Dock and we had the opportunity to admire and photograph them.
Curious if the sea lions are over there right now? I just discovered that the official website dedicated to Pier 39 offers the opportunity to watch them live.
There’s some smell, some noise, but it’s fun to watch them. Since you’re a bit high up and the Pier is wide, it was easy to find a seat with a good view without being in the middle of a crowd.
Our opinion: what did we think of Pier 39?
We think Pier 39 is a place to visit in San Francisco.
Of course, like any other tourist place, the crowds increase during the day and depending on the month. We enjoyed our first visit before 9 a.m. There was almost nobody. The shops were closed but we enjoyed the charm of the place, with the wooden structure and the colored fronts.
At the end of the morning, it started to be more crowded, the attractions are indeed very popular and the restaurants fill up well. The atmosphere is calm.