Sea lions are the star attraction at one of the liveliest piers on San Francisco’s historic waterfront.
First-timers taking a stroll along Pier 39 might be surprised by the strange sounds creeping up from its adjacent floating docks. But follow the fruity barks and deep groans to the source and you’ll immediately see what makes this pier a much-loved destination for visitors and locals alike.
Pier 39 has been home to a noisy colony of sea lions since the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, when the animals simply took up residence for no apparent reason. Experts have suggested that the plentiful supply of food in the bay combined with the absence of natural predators makes it a welcoming habitat for the sea lions. During the summer months, they make the journey south to breed, but in the winter they return in vast numbers to reclaim their familiar quarters, with an astonishing 1,701 animals recorded in November 2009.
If you can tear yourself away from these fascinating and friendly creatures for long enough to explore the rest of the pier, there are plenty of other attractions on offer. The Aquarium of the Bay lets you get a closer look at the underwater world on your doorstep, with native marine species such as sharks and rays swimming right above your head. Take in some of the sideshows or watch the street performers, then indulge in a spot of serious shopping along the two-level arcades that line the historic pier.
When energy levels start to flag, grab a window seat at one of the waterside restaurants and relax over a plate of freshly landed seafood, or sample delicious local wines on a 90-minute tasting cruise around the bay aboard the “Neptune”.
Pier 39 is at the northern end of the Embarcadero next to Fisherman’s Wharf. Catch the tram from the city centre or walk along the Embarcadero to enjoy the holiday atmosphere.