A number of years ago on a short visit to San Francisco my husband and I enjoyed time at PIER 39. Now on an extended stay in the Bay Area and in charge of our grandsons, we decided on a trip from Palo Alto to the city. Unfortunately, my husband became ill and could not go but fortunately, a good friend, Betsy, joined me for a day filled with great activities. Another adult was helpful with grandsons, Hugo (8) and Francois (17) while their parents were away. This proved to be a “perfect” day.
We entered the pier passing the Blue and Gold kiosk but decided to make our first stop the Aquarium of the Bay. Good decision because there was so much to see and so much to learn. The boys were enchanted with the colors and I was very impressed with the way in which so much information is conveyed in such a “user friendly” manner. There was so much to see that we visited it twice-before and after lunch. After the entry room filled with breathtakingly beautifully colored fish, we went to the lower level. In one direction we stepped on a moving belt and were propelled along essentially through the ocean because the ocean surrounded us. On our return, we took time to explore the areas where animals can be touched with one finger and where there was an electron microscope.
We left the Aquarium of the Bay in order to keep our reservation for lunch at Fog Harbor Fish House. The food was delicious and we were impressed that this is the first 100% sustainable restaurant on the pier ( Article about Fog Harbor Fish House). Following our great lunch, feeling full and wanting to walk, we headed over to see the sea lions.
We learned the following information:
The sea lions that camp out in PIER 39’s West Marina have been an international sensation for more than 22 years. A few California sea lions were noted in PIER 39’s West Marina shortly after the 1989 San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake. These boisterous barking pinnipeds started arriving in droves and took over K-Dock in January 1990. Their numbers quickly increased from 10-50, to 300 within a few months and topping off at record 1,701 in November 2009.
Later that same month their numbers quickly dwindled and by December 2009 only a handful were hauled out on K-Dock. Researchers at The Marine Mammal Center attributed their departure to a shift in their food source, which caused the population to travel to other regions in their normal range including the Oregon Coast to feed. Slowly the sea lions migrated back to PIER 39 to the delight of locals and tourists who gather from all over the world to watch the playful behavior of these California sea lions.
We enjoyed watching the sea lions at play and when we turned to leave we had the chance to stroke some sea lion pelts and look at books with photos and explanations about these captivating creatures. As part of the educational program that was developed to educate visitors and school groups this display was provided by The Marine Mammal Center. The organization is devoted to the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals, as well as to the study of these animals’, and has been in existence for the past two decades.
Our next stop was Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze at Hugo’s request. Walking to our destination, we passed lots of people, lots of restaurants and shops of all kinds selling everything from touristy items to fine crafted items of various kinds. Betsy even noticed a shell shop that actually had the perfect night light, one for which she had been searching.
Hugo was so enthusiastic that the adults, though hesitant, agreed to go. What fun everyone had, all ages. Fortunately, Francois lead the rest of us all the through the maze after we ended up at the beginning instead of at the exit once or twice. It was disorienting in a “fun” way.
When we left the Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze we had a major decision to make. Should we catch the next boat ride? Since the boys live locally, they decided to come back soon for the boat ride and spend their time in the Aquarium, which we had not completely explored. The time to fully explore the aquarium was very rewarding. However, If we were coming as tourists from another area, I think their decision would have been to take the Blue & Gold Fleet’s famous on-hour Bay Cruise Adventure.
It surprised us that the day had passed so quickly and though the there were many more choices of activities, our group was ready to return home and plan another visit soon.
For all information regarding activities, restaurants, shopping and the sea lion webcam, go to: www.PIER39.com
Photos: B. Keer