Pier 39 is a multilevel waterfront complex that makes up the eastern boundary of Fisherman’s Wharf. Constructed on an abandoned cargo pier, it is, ostensibly, a re-creation of a turn-of-the-20th-century street scene, but don’t expect a slice of old-time maritime life here: Today, Pier 39 is a bustling mall welcoming millions of visitors per year. You will find more than 90 stores (personal favorites include Lefty’s, where you can buy things like left-handed scissors and coffee cups; Shell Cellar which carries nothing but shell stuff; and Candy Baron which offers barrels and barrels of candy, with adult-themed candy hidden at the back right), 14 full-service restaurants, a two-tiered Venetian carousel, the Aquarium of the Bay, Magowan’s Mirror Maze, bungee jumping, and a stage for street performers who juggle, ride unicycles, and tell corny jokes. Kids love Trish’s Mini Donuts, where you can put your nose on the glass and watch a machine drop blobs of batter into boiling oil and make tiny, fat sugar-powdered rings.
Best of all, Pier 39 has the California sea lions. Decades ago, hundreds of them took up residence on the floating docks, attracted by herring (and free lodging). They can be seen most days sunbathing, barking, and belching in the marina—some nights you can hear them all the way from Washington Square. Weather permitting, naturalists from Aquarium of the Bay offer educational talks at Pier 39 daily from 11am–4pm (Memorial Day through mid-October) that teaches visitors about the range, habitat, and adaptability of the California sea lion.
Pier 39 is the place that some locals love to hate (present company excluded), but kids adore it. Considering Fisherman’s Wharf, including Pier 39, is rated one of the top tourist attractions in the world, don’t listen to the naysayers; go check it out for yourselfand grab a bag of donuts.
- Erika Lennert