Pier 39, San Francisco
Pier 39 is, depending on your point of view, tourist heaven or tourist hell. Locals avoid this tourist holding pen like the plague, and for good reason.
What can you expect to see? Tourists - of all shapes and sizes - loud colors and even louder voices - Abercrombie & Fitch and Tommy Hilfiger as far as the eye can see. You can grab a $12 plate of shrimp or a $5 scoop of ice cream, sit on a bench and pretend you're back at your hometown mall. Many of the same stores will be there.
The cool ocean breeze and vague, nautical theme are the only things that suggest you're in San Francisco. You could very easily be in Monterey, or San Diego, or Penn's Landing, or anywhere. Pier 39 is San Francisco -thoroughly cleansed of San Francisco-ness. If Disneyland had a place called "Friscoland," it would look exactly like Pier 39. Call it "Branson by the Bay!"
The only locals you will see here are those dragged here (kicking and screaming) by out of town guests. The expensive restaurants are just OK, and the cheaper places are just lousy. The stores range from interesting but overpriced (Magnet shop) to just plain stupid.
If shopping at tacky malls for overpriced, ugly souveniers surrounded by loud, pushy tourists is you're idea of fun... then by all means go. But this isn't San Francisco by any means. It's a mall - plain & simple - designed for people who want to be in San Francisco but, at the same time, want everything to be exactly like it is at home.
Unique Suggestions: If you take the Alcatraz tour, you may be tempted to stroll over to Pier 39. Sucker! At least go and see the sea lions - you can walk along the western outer walk, see the sea lions, and not step foot in Pier 39! The sea lions are most plentiful outside of summer; during the summer the docks may be deserted.
Oh yeah... if you want to take the Alcatraz tour - MAKE RESERVATIONS! And if you have reservations, allow LOTS of time to get to the dock. If you can't get on the Alcatraz tour, take the Bay Cruise or Angel Island boat - anything to get on the water - and away from Pier 39! Even Fisherman's Wharf - tacky tourist trap that it is - has at least SOMETHING to do with San Francisco. Pier 39 is every single bit as lame as you've heard. And, if you go, you'll find that, if anything, these criticisms aren't harsh enough!
Other VTers have listed Pier 39 as a Tourist Trap, and they are absolutely right! Pier 39 is crowded and touristy, has tacky shops and mediocre restaurants.
In a city that has a very interesting history and wonderful ethnic and diverse neighborhoods, I can never understand why people want to visit a pier that wasn't even developed until 1978. This is not real San Francisco!
Before 1978, this pier was a dumping ground for old TVs and refrigerators. I would much rather see old rusted and wrecked appliances, than the gawdy trinkets on display at the stores now.
This may draw the fine line between exploitation and outrage but... the sign this person is holding reads, "Why lies... It's for beer!"
It may seem amusing but when I photogaphed this, someone told me a few blocks back they saw someone holding a sing that read, "It's for pot."
Pier 39 could have been an interesting tourist shopping area but it turned out to be a tacky ugly place, overcrowded and except for the view at the end of the pier, there is very little of interest at Pier 39.
Unique Suggestions: Take photos at the end of the Pier. You have a beautiful view of Alcatraz in the background. If you are interested in sea lions, you can watch them off the pier.
Fun Alternatives: Walk along the embarcadero, visit the Ferry Building with the new shops and restaurants, roller blade on the embarcadero as far as the he Bay Bridge.
You'll spend lots of money and wind up with touristy items that don't show you the true San Francisco.
Avoid the aquarium, it's too pricey and not so impressive.
If it's a MUST, see it the first day then get settled in to the REAL San Francisco!
Unique Suggestions: Take the time to watch the street vendors...musicians, life as art, magicians etc. populate the area.
This is one of those tourist magnets that locals avoid like the plague. What promises to be a shopping/dining/entertainment mecca in truth offers very little of value except a nice vantage point for watching the sea lions and a good National Park Store - which doesn't even show up on their list of retailers. Some local tours can be booked here/nearby as well. Otherwise, it's pretty much a giant yawn of so-so restaurants, overpriced bric-a-brac and ever-present street musicians (although some of them aren't bad).
I came here only for the NPS store - bought the requisite Christmas ornament for our "Travel Tree" there.
If you're doing the Wharf Shuffle or might enjoy watching sea lions lay about, give it a pass through but otherwise give it a pass.
Unique Suggestions: Show your support for the NPS with purchase at The National Park Store or take the kids to see the lions from one of the decks.
Fun Alternatives: Do the Saturday Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building - lots of fun, handcrafted items there, and this is where you'll find the locals.
Pier 39 - otherwise known as Fisherman's Wharf is just a collection of over-priced shops full of 'tut'.
The sea lions around the back are interesting to watch and far more entertaining than anything on the pier.
Unique Suggestions: Walk fast!
