Skip to Main Content

Sea Lions of Pier 39.

Famous Lounging Sea Lions

Field review by the editors.

San Francisco, California

Hundreds of lounging sea lions arrived at the calm waters next to Pier 39 on December 22, 1989, and have never left. Officials speculate that a new pier -- which is a kind of mall jutting over the water -- offered protection, and that the "plentiful herring supply" was too good for the sea lions to go anywhere else.

Sea Lion fans.

On any nice day there are scores of tourists snapping photos of the sea lions. A large "Pier 39" sign inserted into the scene dispels any notion that the spontaneous gathering is new.

The sea lions mostly lounge on wooden platforms, bellowing in unison and providing an occasional lifted head, wave of a flipper, or slick slide into the bay.

The sea lions do occasionally disappear en masse -- usually during mating season -- but they always return. A particularly abrupt vanishing act in late 2009 led to much worried speculation about the collapse of the ecosystem, but it turned out that most of the sea lions had simply taken a vacation, relocating north to Sea Lion Caves in Oregon. They were back at Pier 39 by Spring 2010.

In January 2014 Pier 39 opened Sea Lion Center, a kind of air lock between the sea lions and the rest of the world. Visitors can touch a sea lion pelt, study a sea lion skeleton, and see a numerical tally of current sea lion loungers. Tourists are warned about the smell before they walk to an outdoor overlook.

Famous Lounging Sea Lions

Pier 39

1642 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Drive north on The Embarcadero to Pier 39, then walk out. The sea lions lounge on the left side, near the end of the pier.
Sea Lion Center: daily 10-5 Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

USS Pampanito Submarine MuseumUSS Pampanito Submarine Museum, San Francisco, CA - < 1 mi.
Musee MecaniqueMusee Mecanique, San Francisco, CA - < 1 mi.
Madame TussaudsMadame Tussauds, San Francisco, CA - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Speedway Cow, Sonoma, CA - 24 mi.

More Quirky Attractions in California

Stories, reports and tips on tourist attractions and odd sights in California.

Explore Thousands of Unique Roadside Landmarks!

Strange and amusing destinations in the US and Canada are our specialty. Start here.
Use's Attraction Maps to plan your next road trip.

My Sights

My Sights on Roadside America

Save Cool Vacation Destinations! ...Try My Sights

Mobile Apps

Roadside America app: iPhone, iPad Roadside America app for iPhone, iPad. On-route maps, 1,000s of photos, special research targets! ...More

Roadside Presidents app: iPhone, iPad Roadside Presidents app for iPhone, iPad. POTUS landmarks, oddities. ...More

California Latest Tips and Stories

Latest Visitor Tips

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

American Treasure Tour, Oaks, Pennsylvania (Jul 8-14, 2024)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings