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15 Best Things to Do at Pier 39

Updated: February 8, 2024

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.

Our San Francisco tour guides are always being asked about the best things to do here, and we've included a lot of their advice in the list.

In honor of the holidays, we've also added a few fun and festive activities you can enjoy in the area!

1. See the Christmas Tree

Every holiday season, Pier 39 erects a 60-foot Christmas tree that will be pretty much unmissable as you walk up to the area.

Starting on November 21st, they have a lighting ceremony every 30 minutes from 5 pm - 10 pm, ensuring everyone can take part in the festive fun.

The Christmas lights on the tree are synchronized to holiday music, making the experience even more fun.

This tree will remain standing until January 7th, 2024, so even if you miss it before December 25th, you can still drop on by and check it out during the first week of the new year!

NOTE: Find out about more holiday fun on our post covering fun things to do for Christmas in San Francisco and where to see the best San Francisco Christmas lights.

2. Visit the Christmas in San Francisco Store

Believe it or not, this is one of those little-known stores right on Pier 39 that is open 365 days a year despite being focused only on one holiday season.

Whether you're still in need of some Christmas decorations or you just want to get into the holiday spirit, this is a great spot to visit during the winter.

Christmas in San Francisco offers customizable ornaments, allowing you to pick up some unique mementos to bring home and put on your tree for years to come.

3. Try Some Holiday Treats

Some of the restaurants in the area offer festive dishes during the holidays, including popular options such as hot chocolate and of course pumpkin spice latte.

Here are a few of the better dining options to consider:

Biscoff Coffee Corner - While they're usually a popular stop for coffee, during the holidays they also offer eggnog lattes, candy cane hot chocolate, and even cinnamon cappucinos.

Fog Harbor Fish House - During the winter months, this restaurant offers a pumpkin spice martini, pumpkin bread pudding, and even pumpkin curry shrimp!

4. Take a Christmas Cruise

A lot of cruise companies offer special holiday services in San Francisco, and they depart either from Fisherman's Wharf, very close to Pier 39.

During a Christmas Eve Brunch or Dinner cruise, you can expect to enjoy a variety of festive music and a range of free champagne, mimosas, sparkling cider, and other holiday treats.

Each cruise lasts for about 2-3 hours, and you can expect excellent views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and other notable landmarks in the Bay Area.

Purchase tickets or learn more.

5. See the Fireworks on New Year's Eve

Although San Francisco's New Year's Eve fireworks show actually takes place closer to the Ferry Building, you can still see it from Pier 39.

Since Pier 39 is also open on New Year's Eve, it's not the worst place to celebrate the holiday, because you'll be able to grab a warm drink while you're waiting!

That said, if you do feel like getting closer, the Ferry Building is on the Embarcadero and pretty easy to reach from here by hopping on the Muni F train.

The entire journey should only take 10-15 minutes.

6. 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 K-Dock.

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!

NOTE: Check our post covering the Pier 39 Sea Lions for more information.

7. 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. They also have Bat Rays, White Sturgeon, and many other aquatic animals on display.

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.

8. 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!

9. 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.

10. 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!

11. 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.

12. 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!

13. Discover the 7D Experience

Located right on Pier 39, this is essentially a theatrical experience that is also a thrill ride. Visitors can expect an interactive experience shooting lasers at various enemies.

Whether you're looking for a fun family activity, or you just want to get out of the sun on a hot summer day, this is one of the better attractions in the area.

Best of all, the 7D Experience is included with multiple San Francisco tourist passes!

14. Walk Up the Musical Stairs

If you're familiar with the floor piano scene in the classic Tom Hanks film "Big," chances are you'll be familiar with the works of Remo Saraceni, who created both the piano in that movie and these musical stairs!

These stairs behave like piano keys, but since it's much more difficult to play a song while climbing, it will take a concerted effort to make any magic happen.

With that in mind, we recommend enjoying the musical stairs with at least a few other people.

15. Ride the Pier 39 Carousel

In addition to everything else you can enjoy here, there is also an old-school, traditional carousel on site.

