Pier 39 in San Francisco is a destination with a lively personality. Action, fun, great food, and education are all rolled into one place the entire family will enjoy.
Before we talk about the best Pier 39 restaurants, first, a little background.
The piers in San Francisco, located along the Embarcadero, extend into the Bay from this reclaimed seawall. The center of this eastern waterfront roadway is the Ferry Building, a terminal for ferries, and an office building. Odd-numbered piers go north of the building on Market Street, and even-numbered piers go south. Market Street is the main thoroughfare in San Francisco. The terminal is designated a San Francisco landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The port of San Francisco is called one of the three great natural harbors in the world because all the fleets in the world can find anchorage here. It lies on the western edge of San Francisco Bay near the Golden Gate, a strait that connects the Bay to the Pacific Ocean.
The Port of San Francisco is an organization that manages the port facilities and waterfront area, including Pier 39.
Parking in San Francisco Pier 39
While I took the BART into the City and rideshare to Pier 39, a convenient parking structure is directly across the street from the Entrance Plaza. Pier 39 Parking Garage is the best place to find parking in San Francisco’s Pier 39. A couple of discount programs offer flat rates and advance reservations. Some of the full-service restaurants also validate parking.
Pier 39 is a popular, 45-acre waterfront gathering place for locals and visitors. Pier 39 is a shopping center with unique shops, street performers, restaurants, a video arcade, virtual 3D rides, and views of California sea lions. The Aquarium of the Bay, musical stairs, whale watching tours, Blue & Gold Fleet for sightseeing cruises, and many more attractions make this family-oriented venue entertainment at its best. You can see Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge from Pier 39.
Pier 39 earned the most-visited attraction rating in San Francisco by the San Francisco Travel Association in 2010, 2014, and again in 2017. This spring, Pier 39 earned my favor when I spent an exciting day exploring the waterfront and San Francisco Bay. Just like a kid, I didn’t want the day to end. But end it did, on a very high note with a meal overlooking the Bay at Fog Harbor Fish House, one of the best San Francisco restaurants.
While Pier 39 officially opens every day at 11 am, some restaurants open earlier so you can get a good breakfast before launching your exciting day.
Visiting other destinations in California? Check out our other delicious guides:
- 7 Must-Try Ventura Restaurants
- 11 Must-Try Tustin Restaurants
- 8 Best Fort Bragg, CA Restaurants
- The 7 Best Oceanside, CA Restaurants
- The 21 Best Restaurants in Costa Mesa
- 7 Must-Try Cambria, CA Restaurants
- 11 Must-Try Vallejo Restaurants
- 15 Must-Try Sanibel Island Restaurants
Best Pier 39 Restaurants
Thirteen full-service restaurants, eateries, snacks, and sweet treats all have a home at Pier 39.
Famous chain restaurants or specialty hot spots fulfill the hungry. You can watch your food being produced or sit back and let the food be delivered to you.
With only one day on Pier 39, here are my favorite spots that kept me fueled throughout the day.
Pier 39, Building B, Level 1 // +14159814318
Lighter than air and warm from the fryer, these heavenly little mouthfuls are drenched in sugar and cinnamon. These mini donuts routinely show up on many “Best Donuts in San Francisco” lists. I sure know why!
Stand outside the window of Trish’s Mini Donuts and watch the production of these delightful mini donuts. You can have them with or without cinnamon and sugar. The automation of converting batter to bites is so fascinating and straightforward. People are at the beginning and end while the batter goes through a conveyor of deep frying to perfection. The person at the end applies the cinnamon and sugar. Deftly gathering buckets full of donuts and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on the mound makes me anticipate the taste on my tongue.
The creator of the mini donut recipe, Trish Conklin, comes from a carnival business family. As a child, she went to carnival school and worked in games, and carnival food stands throughout her young life and college. She’s been creating her famous mini donuts on the Pier since 1994.
Big buckets of doughnuts – how can one person eat them all? I tried, but in the end, I simply had to share them with other friends I made on Pier 39 that day. Truly a great breakfast spot on the Pier.
2 Beach St, Building A, Level 1 // +14153914737
A steaming bowl of homemade clam chowder served in a bread bowl any time of day is the right time. Big chunks of clams and wholesome vegetables in a thick soup base are the perfect landing place to dip the top of the bread bowl.
Because they open early, make Chowders your first stop on a Pier 39 tour for a hot meal. Also famous for their fish and chips, Chowders is a special place with a kind and caring staff. It’s a great place to enjoy the food, views, and family time.
Chowders on Pier 39 is a family-owned business that recently celebrated 35 years of business there. Kelly Murphy, the owner of Chowders, is proud of her long-term employees.
On my visit, I started my meal in their outside dining area. However, when the sourdough bread bowl top almost blew away, I quickly went inside and finished the meal. The bread bowl retains the heat, so each delectable bite was still warm and savory.
Pier 39, Building A, Level 2 // +14154212442
A full-service Pier 39 restaurant, Fog Harbor Fish House is on the second level overlooking the West Marina. Picture windows provide great views of the Marine Terminal with the Blue & Gold Fleet and Rocket Boat sightseeing cruise boats. Looking out the right picture window (yes, I had the best seat in the house), I looked past the sea lions and could almost reach out and touch Alcatraz Island just beyond.
