Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US San Francisco : Pier 39 & Fisherman Wharf (Do I and Don't I?)

"Make sure you get all the itineraries sorted out and all the places we want to go planned ya ..." my wife reminded me again and again like a spoilt CD repeating itself. Well, her concern is well justified as I am one who would like pro-castinate and pushes things till the very last minute before I actually act on them.

Forcing myself, I googled for the top places and must do activities for our up and coming visit to San Francisco and checked through the various reviews from the different sites. One such apparently `must do' place is Pier 39 and Fisherman Wharf of course. However, checking on the numerous reviews written on this site left me rather uncertain as to whether I really should waste time getting there. To be honest, while it does get some rather good reviews from visitors, there were also almost an equal amount of bad ones, ranging from over crowded, too commercialized, bad food and some puts it as outright `rip-off'. It seemed that the only repeating consolation to warrant a visit is to see the sea lions who have made Pier 39 their home. It seems that this place is a darling to visitors of San Francisco but locals seemed to avoid it like a plague.
So, do I or do I not include this as a place to visit, but, hey, I am a visitor and I am a tourist and visiting San Francisco for the very first time. Why not? What could possibly be more wrong then not seeing this much hyped about place with my very own eyes. Moreover, I am a photographer. How can I visit San Francisco and not come back with at least a picture of her in my travelling album. With that, I went ahead googling for restaurants found at the Pier and hotels that I could stay within our budget and not too far from her.

Pier 39 was the first `tourist' site I went the moment I touched down in San Francisco. We found out that we could actually take a 20 to 30 minutes walk from our hotel and we did just that. Despite being summer, the breeze from the Bay can still be rather chilling. Despite all the negativity, I had one of my best shots of Pier 39 in the evening sun ...
Yes...the place is definitely crowded, mostly with tourists from all over the world. At every turn, you will bump into people taking pictures (like yours truly), looking or waiting to be seated for a meal, hunting for souvenirs or simply just being there because she is Pier 39.
But then, what would expect from her, after all, she is rated as the third most visited site in all of United States. This place is like a huge fun fair at night with all the neon lights and bright colourful carousel. I especially like the scene of the many yachts moored at the pier which made a nice composition for a picture.
 The best part of the pier of course to me, was the end of the pier where I could catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge from afar (if there is no fog) and a good view of Alcatraz, the notorious ex maximum security prison. It is true that most things here are expensive but then again, which top tourist attraction is not, but some of the best things to do here or to enjoy here is absolutely free ........which is simply to sit back, relax and enjoy the many sights and sounds that place offers ......
To avoid the crowd and savor the moment of peace and tranquility that Pier 39 still offers, I would strongly suggest getting there early in the morning before 9am. Unlike the busier times of the day and evening where almost every inch is crawling with people, you can take an unhurried walk down the pier, listening to the callings of the gliding seagulls, breathe in the chilling air of San Francisco Bay, feast your eyes on Alcatraz, uninterrupted by the constant clicking of cameras or jostling tourists posing for their travelling photo album, repeating the process again and again....and of course, take some time to watch the funny antics of the ever famous ambassadors of Pier 39, the sea lions .....
No one knows exactly why the sea lions choose K dock at Pier 39 as one of the homes but apparently, it got started with the appearance of one single sea lion after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. None were reported prior to 1989 but the number grew quickly after the arrival of that single stray sea lion which grew to a total of over 500 in a span of only 5 weeks. The numbers of sea lions at Pier 39 vary greatly from a few to thousands depending on the season. I managed to catch a glimpse of a dozen or so when I was there in July.

Be the first customer to buy some absolutely delicious cherries or strawberries dipped in chocolate....
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants here at Pier 39 and most have been reported to be expensive and where better food for better value could be found elsewhere. I would have to agree with that statement but after all, as I have stressed earlier, Pier 39 is one of the world's famous tourist attraction and I seriously don't think that the food here is ever going to be any cheaper, considering the high rental the retail shops would have to fork out annually just to be there.

I would not rate the food as bad. In fact, we love the food and the moments we have when we had our breakfast, sitting outside Eagle Cafe, with a hot cup of coffee in the cold San Francisco's morning with an occasional interruption of a stray uninvited, sometimes irritating gawking seagull and the view of Alcatraz from afar....
During our 6 days stay over at San Francisco and several visits to Pier 39, we have tried Fog Harbor Fish House and Pier Market Seafood Restaurant (both managed by the family of the late Warren Simmons who build Pier 39 in 1978), Eagle Cafe and Crab House.

Pier 39 is a result of a vision from one single man, the late Warren Simmons, a former pilot with Pan Am airlines. A visionary, risk taker and savvy businessman, he saw what Pier 39 could be from a run down unattractive site. Undeterred from various objectives and obstacles, he finally realized his dream after five long years of multiple presentations to neighborhood groups and city permit officials.

Pier 39 is located in the Fisherman Wharf district, who got her name during the Gold Rush era, when fisherman came and settled to fish for the Dungeness crab. Till today, this place still remains as the home base of San Francisco fishing fleet.
This place is famous for this guys and you must at least try once when you are here. I personally like them so much that I ordered three times, twice at Fog Harbor Fish House and once at the Crab House at Pier 39.
So, did I make the right choice to make this one of my `Must see, must visit' when I visited San Francisco? I am sure I did, despite some of the negative reviews that I have seen on her. Maybe it is because I was more than just a single visit at different times of the day, and hence I was able to see her bright and early before the tranquility that she offered a long time ago was broken by tourist crowd and her beauty as she basked in the golden sunlight as the sun sets over the San Francisco Bay as she comes alive with her neon lights and bustling restaurants....


  1. Such lovely photos. If I ever do get a chance to visit San Francisco one day, I will remember pier 39. Thanks for the lovely write up!