Pier 39 San Francisco

From a Local's Point of View


Pier 39 San Francisco is one of our most popular tourist attractions. Is it fun? Worth a visit? Or just a tourist trap.

pier 39 san francnsco, shops

As a long time resident of San Francisco, I can tell you that the locals shun Pier 39. It's gotten a bad rap because it was created specifically for the tourists; but is it fair? Here's what I found.

Into the Heart of San Francisco Tourism

I put on my safari gear and headed down to Pier 39 to do some research, expecting to be drained by the commercialism and tackiness, but instead...I had a great time!

Yes, it's commercial, and it's not the real San Francisco, but there are lots of fun things to do and see, and some pretty cool shops as well. And the views are spectacular!

pier 39 san francnsco, view of alcatraz
Alcatraz view from Pier 39

San Francisco's Pier 39 is essentially a two-story, outdoor shopping mall, with gorgeous views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, and its own colony of sea lions.

Things to See and Do at Pier 39


  • The sea lions
  • The views
  • Bay cruises
  • Mazes, 3D rides, carousel, bungee flying
  • The Aquarium of the Bay
  • Jugglers, magic shows
  • Wine and beer tasting
  • Lots of shops and places to eat

Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

There are directories posted at intervals with all of Pier 39's tenants, so you don't really need a map once you're there.

Tour the City from Pier 39

Pier 39 is one of the stops on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus City Tours, that take you all over the city, while a guide fills you in on the sights you're passing. This is a great way to get an overview of San Francisco's most interesting attractions, plus easy transportation around the city. You can get 1, 2 or 3 day bus passes.

The two and three day passes add on Sausalito and a night tour to the city tours, plus three walking tours - a good deal. You can get $5 off if you book it online. See Hop On, Hop Off passes to see the list of stops, and booking info.


Highlights of Pier 39 San Francisco


Sea Lions at the Pier 39 Marina

pier 39 san francisco, sea lions

The sea lions started moving to the Pier 39 Marina after the earthquake in 1989. Eventually so many moved in, the boats had to move out, and now they loll on the floating wooden docks all day.

pier 39 san francisco, sleeping sea lions

Most of the sea lions are sound asleep, but there are always several malcontents in the group that bellow and groan at each other, arguing over a favorite spot on the planks.

Where are they? Go all the way to the end of Pier 39, and turn left. The sounds and smells will tell you where they are!


Gorgeous Views

The setting of Pier 39 on the wharf in San Francisco couldn't be more entrancing. Head out to the end of the pier and there's Alcatraz straight ahead, and to the left, the Golden Gate Bridge.

pier 39 san francisco, view of sf bay

You can watch all the maritime activity, with sailboats and ferries coming and going, and the huge container ships lumbering into the harbor.


Aquarium of the Bay

pier 39, aquarium of the bay, bat ray
Bat Ray

A fascinating aquarium showcasing the sea life of San Francisco Bay.

Check out who's living in the water just off the dock, and watch sharks being fed!

$2 off if booked online. For more info, and booking, see: Aquarium tickets.



Bay Cruises

blue and gold ferry, pier 39 san francisco

This really is a pier, so it's not surprising that a number of boats leave for their bay cruises from this spot.

This is one of the most fun things to do at Pier 39, I think.



Insider Tip: For many of these bay cruises, you can get steeply discounted tickets through Goldstar.com. It's free to sign up with them, then you can check for the tour you're interested in. Lots of other SF activities are available, also, often for roughly half-off. They have some great deals, so always check with them first before booking. See Goldstar.com.

The Pier 39 Bay Cruises

The Blue and Gold Ferry sails out under the Golden Gate Bridge, then around Alcatraz, and past the San Francisco waterfront. One hour cruise, very enjoyable. See Bay Cruise for more info and booking.

The Rocket Boat is another fun ride, 30 minutes of speed and rock and roll. See Rocket Boat for more info and booking, or read about my experience on the boat, here.

Or sail out under the Golden Gate and around Alcatraz on a catamaran. 90 minute cruise, with drinks and snacks on board. See Adventure Cat Cruise for info and booking.

One of my very favorite cruises is the 90 minute trip on the classic Privateer yacht, leaving from Pier 39 (right side). Glide all around the Bay and past Alcatraz, with two free glasses of wine or beer. See Sailboat Cruise for info and booking, or read about my experience out on the water with the mellow crew, here.

For a list and description of the many San Francisco bay cruises available, with photos, see my page on the San Francisco Bay Cruises.



The 7D Experience


The Zombie Apocalypse! Have a virtual adventure with 3D glasses, moving chairs and laser guns to shoot at the bad guys. Even gusts of wind!

There are six scenarios to choose from:

  • Zombie!: a zombie invasion, naturally.
  • Gigamon: giant monsters attacking in an urban setting.
  • Road Fighter: sort of Mad Max in a city with robot-like guys ambushing you.
  • Forbidden Mine: racing through mine tunnels chased by skeletons and mummies.
  • Los Banditos: robot bandits in the Old West.
  • Werewolves: chasing you through the streets of London.

Or do all six (each "ride" is only about 5 minutes).