The extensive menu was appealing, but the Shellfish Platter called to me. It included ½ crab, mussels, clams, shrimp, and oven-roasted fingerling potatoes. I enjoyed the textured mélange of succulent shellfish as the sun was setting over the Bay.
Reflecting on the perfect fun-filled day, I was not rushed and savored the fine dining experience at one of the best restaurants on Pier 39.
Pier 39 D, Building D, Level 1 // +14153181494
The Crêpe Café makes their crêpes right before your eyes, bringing a taste of France to California.
Luxurious chocolate, drizzled over sliced bananas from above, was live art being created as I watched with rapt attention. How could I resist this tantalizing, mouthwatering handiwork? Chocolate and bananas – is there any better combination?
You can select from the menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner or design your own meal. After witnessing the creation of the banana and chocolate crepe on the hot griddle, I had to have one of those!
Sweet crêpes come with jams, fruit, caramel, and whipped cream, or the ever-popular s’mores. I noticed more than one sweet crêpe include Nutella or Ghiradelli chocolate.
If you prefer savory crêpes, try the Turkey Pesto with avocado and Monterey Jack cheese or the Hawaiian with ham, pineapple, and cheese.
Pier 39, Building A, Level 2 // +14154841282
For really early risers, the Eagle Café opens at 8 am. They’ve been on the Pier since 1928 and serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
My favorite breakfast, corned beef hash, was fighting with the banana pecan pancakes for my attention. Who can pass up an Avocado Toast with Egg? Okay, so you might prefer Eggs Benedict, omelets, or something from the griddle. Many choices are yours!
The founder of Pier 39, Warren Simmons, wanted The Eagle Café to be part of the opening line-up of restaurants in this magical place called Pier 39. After 40 years, the restaurant is still a Simmons family business run by the oldest son, Scooter, and grandson Ryan, plus a group of dedicated employees who’ve been with them for two and three decades.
Since 1928, The Eagle has been frequented by vets and active military and longshoremen who work on the San Francisco waterfront. The decòr honors and is a tribute to these important guests. This is a great breakfast restaurant at the Pier.
Pier 39 #255, Building P, Level 2 // +14157570609
Mango’s Taqueria & Cantina is a casual full-service restaurant and bar serving tacos and other authentic Mexican cuisines from Jalisco. They specialize in small plates and appetizers that pair perfectly with a cocktail.
Mango’s has a friendly vibe with the warm and rustic furniture and décor imported from Mexico. A sunny balcony overlooks the East Marina and the San Francisco Bay. It’s a great way to enjoy their specialty cocktails. I enjoyed the heaters for those windy and cool days like it was on my visit.
Did you know you can sip your tequila neat? That is how I prefer it—Mango’s stocks over fifty 100% Agave tequilas – one of the largest selections in San Francisco.
The red and green homemade salsa is a family recipe and goes well with chips and Mango’s signature Mango Guacamole. For a taste of Mexico in the Bay Area, Mango’s is one of the best places to eat on Pier 39.
2 Beach St, Buildings L & M, Level 1 // +14159816300
Tropical cocktails and Hawaiian music put me in the mood for a luau. While the Luau Lounge won’t roast a pig in the ground, you can bring your ukulele and fit right in.
At the very end of Pier 39 on the East Marina, the Luau Lounge offers unobstructed views of San Francisco Bay so close to the water that during America’s Cup boat races, you’ll practically feel them. It is the best place to watch world-class sailboat racing.
The menu includes All-American favorites of fresh seafood, steaks, salads, and burgers with a special menu for kids.
The Luau Lounge is located inside Players Sports Grill & Arcade. They boast hard-to-find games with 200+ sports channels on 35 HDTVs.
With 85 arcade games and souvenirs for kids, Players is an excellent place for the entire family. The arcade games fit everyone’s skill levels. My favorite, air hockey, shares space with pool tables, Wheel of Fortune, NBA Hoops, and many others.
If you can’t tear yourself away from the great outdoors on Pier 39, take time out for a famous Nathan’s Hot Dog from Wipeout’s Hot Dog Cart. They also serve soft drinks with their dogs – like a Jumbo Dog, Polish Sausage, Chili Cheese Dog, and a Foot Long.
In case you didn’t know, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs has been in business for over 100 years and is recognized for the quality and taste of its dogs. Try one when you are looking for a quick snack on Pier 39.
Colorful, succulent fresh fruit from Vlahos’ Fruit Orchard on Pier 39 is often the background for visitor selfies. When you want a grab-and-go, self-contained snack, make Vlahos’ your healthy choice. Optional chocolate for dipping your fruit selection is available. Note: They are open May through September on the Pier.
Pier 39 is a one-stop destination for sightseeing in San Francisco, dining on local cuisine, family entertainment, and any San Francisco souvenir shopping. If your time is limited, this is the place to do it all.
Julie Diebolt Price is a professional photographer, educator, travel writer, and journalist. She helps corporations and solo entrepreneurs establish their brands with imagery and business training. She educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures. Learn more at linktr.ee/PhotoTravelWrite.