Situated along the waterfront, PIER 39 San Francisco is home to many of the best things to do in San Francisco. From the famous sea lions to tours that depart from the pier, here’s how to spend a day at this popular attraction. 

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Top Things to Do at PIER 39 San Francisco

1. Aquarium of the Bay

Jellyfish in a tank at Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco

Aquarium of the Bay sits in the historic district of San Francisco and houses over 20,000 species of marine animals. You’ll discover a world beneath the waves when you explore exhibits of Northern California aquatic life. Three hundred feet of tank tunnels show 360 views of moon jellies, sharks, and skates.

Yoga lovers can attend morning classes while sharks, fish, and rays swim by. If you plan to visit other nearby attractions, make sure to purchase the PIER 39 Attraction Pass which grants discounted admission to the aquarium as well as deals on PIER 39 restaurants.

2. 7D Experience

Get a fully immersive, action-packed adventure with San Francisco’s 7D Experience. Hop on a ride with motion seats that simulate the effects of a roller coaster. It feels like a virtual reality video game with interactive gun shooting and special effects.

Those interested in the 7D Experience and other PIER 39 attractions can benefit from discounted entry by purchasing the PIER 39 Attraction Pass. The pass purchase price covers the 7D Experience entry as well as discounts on other PIER 39 San Francisco activities.

3. Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze

Enter a psychedelic world of neon lights and mirror halls at Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. Charles Magowan created this magical, artistic attraction for the whole family to enjoy. Navigate through a maze of flashing lights and neon colors that dazzle the senses.

You can take your time as the maze lets you stick around and enjoy the experience for as long as you like. 

4. CitySightseeing San Francisco Tour

A City Sightseeing bus driving past Fisherman's Wharf

CitySightseeing San Francisco Tour presents the city’s official Hop-on, Hop-off experience. You’ll see the biggest San Francisco attractions from an open-air double-decker bus. The CitySightseeing tour winds past over 40 of the city’s top stops, each of which you can explore at your leisure.

The bestselling day tour includes the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown Gate, and PIER 39.  

5. Golden Gate Bridge/Sausalito Tour

Enjoy sweeping views of San Francisco during a Golden Gate Bridge/Sausalito Tour with Skyline Sightseeing San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge connects Sausalito to San Francisco. Sausalito has become famous for its Richardson Bay houseboats made by squatters after the Second World War, the historic Fort Baker overlooking Horseshoe Cove, and boutique shopping. You can walk along the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge for panoramic views of the bay.

Look toward the horizon to catch glimpses of Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline. You can explore by foot or take the ferries that run between San Francisco and Sausalito.

6. Bay Cruise Adventure by Blue & Gold Fleet

The Bay Cruise Adventure by Blue & Gold Fleet provides picturesque views of the city from every angle. During the 60-minute boat ride, you’ll also pass by the famous PIER 39 sea lions sunbathing by the bay.

The tour doesn’t require reservations, and guests can enjoy complimentary multi-language audio available. This is the perfect opportunity for photographers of all levels to capture classic San Francisco images like the city skyline, the sea lions, the historic waterfront, and of course, PIER 39.

7. RocketBoat

Blue & Gold Fleet offers guests another – this time adrenaline pumping – way to experience San Francisco Bay from PIER 39. The RocketBoat is a high-speed adventure that takes guests out on the water for the ultimate bay thrill ride. The boat zips along the water, taking you beneath the Bay Bridge. You’ll speed down to Oracle Park, home to San Francisco’s baseball team, The Giants. The RocketBoat takes 30 minutes and runs during warmer months between May to October.

*Note that the current RocketBoat has been retired and rides are not offered during the 2019 summer season. Ticket holders can be upgraded either to Bay Cruise Adventure or Escape from the Rock cruises. The other option is to hold onto RocketBoat tickets until summer 2020 for an even more exhilarating RocketBoat cruise on the new boat.  

8. Escape from the Rock Cruise by Blue & Gold Fleet

A foreboding feeling creeps in as the Escape from The Rock Cruise circles Alcatraz Island penitentiary. Although the prison no longer functions, its infamous history lives on through the true stories of daily life in the prison and bold escape attempts. The Escape from The Rock Cruise by Blue & Gold Fleet provides 360 views of Alcatraz with intriguing audio tales of past inmates like Al Capone and Clyde Johnson.

You’ll learn about the only successful escape from the island penitentiary in 1962 that is the stuff of Hollywood lore.  

9. PIER 39 Sea Lions and Sea Lion Center

My daughter admiring the lounging Pier 39 sea lions

California sea lions have established a permanent colony near San Francisco’s PIER 39—lounging and frolicking on floating docks made to serve them. And now, visitors can learn even more about the adorable barking sea lions at the Sea Lion Center at PIER 39, managed by Aquarium of the Bay.

Bring the whole family to see educational videos and interactive displays. Visual exhibits include a real sea lion skeleton and pelt. There are plenty of sea lion souvenirs too. Outside the center, you can watch the sea lions in action as they dive in the water and lounge by the bay. The PIER 39 Sea Lions Center is open to the public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.