The zombie one is really scary, and the Werewolf one looks like it would be pretty scary, too. The others are exciting, but not as scary (better for younger kids). The Los Banditos ride is probably the best one for the youngest kids. They post your score with your photo on the screen at the end, so stay alert!

battling zombies wiht a laser, pier 39 san francisco
Serious business, fighting zombies...
(and everyone's a winner)

Kids love this and even more mature folks (like me) have a great time. A group of teenage boys coming out pronounced it "awesome!"

3d virtual adventure, pier 39, san francisco
7D Theater Pier 39

First ride is $11.99 ($2 less with the Fun Pack), rest of the day rides are $6. Ground level, at the back on the right.

They also have a laser adventure, a dark room where you can dodge laser beams. Do both the adventure ride and the laser challenge for $12.99: get $2 off the combination if you book online, see here.

To get discounted tickets through Groupon for the 7D Ride (when available), click here.


The Mirror Maze

Dare to enter the Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze! Appropriately for San Francisco, this is a very cool, almost psychedelic, experience: lights flashing to the music, beautiful, shifting colors, and endless vistas that are not what they seem. Takes about 20 minutes to get out. Lots of fun. Only $5 ($1 less, with Fun Pack). Second level, on the right.

pier 39 san francisco, mirror maze

To get 50% off tickets for the Maze via Groupon (when available), click here.


The Carousel

This pretty, double-decker carousel was made in Italy and decorated with scenes of San Francisco. Ride some beautifully painted, and rather odd, creatures like sea lions, water dragons and mer-horses.

pier 39 carousel, water dragon

Entertainment

The stage behind the carousel hosts almost non-stop, free entertainment in the form of magic shows, jugglers, comedians, etc.

pier 39 san francisco, magic show
Magician at Work

Shopping

Tons of shops, too many to name, but covering just about everything you could imagine, including left-handers' goods, doggie boutiques, handbags, magic tricks, scarves, pearls, charms, puppets, candy, fairies, crystals, bamboo textiles, ceramics, etc.

pier 39 san francisco, puppet shop
Puppet Shop

The clerk in the Magic Shop was performing some amazing sleight-of-hand tricks for customers when I was last there.

Pier 39 Restaurants

The food here is OK, not great by San Francisco standards, but convenient. Some of the restaurants have great views: Neptune's Waterfront Grill, Hana Zen Japanese Grill, Luigi's Pizzeria and Louis's Swiss Italian and Seafood Restaurant.

Save Money on the Attractions at Pier 39

You can get passes that include some of the more expensive attractions, like the Aquarium, bay cruises, or city tours.

Money Saving Tip:
Get a Pier 39 Fun Pack


pier 39 san francisco, funpack coupon

Go up to the California Visitors Center on the second floor, left side, and get a Fun Pack. It's a 55-page booklet of coupons, just for Pier 39 stuff (including 2 hours free parking at the garage across the street). Good deals...free desserts, free appetizers, discounts on attractions and shopping, etc.

To qualify, either bring your AAA card if you're a member, or go to www.pier39.com and download the Fun Pack coupon before you go.

Also, the free Fisherman's Wharf Map and free San Francisco Map available in the Visitor's Center at Pier 39 have lots of coupons for the nearby attractions. They're great maps, too, with attractions, hotels and other places of interest marked on them.

Tip for locals: Pier 39 has special discounts for Bay Area residents. Check their website for the Pier 39 coupons.

practical tipPractical Tip: the Visitors Center provides some other useful services as well. They have luggage storage for $5 a bag, so you can avoid dragging heavy bags around while you explore. They also have free wifi, sell discount event tickets, and rent strollers and wheelchairs.

How to get to Pier 39

Pier 39 is located at the far right end of Fisherman's Wharf on the Embarcadero, which turns into Jefferson Street, the main street of Fisherman's Wharf.

Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

Cable Cars: The two cable car lines leaving from Powell and Market will bring you within a couple of blocks of Pier 39.

The F-Line Trolley: The antique street cars of the F-Line also stop at Pier 39. The F-line runs all the way down Market Street, and then all along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf.

Pier 39 Parking

If you are driving, know that parking in this area is gruesome. I have been lucky on occasion with street parking, but the meters run 24 hours a day, even on Sundays and holidays (unique to this part of town) and they are only good for a half hour or an hour.

The parking garages are very expensive, but if you're not staying long, one solution is the Pier 39 parking garage, because of coupons and restaurant validations.

The Pier 39 Parking Garage

This is a large garage just across the street from Pier 39; very convenient, but pricey at $9 per hour.

Two ways to save money at the garage:

Get a free hour with a validation stamp if you eat at one of the full-serve restaurants at Pier 39 (listed on the back of the parking ticket), or 2 free hours with validation after 6:00 p.m.

Or get your parking ticket stamped at the California Visitors Center at Pier 39, for two hours of free parking, as part of the Fun Pack described above.

More Parking Ideas:


embarcadero parking map thumbnail

There are numerous parking lots and garages in the general area of Pier 39, if you don't mind walking a few blocks.

The easiest way: check out the prices and availability for the garages nearby and book a space ahead of time using parking apps like Parking Panda or Spot Hero. I've been doing this more and more; this way you can usually get a good deal and don't have to worry about The Hunt;-)

Map of Pier 39


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Pier 39