Pier 39’s best
Popular Pier 39 offers myriad diversions in addition to more than 110 shops and 12 restaurants. Among the boutiques is one that specializes in puppets, another in chocolate, and another in items for left-handers, and the California Welcome Center dispenses free visitor information.
Location: Beach St./The Embarcadero
Pier 39 annual event
Each year in February, Tulipmania displays approximately 39,000 tulips throughout the pier. These harbingers of spring are a lot of work to grow here, because in this climate fresh bulbs must be planted each year. Free tours are scheduled.
Pier 39 attractions
Street performers entertain daily. An arcade is packed with cutting-edge video games is located at the bay end. Also down there is a contemporary two-tiered carousel that was made in Italy. Hand-painted with famous San Francisco landmarks and trimmed with 1,800 LED lights, its tiers are populated with 32 unique marine animals–think sea dragons, sea lions, and dolphins–as well as a few horses and pandas, two stationary chariots, and two spinning tubs. Several more low-key attractions also await.
Sea lions have taken up permanent residence on the west side of the pier and are seen there basking, barking, and belching on floating docks. Nearby, the new Sea Lion Center acts as a hub for all things sea lion, including interactive displays, educational videos and many fascinating presentations led by Aquarium of the Bay naturalists. Touch a sea lion pelt, size yourself up next to a real sea lion skeleton, and more.
Live sea lion webcam.
Aquarium of the Bay transports visitors through a long transparent acrylic tunnel via a moving sidewalk for a diver’s-eye view of the fishes, sharks, and other sea life residing in San Francisco Bay.
Pier 39 restaurants
Restaurant menu boards are posted around the pier, providing a chance to analyze offerings and prices. These are among them:
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
The second link in the chain licensed by Paramount Pictures (the first is in Monterey), this theme restaurant is based on the shrimping scenes in the movie “Forrest Gump.” It resembles a seafood shack. Not surprisingly, the menu has many shrimp selections, most of them deep-fried, as well as fresh fish entrees and baby back ribs. The bar serves up fun drinks, including several kinds of margaritas and some non-alcoholic, good-for-you drinks. Dessert should, of course, be a box of chocolates, and that is an option. As a bonus, magnificent views of the bay are enjoyed from most tables. An adjacent shop sells everything Gump. (Winston Groom lived in San Francisco when he wrote “Forrest Gump”–the book. In fact, he named the main character after this city’s famous department store.
Hard Rock Cafe
In addition to roomy booths that allow first-rate people watching, this iconic eatery displays some ‘60s rock memorabilia: a painting of Jerry Garcia by Grace Slick, vocalist with the Jefferson Airplane/Starship; Country Joe McDonald’s gorgeous Gibson ES-355 guitar; and coming soon–Janis Joplin’s hand-painted sequined cape that is seen draped over the couch on the cover of her final album, “Pearl.”
And, as might be expected from the name, rock & roll is played non-stop. The American-style food is quite good, the service attentive, and the prices reasonable. The house salad is crisp, cold romaine lettuce, and the housemade Thousand Island dressing is tangy with fresh onion. Hamburgers are served on whole-wheat sesame buns and are just plain good. The menu also offers an assortment of sandwiches, housemade chili, grilled fresh fish, and rich, old-fashioned desserts. A plethora of souvenir items can be ordered at the table and added to the tab.