So you’re planning to visit San Francisco’s most visited landmark – PIER 39? Great choice! There is a wide variety of things to eat and do on this Pier that lets you enjoy the San Francisco waterfront and explore. There are so many things to do on PIER 39 that it can be overwhelming to choose where to start, what to do, and where to eat.
This guide is to help make sure you don’t miss out on the best things to do during a visit to PIER 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Tip 1: Eat San Francisco Classics
Fresh Sourdough Bread
San Francisco is widely known for its delicious sourdough bread. For very, very good reason. Sourdough bread is absolutely delicious. You may think you’ve had sourdough before so you know how it tastes, but San Francisco’s climate and fog make for extra special delicious sourdough you must try. Fog Harbor Fish House bakes sourdough in-house every 30 minutes and delivers it complimentary to every table, warm, and with soft butter. It does not need butter, though.
We recommend having bites without butter to start, and then try butter and see which you prefer. Due to the sourdough bread’s thicker crust, if you have a small roll you will likely want to rip it with your hands first instead of biting right into it so you can get the perfect bite.
Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl
PIER 39 is home to delicious Clam Chowder, the most famous dish on the San Francisco waterfront! This delicious and comforting food tastes that much better when it is served in a sourdough bread bowl. Not only is it fun to eat, but the sour flavor of the bread contrasts incredibly well with the creamy soup. You can find award winning Clam Chowder at Pier Market Seafood Restaurant on the middle of the PIER on the lower level.
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is famous for its Dungeness crab. This insanely delicious crab is caught in the local waters and is ofter served served garlic roasted, steamed, chilled, and many other preparations. Dungeness crab is also often an option as a topping to salads, pasta, and other dishes in restaurants on PIER 39.
Dungeness crab is best eaten when served alone so you can really taste its unique flavor. We definitely recommend putting on the bib most often served with the dish so you can really enjoy getting messy as you crack the legs and dig into the meat. And of course we recommend dining at Crab House for world-famous Killer Crab (2lb+ Whole Dungeness crab roasted in secret garlic sauce and served on a sizzling hot skillet.) YUM.
Tip 2: Secret Free Fun Ways to Save Money
1 Hour Free Parking
Park in the PIER 39 garage. Then make sure to dine at Crab House, Fog Harbor Fish House, Pier Market, Wipeout Bar & Grill or Eagle Cafe for delicious food and get 1 hour of free parking validation. The parking garage costs $9 per house so an hour free is a huge saving!
Do you love Biscoff cookies? Yes, the ones they give out on airplanes. Well, when you buy any coffee beverage at Biscoff Coffee Corner they give you a FREE cookie with every coffee beverage!
This store also sell hard-to-find Biscoff cookie merchandise like Biscoff cream-filled cookie sandwiches, Biscoff flavored coffee, Biscoff latte’s and more. Biscoff Coffee Corner is located at the entrance of the pier.
Check out the Sea Lions
At the top of don’t-miss list of things to do at PIER are of course, the a lions. It may sound kitchy or “for kids” but these sea lions are fun for all ages to see. Did you know that PIER 39 was built as a waterfront marketplace before the sea lions were around? The boisterous sea lions showed up one day after the big San Francisco ‘89 earthquake and have been lounging on the docks for visitors to see ever since! A happy accident.
The sea lions are at the end of the pier on the west side, which means you are taking in amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz while you view these playful barking sea lions. There are free naturalists stationed near the sea lions to share fun facts and knowledge about these fun animals so you can enjoy them that much more. The sea lions bark, dive into the water, fight, and most typically snooze and nap it out in the sun.
Watch a Free Outdoor Show
Live performances at the end of the pier are a must-see. Plus, they’re free! These talented magicians and acrobats are fun for kids and adults alike. Juggling, unicycles, audience participation. This is definitely worth a stop.
Tip 3: Attractions You Should Not Miss
Explore the Aquarium of the Bay
If you are anything like us, being on the waterfront will make you think about what type of sea life lives in the Bay. The best way to find out is by visiting the Aquarium of the Bay. This activity is fun for all ages. Expect touch pools to get the little visitors most excited, walking tubes surrounded by sharks, and well-informed guides that teach you tons of fun facts about the marine life you can view during your visit. This aquarium is the perfect size to explore and learn while not taking up your whole day so you still have time to enjoy the rest of PIER 39. It is incredibly well done and you will leave having learned a lot about fish and the importance of sustainable seafood.
The carousel is a favorite ride among the youngest visitors to the pier. This large gentle ride at the end of the pier has been around for years and of course, slowly turns in circles with moving (and nonmoving for the motion sickness) animals and creatures to delight riders. The carousel has San Francisco landmarks including Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Lombard Street, and Alcatraz.
Flyer Motion-Seat Ride
The Flyer takes you on a seat-moving “flying” tour of San Francisco as if you are on the plane yourself. This ride has undergone a refresh by a new team and is definitely worth a go.
Visitors who enjoy teamwork and being challenged mentally will love this hands-on game! There is even an Alcatraz prison-themed escape room and if that isn’t the perfect activity after a visit to Alcatraz… I don’t know what is. These escape rooms give you clues on how to “Escape” the puzzle and are designed to take 30 minutes per group so you don’t use up your whole PIER 39 experience in one place.
Thrill-seekers will love this newest PIER 39 ride. The ride jets up and down, making your stomach drop, as it also circles. Lots of screams (of joy or terror?) come from this ride located at the end of the pier next to the carousel.
Tip 4: Take Iconic San Francisco Photos
The Pier is well positioned so you can see the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz. Hello photo op! If you don’t put in on the ‘gram, did it even happen?
Don’t miss your chance to walk to the very end of the pier and take in wide sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and so much of the San Francisco Bay.