Pier 39

This waterfront attraction offers thrilling rides, innovative street performers and colorful souvenir shops, but it’s the sea lions that win the day. 

Belching, barking and back scratching are hardly the stuff that tourist dreams are made of, unless you’re talking about the colonies of sea lions that bask in the sun and play on their floating docks at Pier 39.

The sea lions have called the pier home since 1989, shortly after the San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake. Marine biologists believe the animals reside here because there is plenty of food in the bay and their natural predators (white sharks and orcas) don’t hunt here. Their numbers fluctuate during the year, and they’re typically absent in the summer months when they venture south to breed and give birth. But you may be lucky enough to see hundreds of these playful critters; in November 2009 a record 1,701 were counted!

There’s a wide variety of sea life on display at the nearby Aquarium of the Bay. Walk through two clear tunnels and see marine species native to San Francisco, including rays, sharks and octopi, swimming right above you.

Pier 39 is a two-level complex of shopping, sideshows, entertainment, dining, rides and attractions that can keep you busy for an afternoon or an entire day. If you need some down-time, step aboard the "Neptune" for a 90-minute wine tasting cruise on the bay. Or, just settle back on a bench and check out the terrific views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the city skyline.

Pier 39 is immediately adjacent to Fisherman's Wharf at the northern end of the Embarcadero. It is accessible on foot and is also serviced by cable cars which run up and down the Embarcadero and also to downtown.