Insider’s Pier 39 San Francisco Experience

The Marina at Pier 39
Pier 39 is an active marina with many live aboards.

This post and photos were contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion

Many San Francisco locals avoid Pier 39 like a Coronavirus contagion.

They smugly chalk it up to an outdoor mall teeming with shivering tourists dressed for SoCal.

But I can honestly say, I have a deep fondness for Pier 39 San Francisco experiences.

Friends in Nautical Places at Pier 39 San Francisco


Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that I have close friends that live aboard a sailboat on E Dock in the Pier 39 Marina. This has given me a unique insider’s vantage point to the real-life live/workings of Pier 39. One of these friends used to work in the Harbormaster’s office. The deck of her boat is unparalleled for watching fireworks on the Bay or the Blue Angels during Fleet Week.

The beautiful San Francisco carousel on Pier 39
The intricate Carousel at Pier 39 San Francisco is painted with local landmarks.

A Deep Connect to Pier 39 San Francisco Experience


But my connection to Pier 39 San Francisco goes deeper than that.

I’ve been taking my kids here since they were mini. When they were babies and toddlers, we’d go regularly to visit the famous sea lions that bask and bark on the North side of the pier. And the ‘double-decker’ carousel is always a treat for the littles.

When my friend Mike was working as a Captain for the Blue & Gold Fleet, we’d join him on ferry trips to Tiburon, Sausalito or Angel Island. The ferries depart next door at San Francisco’s Pier 41.

Jellyfish at the San Francisco Museum by the Bay
Aquarium of the Bay, a Pier 39 San Francisco experience, displays 20,000 local sea creatures.

Pier 39 Attractions for Littles, Tweens, Teens and Me


Now that they’re a older, they love the arcade at Players and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze.

We all still love the Aquarium of the Bay, it’s less highfalutin’ then the Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park and more accessible.

There are daily street performance shows from noon to 9pm, and these aren’t cheesy sideshows. You can see legit circus artists, acrobats, torch jugglers, comics and magicians. Free! But, please do tip…

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Christmas at Pier 39 is Magical


The kids and I went over this past Christmas a few times to shop and watch the Christmas tree light show. Gotta love a three-story tree, decked out in a kaleidoscope of thousands of lights synchronized to Metallica’s Carol of the Bells. The lightshow at Pier 39 takes place every 30 minutes from 5-10pm.

A Taste of Old San Francisco at the Eagle


There are some good (mostly seafood) restaurants at Pier 39 in San Francisco, but we always go to the Eagle Café.

The prices are good and I love the old-timey vibe. You can drift back a century to the old San Francisco waterfront while dining, (or better, drinking) here. Picture the fishermen, strapping longshoremen, sailors, crusty newspapermen, Union leaders, and shady politicians of yesteryear tipping back a whiskey at the bar and chewing the rag.

The photos, clippings and other ephemera lining the walls assist in the reverie. The Eagle Café has been serving San Franciscans and visitors since 1928.

The interior of Enlightenment on Pier 39
Enlightenment is one of Pier 39’s interesting shops.

Look Beyond the Magnet Store, Find the Gems (or Geodes)


For shopping there are plenty of candy stores, t-shirt joints, and souvenir shops that I suggest you pass by and leave to the underdressed tourists.

We picked up some cool Christmas gifts at Enlightenment, a groovy, sandalwood-scented boutique with a zen vibe. Find gorgeous geode jewelry, Buddha statues, candles, Tibetan bowls and the like here.

Another great spot for gifts is SOLVE IT! Think out of the Box. This store features mind-bending wooden games and puzzles. You can test them our and challenge your skills in the play area.

Forget the magnets and shot glasses, Expedition is another trove for uncommon gifts. Think natural minerals and fossils, handcrafted jewelry, educational toys, journals, gadgets, and unique home décor accessories.

Pier 39 San Francisco Insider Tip

Aquarium of the Bay

You can have a great experience at Pier 39, but do it right. Go on a weekday, early in the day, or better, later in the evening. And you might want to skip the Hard Rock.

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Pier 39 is located along the historic San Francisco Waterfront two blocks east of Fisherman’s Wharf at Beach Street and The Embarcadero.