One of the most visited sights in San Francisco, the multilevel Pier 39 complex is home to shops, restaurants, street performers, and a video arcade. Its waterfront setting on the San Francisco Bay means visitors can take in panoramic bay views, breathe fresh sea air, and watch sunbathing California sea lions.
Besides dining and shopping, another popular Pier 39 attraction is the Aquarium of the Bay, where you can watch sharks circle overhead and manta rays skate by. The glassed-in San Francisco Carousel is a hit with kids, as are the Musical Stairs and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. Pier 39 is also a popular jumping-off point for boat tours to Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Bay cruises focus on one of these attractions or all of them, some going as far out as the Farallon Islands in search of whales.
City tours of San Francisco typically include a stop to Pier 39’s historic waterfront. A hop-on hop-off tour via double-decker bus allows you to disembark and explore the area’s arcades, restaurants, and shops at your leisure.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Cruises to Alcatraz Island leave from Pier 39 and tend to sell out far in advance. Be sure to buy tickets ahead of time.
- The California Welcome Center offers luggage storage during the day for a fee.
- Pets are allowed at Pier 39 outdoors in the common areas.
- Ramps and elevators are located throughout Pier 39, and wheelchairs are available for rent at the California Welcome Center.
How to Get There
Pier 39 is located at the edge of the Fisherman’s Wharf district, near the beginning of the Embarcadero. The pier is also close to North Beach, Chinatown, Ghirardelli Square, and Fort Mason. The area is easily accessible via the historic F-Market streetcars, buses, and cable cars. Parking in the area is possible, but be prepared to pay.
When to Get There
Although San Francisco’s weather is cold and foggy in the summer, that’s when Pier 39 is the busiest. Prepare for large crowds and sold-out activities during this time. Bring layers to fend off the chill, or visit in the fall for the best weather. The pier’s hours of operation change seasonally.
California Sea Lions
Pier 39’s most famous—and famously loud—visitors are California sea lions. Mostly between January and July, as many as 900 sea lions park themselves on the floating docks off of the pier. Since the early 1990s, every year these marine mammals put on a show of barking, lounging, and climbing over one another. Learn more about the playful pinnipeds at the Sea Lion Center.