31 May 2016 The American Dream

Also known as the “The Mecca for every San Francisco tourist”, Pier 39 lies directly east of Fisherman’s Wharf and is the perfect spot to get a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay.

Once a former landing stage for cargo ships, the pier today is home to 125 stores, restaurants, a recreated fishing village and much more.  

Pier 39 has been the main attraction in San Francisco for the last 38 years. It opened on October 4th, 1978 and since then has been an outright tourist magnet attracting people from all over the world. With around 10.5 million visitors per year, Pier 39 is the second most visited attraction in California

Despite the daily groups of visitors, Pier 39 gives you the space you need to stroll and daydream – leaving you with the feeling that you have travelled back into the past. Whether you are enjoying a cup of coffee at a café with a view of Alcatraz and dreaming up horror and gangster stories or riding the “San Francisco Carousel” spinning with its horses, carriages and 1800 lights, Pier 39 has a magical flair that will enthuse all people young and old.

In the Aquarium of the Bay, visitors can explore the San Francisco Bay and have an up-close and personal experience with the native animals and flora living there. Taking a walk through the 90 meter long clear tunnel at the aquarium brings you face-to-face with sharks, rays, and many other aquatic animals. If this experience was not satisfying enough, you can also visit the petting pool and touch eagle rays and other shallow water animals.

Certainly, Pier 39 has so much more to offer: From an open-air stage where a variety of street artists perform (throughout the year you will always run into artists performing on the pier) to the submarine U.S.S. Pampanito built in the year 1943 and which can be explored with an audio guide. Take it upon yourself to explore the portholes and cabins, the galley (kitchen), the engine room, the torpedo tube and all the nooks and crannies in the submarine.

“Forrest Gump” fans will definitely get their fill of movie memorabilia at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company located on Pier 39. Here, not only do you have an excellent 260 degree view of the bay, but you can also indulge in the restaurant’s delicious cuisine and service. Every table is decorated with a little metal plate. If you flip the plate over and display the “Run Forest Run” green side, the serving staff will leave you in peace. If you display the red side where “Stop Forest Stop” is written, the serving staff will quickly be by your side. Original film props from the film decorate the restaurant and occasionally a Forrest Gump look-alike sits on the bench in front of the restaurant and lets you take pictures with him.

The main attraction at Pier 39, however, is something of a much different kind...

The sea lions of Pier 39

California sea lions have been coming to the pier since the winter of 1989/90 to lounge. Due to the damage done by a large earthquake in San Francisco in 1989, most of the docks, along with other structures, had to be repaired. During this time, there were no boats docked on the pier and the animals took this opportunity to settle down in the harbor basin. From this time on, sea lions have been leaving their usual spot at Seal Rock north of the Ocean Beach and making themselves at home on the pier’s docks. It is easier for them to relax here because they do not have to climb any high cliffs. In addition, sea lions here are far from their predators, such as sharks and orcas which are rarely ever spotted in the bay. 

Pier 39 San Francisco USA Alcatraz SealionsThe sea lion population has increased so dramatically that it is no longer safe for fisherman to take their boats in and out of the dock. To prevent the risk of injury, public boat traffic is now forbidden at Dock K. 

When the population reached around 1000 animals, the jetty was on the brink of breaking. To solve this, the entire dock was removed in 1995 and replaced by so-called Pontoons (floats) which can withstand the weight of the sea lions. 

From time to time, the sea lions disappear into their winter homes, but always return a few months later. Those who would like to learn more about the animals can talk to a volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center who can be found at the sea lion platforms giving out informational brochures every day. If you are not directly onsite in California, you still observe the lounging sea lions on the official webstream. 

Pier 39, of course, has a lot to offer and there is something to discover everywhere. Would you like to find out for yourself or discover your own favorite spot at Pier 39? Then apply now for the DV-18 Green Card Lottery and with a little luck, you will be sitting on Pier 39 observing sea lions, dreaming up horror stories from Alcatraz or simply enjoying all San Francisco has to offer!