Pier 39, "San Francisco's premier Bay attraction," is a "festival marketplace" featuring over a hundred stores, a dozen restaurants, and "a variety of fun-filled attractions." In other words, it's the mother of all tourist traps.
The Aquarium of the Bay is at Pier 39, and the Blue and Gold Fleet docks there, so I've spent a little time there. It's appalling and fascinating all at the same time: the crass commercialism, the schlock, the crowds. Despite being a bit repelled by it, I ended up buying a few gifts and a few things for myself while there.
I also walked out to the end of the pier, which offers some pleasing sights.
In 1990, a group of sea lions colonized the docks at the end of Pier 39. They were such a tourist draw that they were allowed to stay. Now, hundreds of these noisy, playful, and . . . fragrant creatures call Pier 39 home. You can hear their barking all along the Western side of the pier.
The sea lions are still a huge tourist draw, as evidenced by the throngs that gather at the end of the pier and the viewing gallery that has been built there. The Marine Mammal Center, a non-profit rescue and research organization serving Northern California, monitors the sea lions at Pier 39 and treats sick or injured animals. Panels adjacent to the gallery outline the organization's work and the natural and human threats that sea lions and other marine mammals face.
In the early evening, gulls, cormorants, and pelicans perch on the cement breakwater at the end of the pier. I had never seen a pelican prior to coming to San Francisco, and now I've seen dozens of them in flight and at rest.