San Francsico's Pier 39--Family Attractions Galore!
By Vicki Funes
You may be traveling as a couple or as a family. You may be teen-age or middle-age. You may enjoy a peppy, "let's do everything!" type of trip...or prefer to relax while you're on vacation. No matter what your touring situation, you'll undoubtedly find something to suit your interest at San Francisco's delightful Pier 39.
Pier 39 is a shopping, dining and entertainment complex that has dozens of options from which you can choose. However, even if you did nothing but sit on a park bench at Pier 39, you'd have an enjoyable day. Pier 39 sits on the waterfront's edge with a stunning view of both the city and the San Francisco Bay. You'll smell the salt air, hear the squeal of sea gulls, watch ferries and tour boats coming and going, and enjoy viewing a resident colony of sea lions that calls the water around Pier 39 "home."
In fact, spending some time admiring the view from a bayside bench would make a great way to start off your day. You'll be facing so many options ahead for you, that you might need some time to decide! Several restaurants at Pier 39 are open for breakfast...and, of course, you'll dine with a view of the bay from your table. After your morning meal, there may still be a chill in the air; if so, why not start by touring the "can't miss" Aquarium of the Bay.
At San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay, you'll enjoy attractive exhibits showcasing marine life from a variety of the ocean's zones. You'll be able to walk through TWO clear viewing tunnels, where specimens will swim and slither to your left, right, and above you. You'll see large tanks, small tanks and touch tanks. You may attend informational programs, or simply ask as many questions as you like of the aquarium's staff. You're certain to leave with a renewed awe of our swimming friends...and knowing more than when you entered!
As the day warms up, you may wish to take a tour of the San Francisco Bay, which is easily arranged from the piers adjacent to Pier 39. Budget travelers may enjoy riding the ferry boats across the bay. There's no narration aboard a ferry; but the "price is right," and the ferries start running much earlier (and quit running much later) than the boats of nearby tour companies.
To enjoy a narrated tour, you may choose a voyage on either the "Red and White Fleet" or the "Blue and Gold Fleet" boats. Both bay touring companies are located near Pier 39, and both offer a variety of tours, starting with a simple one-hour "overview" tour of the bay and its islands. Other specialty tours are available, such as sunset tours, multi-island tours, Golden Gate Bridge tours, etc.
One very popular tour is the Alcatraz Prison Tour, which is offered only by the Blue and Gold Fleet. You'll actually take a boat out to "The Rock," debark, then walk among the same cell blocks which once housed maximum-security prisoners! This tour much in demand, and spots are limited. If you'd like to go, make your reservations as soon as possible---maybe even from home, before leaving on your vacation!
After your San Francisco Bay tour, you'll surely be hungry for lunch. Head back to Pier 39 itself for a delicious seafood luncheon...which you'll find is the specialty of not one, but a NUMBER of Pier 39's restaurants! If you're not in the mood for seafood, don't worry. You'll find both American and Italian cuisine served at Pier 39. One budget idea is to head to North Shore Pizza, where one of their tasty extra-large pizza pies will fill your entire family!
After lunch, you can spend time exploring the shops and activities of Pier 39. You'll find over 100 specialty stores which make for great browsing...and souvenir hunting! Younger kids will love riding on the stunning double-decker carousel at the end of the pier. Older kids can get lost for hours at the pier's game arcade. For a bit wilder fun, your family can jump on the "bungee trampoline," or sit in the motion-movie ride...where your chairs will move in synchronized timing with events in the film. You'll feel like you're really IN the situations that the movie portrays!
By the time evening comes, your group will leave tired, but happy. Getting home will be easy, too. To come and go from Pier 39, you can hop a ferry, board a bus, or catch the MUNI. Many folks simply walk to their cars...parked conveniently at the Pier 39 parking garage, just across the street from all the action!
Author Vicki Funes is a California native and travel enthusiast. For further details about the San Francisco attractions discussed in this article--and to see dozens more ideas for planning a fun California vacation--check out the "San Francisco Road Trip" page of her website, "Family Vacation Getaways at Los Angeles Theme Parks." URL: http://www.family-vacation-getaways-at-los-angeles-theme-parks.com/San-Francisco-Road-Trip.html
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