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Best Things to do at Pier 39


Pier 39 is full of fun and exciting activities for the whole family.

And with so many shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, sights and experiences, we have created a list of the best things to do at Pier 39.

See the Famous Sea Lions of San Francisco

If you or anybody you are traveling with is an animal lover, you simply must check out the sea lion observation deck, towards the back of Pier 39.

If Pier 39 is famous for anything, it's the incredible number of wild sea lions that populate the docks.

When you go to the back end of the pier, you will be standing within about 50 feet of dozens, and sometimes hundreds of massive sea lions.

You can see them in their natural habitat, as the adults are often sunning themselves on land while the young ones play around in the bay.

This is a great picture taking spot, and it's a sight you won't soon forget!

Visit the Aquarium of the Bay

Since you may already be in the mood for sea life after watching the sea lions, why not head back to the Aquarium of the Bay? This place is full of amazing exhibits.

You can watch scientists feed Svengali sharks, which are the largest predators in the San Francisco Bay.

Or, if you prefer to see animals with somewhat fewer teeth, take a look at the sea otter presentation, or even go and pick up a starfish or two in the hands-on tidepool!

This aquarium will thrill all of your senses in the hours you'll be visiting.

With over 20,000 animals to see, his place is great for kids and adults alike.

Pick up some Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl

There aren't many more traditional meals in this city than clam chowder in a San Francisco sourdough bread bowl from Boudin Bakery.

You can go to just about any restaurant on the waterfront, and they'll have a big sourdough loaf for you, baked earlier that day.

They hollow out the bowl, and they fill it up with steaming clam chowder.

Not only is the soup delicious, but then you get to eat the bowl afterwards!

For a city like San Francisco that is often chilly or foggy, especially down by the water, this is a perfect meal.

We promise this will warm you from the inside out!

Take a Bay Cruise

Pier 39 is situated right near over a dozen boats that take cruises around San Francisco Bay.

If the weather is nice, or even if you just want to get out on the water, don't hesitate to take a ride on one of these mini-cruises!

Many of these boats will take you around the bay, and some will even take you under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The cruises normally take an hour or two, and some include wine tasting, cocktails, or lunch/dinner service.

You'll get to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Bay Bridge, and some amazing views of San Francisco.

If you want a really incredible view, take a twilight cruise and see San Francisco when all the city lights go on!

Note: Take a look at our page on the Best Boat Tours in San Francisco to learn more about the best boat trips around.

Visit the Shops of the Pier

Pier 39 has some of the best shopping in San Francisco outside of Union Square.

From specialty stores like Chocolate Heaven (can you imagine a better name for a store?) and Spice and Tea Exchange to t-shirts and jewelry, Pier 39 has something for everyone.

You can walk down the center aisle of the pier and stop in at as many stores as you like.

While you're walking around the area, be sure to spend some time wandering through the (more than 100) stores on the pier, and try not to buy everything (especially if you go into Chocolate Heaven or a place called Candy Baron!)

Just remember to save some of that money for the rest of your trip to San Francisco!

Find Your Way through Magowan's Mirror Maze

In a city known for its expensive tastes and activities (and way more expensive housing!), finding an enjoyable, inexpensive activity can be a challenge.

But thanks to Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze on Pier 39, you can have some fun for pretty darn cheap here.

With tickets only $5 per person (kids under 5 years old get in free!) you basically can't afford NOT to go here.

Try to find your way through this challenging maze faster than the people around you, and make friends in the process!

The whole place is filled with psychedelic lighting, tricky corners and tunnels, and twists and turns that you won't see coming.

So stop by here and have some fun.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Street Performers

Although these aren't sponsored or endorsed by Pier 39, this location is always full of incredible street performers.

In fact, on the date of writing this post, one of our guides walked through Pier 39 and saw a very talented juggler, a painter making some amazing creations, a one-man band who must have had at least a dozen instruments, a saxophone player who cracked pretty funny jokes between songs, and any number of other entertaining performers.

You can easily spend five or ten minutes watching each person, and before you know it, an hour has passed!

There is plenty to do on Pier 39, so spend an afternoon just enjoying your time here and you won't be sorry!

About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo,, and more.
Updated: September 13th, 2022
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