Fun Alternatives: Take a stroll further along Embarcadero towards the bridge and you come to some green spaces with some great views.
Pier 39 - Fisherman's Warf
Okay, here you go. Now you’ve seen the sea lions. Now you don’t have to go to Fisherman’s Warf!!!
Unique Suggestions: However this is also where you get on a boat for Alcatraz. Damn, they suckered you in! Well, at least DON'T eat in the restaurant here, especially the one on the end. But you can pick up your refrigerator magnets and SF Snowball thing a bobbers while you are here.
One of the most commonly taken photos in San Francisco, is oddly enough these Pier 39 squatters. The sealions are noisy, lazy and are occupying some mighty pricey real estate. But in the end, they bring so many visitors to Pier 39 (which can arguably called a tourist trap as well) that they are now welcome.
Beware, they are not in residence year 'round. In the winter months they swim off to warmer climes. Then you may see only one or two of the lazy beasts have stuck around. There is even a webcam for those who wish to see them after they've gone home!
Pier 39 is an overblown Mall. Everyone kept telling me you have to go to Pier 39, its basically a bunch of overpriced shops and restaurants on a pier.
Fun Alternatives: Spend more time around Chinatown, Haight Ashbury. These areas will give you a feel of what real San Francisco is like.
Pier 39, billed as San Francisco's Number One attraction, was just a collection of souvenir and tourist shops and some kid-friendly attractions. We didn't spend much time there.
Unique Suggestions: Have some chowder in a sourdough breadbowl at Boudin Bakery (Boudin created the original San Francisco sourdough bread), located near the entrance of the pier. Walk down along the waterfront on the left side of the Pier, behind the stores, to K Dock to see the sea lions. The sea lions are free to come and go as they please, but choose to be gawked at by us tourists. Very thoughtful.
If it's even possible Pier 39 is more of a tourist trap than Fisherman's Wharf, we spent all of about 15 minutes here as I wanted to see the resident sea lions that have made their home on a series of docks off Pier 39 after which we ran through the Pier to get out as quickly as we could.
Pier 39 is filled with tourist oriented shops and restaurants, if that's your thing then you will love it here. I probably would have enjoyed it when I was in high school or maybe even college but as an adult, I find it overcrowded and filled with uninteresting things.
Unique Suggestions: Come here to see the sea lions if that interests you and leave
Fun Alternatives: San Francisco is filled with great restaurants, do a little research and find something that's not part of a national chain or serving overpriced, subpar food
Don’t waste your time, there is nothing to see there ! This place made me think to one of these fake western-like villages you can find in a Six Flags park…
It is full of tourist shops and crowded with beggars, real or fake ones.
Unique Suggestions: One thing that could however be worth the move is the sea lions. They are pretty funny....
Fun Alternatives: If you plan to go to any other towns along the coast (Santa Cruz, Monterey,…), you can also see the sea lions over there.
Transportation to Fisherman's Wharf can be an attraction of itself, the F Market runs through the area, the Powell-Hyde Cable Car lines runs to Aquatic Park, at the end of Fisherman's Wharf and the Powell-Mason Cable Car carline runs few blocks away. We did it hiking and when we were walking to Pier 39 (the second most visited attraction in California) we were stopped by the "smiling police". We were asked to smile a bit more and as a reward we received a "I love San Francisco" and "I luv your smile" sticker.
Pier 39 (just 2 blocks away from Fisherman's Wharf) is located at Beach Street and this renovated cargo pier is home to the Blue & Gold Fleet. The pier has two levels of restaurants and specialty shops. It's a great place to watch the sail boats, cruise ships and cargo ships pass by on the San Francisco Bay. The innumerably amount of seelions on K-Dock are definately worth a visit. Pier 39 is also about as close as you can get to Alcatraz Island without getting on a boat.
Beach Street and the Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94109.
It is loosely defined as the area Ghirardelli Square (near Pier 41) and Pier 35.
Unique Suggestions: See the sea lions.
Fun Alternatives: Sorry...maybe it's also a must-see?
Pier 39 is pier from the Port of San Francisco, rebuilt specifically to cater to tourists. There is nothing authentic--no commercial fishing or shipping fleet here at all. Between Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, and Pier 39 tourists can purchase all the souvenir kitsch one could think of, with Pier 39 selling the most corporate brand named sponsored junk that's made in China. The better ferry boat services leave from near the Ferry building, NOT Pier 39. Steinhardt Aquarium in San Francisco doesn't suck in real Bay water, but it is newer and the tanks slightly less crowded.
Unique Suggestions: Visit the Aquarium of the Bay or take a Blue and Gold Fleet Charter Ferry into the Bay, but both will be very crowded.
Fun Alternatives: After you've had your fill of this rarified tourist air, head for the neighborhoods for a real SF experience. The Ferry building is the better departure point for ferries, and Golden Gate Park the better museum experience...