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PIER 39 sign
PIER 39 sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Mention San Francisco attractions and PIER 39 is always at the top of the list. Once an abandoned cargo wharf, the pier was transformed into a two-level, 18-hectare (45-acre) weathered wood complex, resembling a turn-of-the-century fishing village.

Much of the building material was wood salvaged from the original sheds and docks. Extending 305 meters (1,000 feet) into San Francisco Bay, it embraces three piers, a 300-berth marina and a bayside park.

How to get there

Located on The Embarcadero at Beach Street, PIER 39 is two blocks east of Fisherman's Wharf. There is a parking garage if you want to drive, but the easiest way to get to PIER 39 is on the F-line street car or the 47, 8X or 39 bus.

What can you do at PIER 39? You can shop, eat, be entertained and enjoy spectacular views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the city's skyline. Although some attractions charge fees, anyone can stroll through the landscaped grounds and enjoy the tangy sea breezes and carnival-like atmosphere for free.

Aerial view of PIER 39 and San Francisco skyline
Aerial view of PIER 39 and San Francisco skyline
Photo: PIER 39

Where to shop

The merchandise sold at PIER 39 is as unusual, creative and fun as the names of the stores. For clothing, you can find color-changing fashions at Del Sol, novelty hats at Krazy Kaps and "Marry me" stockings at The San Francisco Sock Market.

For gift shopping, Lefty's San Francisco-The Left Hand Store sells only items for lefties, while Le Beastro has toys and treats for pets. You will find collectible souvenirs at The Cable Car Store and Under The Golden Gate. And what else would you call a shop that sells cell phone accessories, other than Gadgetronics?

You can even make your own souvenir. Design a teddy bear at Animal House and create custom blends at The Spice & Tea Exchange. Club Tattoo offers individualized body art.

Dining at Neptune's Waterfront Grill
Dining at Neptune's Waterfront Grill
Photo: PIER 39

What to eat

If all this shopping works up an appetite, indulge it at one of the 14 restaurants offering meals ranging from Japanese sushi to Mexican tacos. Not surprisingly, several restaurants specialize in seafood.

At Neptune's Waterfront Grill, you dine on fresh Dungeness crab and tasty cioppino (a San Francisco-style bouillabaisse teeming with shellfish and spiked with red wine). Pier Market Seafood Restaurant serves tasty clam chowder and mesquite-grilled fish.

Other PIER 39 seafood restaurants specialize in crab, shrimp, oysters and fish & chips. If you want Italian-style seafood, check the menu at the Swiss Louis Italian and Seafood Restaurant.

Fast food

Many visitors prefer take-out snacks. Street food ranges from Trish's mini donuts to Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream waffle cones. Try one of Aunt Fanny's hot pretzels, or a giant lollipop from the Candy Baron. (Banana taffy, made with Pacific Ocean salt water, is a local favorite.)

If you are feeling romantic, select a bottle of Zinfandel from Wines of California. Supplement it with some sour-dough bread from Boudin Bakery, cheese and fruit from Vlaho's seasonal fruit stand, and top it off with a white chocolate rose from Chocolate Heaven. You can enjoy your picnic in the two-hectare (five-acre) waterfront park.

Shows and rides

When it comes to entertainment, a highlight is the 7D Experience, which is a simulated roller coaster with moving seats. Riders can interact with 3D animated films and compete to win the highest scores.

Kids having fun
Kids having fun
Photo: PIER 39

Teenagers enjoy video games at Players Sports Grill & Arcade, fun with reflections in a mirror maze and a bungee trampoline at Frequent Flyers. The entire family can rest their feet and watch marine-themed films at The Bay Theater.

Kids and the nostalgic young-at-heart are invariably attracted to the hand-painted ponies and sea lions on PIER 39's double-decker carousel. In the evening, it glows with hundreds of tiny lights.

Street performers

The only people who can distract their attention are the street entertainers who perform at the nearby Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water Stage.

A clown converts colorful balloons into whimsical animals and hats. A juggler swirls flaming torches and a clown plays a drum, banjo and harmonica — all at the same time.

San Francisco Bay cruises

The one ride that lasts longer than any of the other attractions at the pier is the San Francisco Bay cruise. PIER 39 is home to The Blue & Gold Fleet.

Blue & Gold tour boats
Blue & Gold tour boats
Photo: PIER 39

Its tour boats bring you on hour-long narrated cruises under the Golden Gate Bridge, past Sausalito and Angel Island State Park and around Alcatraz Island. Views of the San Francisco skyline are superb — but beware of the seagulls overhead if you're seated on the outdoor deck!

Thrill-seekers can take the high-speed RocketBoat ride, which runs between May and October. Ferries to Angel Island, Sausalito, Tiburon, Vallejo, Alameda and Oakland are convenient for sightseeing, dining and shopping.

River otter at Aquarium of the Bay
River otter at Aquarium of the Bay
Photo: PIER 39

Sea lions and otters

Bay cruises offer views of the PIER 39 sea lions sunbathing on K-dock in the West Marina. Although they lounge on the docks year-round, the best time to see sea lions is during the fall, winter and spring. (Many of them migrate to the Channel Islands for the summer.)

You can see North American river otters at the Aquarium of the Bay. The swimming, eating and playful antics of these whiskered creatures provide endless entertainment for adults and children. While at PIER 39's aquarium, allow enough time to view the jellyfish, sharks, star fish and rays.

Special events

Festivals highlight a full calendar of events at PIER 39, from Tulipmania in February to fireworks on the Fourth of July and a Christmas tree lighting celebration in late November.

PIER 39 has not always been so successful. It experienced a few shaky years after its opening in 1978. Eventually, new managers took over in 1981. Since then, it has clearly found the formula for success.



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