If you're visiting San Francisco as a tourist, making a stop at Pier 39 to view wild sea lions is a must. Although I'd be the first to admit that the shops at Pier 39 are a tourist trap, the potential to observe sea lions from such close proximity of the wooden dock makes this free attraction a must stop. It's a rare opportunity to view sea lions without boat ticket, seasick pills, and binoculars.
In short, the sea lions naturally took over Pier 39's K-dock due to safety from predators and an abundance of food in the harbor. Over time, boats from K-dock were shifted away and the Pier 39 sea lions have been inhabitants every since the 1990s'. More information at the official Pier 39 site.
There's a lower wooden pier where you can get the closest the sea lions, but if that's crowded, be sure to check the upper deck where a smaller spaces is also available that's a bit farther back, but from a higher vantage point. But regardless of where you find a spot, plan ahead and bring a sweater. I does get windy out on the bay.
What is the best time of year to visit Sea Lions at Pier 39?
- Most of the year (late July to mid May) - 100s of sea lions
- June July - most migrate away, maybe a 12-20 sea lions stay behind.
- Go early to avoid the crowds
- From time to time, the sea lions disappear, so it may be a good idea to check the live multiple-angle webcam.