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Exploring the History and Attractions of Pier 39 in San Francisco

If you’re looking for an unforgettable San Francisco experience, look no further than PIER 39. This 45-acre waterfront complex is a must-visit destination in the Bay Area, offering a rich history and a wide array of attractions. In this article, we’ll delve into the history of Pier 39, explore why it’s a must-visit location, learn about the famous Pier 39 sea lions, and discover 8 compelling reasons to make this your next destination. Plus, we’ll sprinkle in 8 fun facts about these charismatic sea lions that have captured the hearts of locals and tourists alike.

The History of Pier 39

PIER 39 isn’t just a shopping center; it’s a piece of San Francisco’s history. It was first developed by entrepreneur Warren Simmons and opened its doors on October 4, 1978. But what truly sets Pier 39 apart is its location, offering spectacular views of San Francisco Bay. From here, you can gaze upon iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and the city skyline itself. It’s no exaggeration to call it a postcard-worthy view.

Why Visit Pier 39?

Pier 39 is a multifaceted attraction that caters to a wide range of interests. Here are some compelling reasons to add it to your San Francisco itinerary:

  1. Scenic Views: As mentioned, the views of San Francisco Bay are unparalleled. Capture those Instagram-worthy moments with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
  2. Sea Lion Spectacle: One of the top draws at Pier 39 is the colony of California sea lions that have made this spot their home. We’ll dive into their fascinating history shortly.
  3. Family-Friendly: If you’re traveling with kids, Pier 39 is an ideal destination. It offers a family-oriented atmosphere with entertainment and marine mammals to delight the little ones.
  4. Dining Delights: Hungry? Pier 39 boasts 14 full-service restaurants, serving everything from global cuisines to classic San Francisco dishes like clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Don’t forget to grab a validation for the parking garage when you dine at participating restaurants.
  5. Unique Shopping: With over 50 specialty shops, Pier 39 provides a shopping experience like no other in the city. You can find gifts, collectibles, body care products, apparel, accessories, jewelry, games, and more.
  6. Waterfront Park: Take a leisurely stroll through the 5-acre waterfront park or explore the 300-berth marina nearby.
  7. Endless Entertainment: Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or a culture enthusiast, Pier 39 has it all. From 7D experiences and sailing charters to the Aquarium of the Bay and musical stairs, there’s no shortage of fun activities.
  8. Accessibility: Located at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 is conveniently close to North Beach, Chinatown, and the Embarcadero. You can easily access it via historic F Market streetcars.

The Pier 39 Sea Lions

Now, let’s dive into the captivating story of the sea lions at Pier 39:

  • Arrival and Growth: California sea lions have always been present in San Francisco Bay, but they started hauling out on the docks of Pier 39 in September 1989. Initially, only a few were present, but due to favorable conditions, including a plentiful herring supply and protective environment, their numbers quickly grew to over 300 within months.
  • Partnership with Marine Mammal Center: The Marine Mammal Center collaborated with Pier 39 to ensure the well-being of the sea lion population. An educational program was developed to inform visitors and school groups about these marine mammals.
  • Mysterious Departures: In November 2009, a record number of sea lions were counted, but their numbers dwindled later that month. Researchers attributed this to a shift in their food source, causing them to travel to other regions for feeding. However, they gradually returned, much to the delight of onlookers.
  • Sea Lion Webcam: Even if you can’t visit in person, you can still enjoy watching these playful sea lions via the Sea Lion Webcam on pier39.com. It’s a fantastic way to experience these amazing creatures from the comfort of your home.

8 Fun Facts about Pier 39 Sea Lions

  1. The first sea lions arrived before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the earthquake didn’t prompt their migration.
  2. Sea lions are believed to have moved to the docks because of the refurbishing project in September 1989, which created open spaces.
  3. Their numbers can fluctuate dramatically, with as many as 1,701 sea lions reported at one time.
  4. Volunteers and staff monitor the sea lion population daily, providing educational information to tourists.
  5. Their seasonal appearance and departure are likely linked to chasing a food source, like anchovies and sardines.
  6. In early 2017, the estimated number of seals around the pier ranged from 150 to 600.
  7. The pier offers a Sea Lion Webcam, allowing you to watch them from anywhere in the world.
  8. The Marine Mammal Center and Pier 39 have been working together for over two decades to ensure the sea lions’ well-being.

Make sure PIER 39 is part of your San Francisco visit 

Pier 39 in San Francisco is a treasure trove of history and entertainment. Its stunning views, charming sea lions, diverse dining options, unique shopping experiences, and endless entertainment make it a destination you won’t want to miss. Whether you’re a local looking for a fun day out or a tourist seeking an authentic San Francisco experience, Pier 39 has something special for everyone. Plan your visit and create memories that will last a lifetime at this iconic waterfront complex.


Experience San Francisco’s Pier 39 Magic


Information and images provided by Pier 39.

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