10. Whale Watching Tour

View the amazing migration of blue, humpback, and gray whales during an unforgettable boat tour through the protected Farallon Islands sanctuary. Whale watching tours run throughout the year, but the type of whales in the area depends on the season.

Humpback whales typically appear May through November. Gray whales and killer whales arrive in December, staying until May. Dolphins and seals also show up, along with an occasional sighting of the ferocious Great White shark.

Tours typically leave from PIER 39, and you can book discounted passes to enjoy PIER 39 restaurants, shopping, and local excursions before or after your whale-watching tour.

11. The Flyer

Ready for a jaw-dropping experience soaring above San Francisco and the Bay Area? The Flyer provides a live-action virtual reality flight perfect for an introduction to the city.

Take a seat in motion activated seats that simulate a flight exploring San Francisco’s most prominent attractions and landmarks. You’ll launch above the Golden Gate Bridge before sweeping by Coit Tower, Lombard Street, and Chinatown. The ride continues as you take in breathtaking sights of the Redwood National Forest from the skies.

The San Francisco Flyer is located on Pier 39. After the show, you can enjoy Pier 39 restaurants, shopping, and attractions, including the Aquarium of the Bay.

Looking up at the Carousel at Pier 39 in San Francisco
Buy separate tickets to ride the carousel.

Feel like a kid again on the Pier 39 Carousel. It’s thought to be the only carousel with artistic renderings of the city including the PIER 39 sea lions, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and more.

13. Musical Stairs

The Musical Stairs at PIER 39 San Francisco is an interactive art exhibit. Climb up and down the piano key stairs and enjoy the sound of music with each step.

The artist behind San Francisco’s Musical Stairs, Remo Saraceni, also designed the famous giant piano from the movie, Big, starring Tom Hanks. Access the Musical Stairs from the PIER 39 parking lot and walk over to Building O, Level 1 & Level 2.

14. The Frequent Flyer

Bounce up and down on a bungee trampoline at the Frequent Flyer along PIER 39 San Francisco. While strapped into the bungee, you can spring up to 20 feet.

Try out some aerial acrobatics during hang time, and don’t forget to have someone in your group capturing your daring feats on video. The Frequent Flyer requires jumpers to weight at least 30 pounds and under 230 pounds.

15. Free Stage Shows

Not all activities along PIER 39 San Francisco cost money. During a visit to the bay end, you’ll come across a host of free stage shows throughout the day. Street performers, jugglers, and all sorts of entertainers throw on spectacles bringing excitement and laughter to audiences.

Weather permitting, show times are at noon, 1:20, 2:40, 4:00, and 5:20 in the afternoon. Evening performances are at 6:30, 7:40, and 8:50.

16. Over 110 Specialty Shops

PIER 39 has two levels with stores selling apparel, accessories, cosmetics, jewelry, snacks, and more. Chocolate lovers can indulge their senses at the Chocolate Heaven specialty store devoted to sweets. Houdini’s Magic Shop sells magic tricks and manuals for magicians in the making. You can even harvest your pearl at Pearl Factory.

PIER 39 Restaurants

17. Fog Harbor Fish House (Top Pick)

For a quintessential waterfront dining experience with spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fog Harbor Fish House is the place to be. Seafood lovers can indulge in one of PIER 39’s best restaurants serving up shrimp, lobster, clams, and other fruits of the sea. The restaurant’s sustainable seafood program is approved by Aquarium of the Bay and is the backbone of their daily menu.

18. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant & Market

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is a beloved PIER 39 restaurant that’s perfect for the whole family. Life might be like a box of chocolates, but you know what you’re going to get at fishing boat-themed Bubba Gump – coconut shrimp, crispy golden shrimp, grilled shrimp, stuffed shrimp, and more shrimp. Other menu favorites include their award-winning Dixie-style Baby Back Ribs. 

19. Players Sports Grill and Arcade

Players aims to please every member of the family. Sports fans appreciate the over 200 channels viewable on 30 screens. Hop over to the Luau Lounge and Tiki Bar for fresh seafood or a burger and beautiful views of the bay.

The arcade houses a massive collection of 85 arcade games for kids and adults including pinball, air hockey, and shooting games. 

20. Dessert Shops

A cookie dough cone from Doughp in front of a neon sign at Pier 39 San Francisco
Yes, that’s cookie dough in a cone.

There are plenty of outlets to satisfy sweet tooths. If you’ve ever dreamed of eating copious amounts of cookie dough without needing to bake, head to Doughp (as seen on Shark Tank). There is also the Candy Baron with its barrels full of salt water taffy, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Shop, Trish’s Mini Donuts and more.

PIER 39 Parking

PIER 39 San Francisco offers convenient parking for visitors. The PIER 39 parking garage operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Parking during the weekdays costs $10 per hour with a maximum daily rate of $50. You can also reserve PIER 39 parking access in advance for a $30 All-Day flat rate.

PIER 39 Savings Fun Pack

Don’t forget to pick up a PIER 39 Savings Fun Pack, which includes more than 100 coupons and discounts to many of the popular San Francisco spot’s stores, restaurants, and attractions. Grab it at the California Welcome Center at PIER 39.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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