The Pier 39 Carousel in San Francisco. Image source: Wikimedia user Miladferrari under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
The Pier 39 Carousel in San Francisco. Image source: Wikimedia user Miladferrari under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The Pier 39 carousel features murals (or should we call them frescoes?) of notable landmarks around the Bay Area, including Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, and even the sea lions!

It might be one of the more simplistic activities on this pier, but if you're visiting with the family, chances are your kids will absolutely love it.

How to Get Here

Whether you're a local visitor or a tourist flying across the globe, navigating your way to this historic landmark is a part of the exciting journey.

Driving Directions

Driving here is straightforward as it's well-connected with all the main freeways. Directions will depend on where you are in the city, which is why we provide a map to Pier 39 below.

As you make your way through the scenic routes of California, you'll cross iconic landmarks, including the Loma Prieta Earthquake Memorial and the famous Coit Tower.

Most people will find it easiest to take the HWY 101 (Van Ness Avenue) to the Aquatic Park and then turn right on Bay Street, heading toward the Embarcadero.

That said, you can also take Franklin Street, which runs parallel to Van Ness.

Alternatively, you can go the other way around using Folsom Street and turn left on 3rd, crossing Market Street and heading north toward Pier 39 on Kearny Street.

Once you reach Broadway, turn right and head down to Sansome Street, which should take you right to the Embarcadero. From there, you can find parking!

Once you reach this destination, your parking woes are taken care of by the expansive Pier 39 Garage. Designed to accommodate a significant number of vehicles, this parking garage ensures that you can start your exploration of the area without any hassle.

Metro Directions

If you prefer public transportation, Pier 39 is equally accessible. The best option is to take the F train from Market Street all the way around the Embarcadero and straight to the pier.

The nearest station is the Embarcadero BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. From the Embarcadero, Pier 39 is just a pleasant waterfront walk away.

Cable Car Directions

For a unique commuting experience, consider hopping on one of the historic San Francisco Cable Cars, a charming way to soak in the city's sights.

While none of the cable car lines will take you all the way, the Powell-Hyde line will take you to nearby Ghirardelli Square, while the Powell-Mason line ends on Bay Street, just a few blocks from Pier 39.

Bus Directions

If all else fails, the Muni bus lines that serve Pier 39 are 39 and 8x.

Bus 39 is a great option for anyone who is coming from Coit Tower, but it only services a very small area in and around Fisherman's Wharf.

Bus 8x is the best option for people traveling from further south, as it runs from City College all the way down to Fisherman's Wharf.

Nearby Restaurants

A visit to Pier 39 is incomplete without indulging in the delectable culinary scene. Here's a quick snapshot of the must-visit restaurants near Pier 39, each offering unique dishes that promise to delight your taste buds:

  • Fog Harbor Fish House: Delight in the freshness of Dungeness crab as you enjoy the panoramic bay views.
  • Wipeout Bar & Grill: Surf's up at this vibrant bar serving scrumptious burgers and pizzas.
  • Crab House at Pier 39: Indulge in a wide range of crab delicacies while soaking in views of the Marina.
  • Pier Market Seafood Restaurant: An all-encompassing seafood experience awaits you here, from shrimp to salmon, all against the backdrop of breathtaking views.

Which is better: Pier 39 or Fisherman's Wharf?

Both Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf offer a unique blend of entertainment and dining options, but Pier 39's charm with attractions like the San Francisco Carousel and California sea lions offers an extra touch of magic.

What is the closest BART station to Pier 39?

The closest BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station to Pier 39 is the Embarcadero station, a short stroll away along the scenic waterfront.

When do they put up the Christmas Tree at Pier 39?

The Christmas tree at Pier 39 is traditionally put up in November, offering festive joy and lighting up the area well before the arrival of December.

Where can you park at Pier 39?

Visitors to Pier 39 can conveniently park their vehicles at the Pier 39 Garage, which is located nearby and is designed to accommodate a large number of vehicles.

What time does Pier 39 close?

Pier 39 generally closes around 10 p.m., but it's always a good idea to check their official website or call the provided phone number for the most accurate information as timings may vary.

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: February 8th, 2024
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