During World War II, nearly every pier in San Francisco was involved in military activities, with troop ships and naval vessels tied up all along the Embarcadero. Today, several have been transformed and developed into modern destinations for dining, shopping and enjoying views of the Bay. For a closer look at some of the most popular piers, we’ll start south and move north along the waterfront.
Pier 30/32 – Fans are anxiously following along as San Francisco partners with the Golden State Warriors on a proposal to build a state of the art multi-purpose recreation and entertainment facility along the Embarcadero. New renderings of the project were recently released and the public is encouraged to follow the story here for more information. If all goes well, the first tip-off could be 2017.
Pier 24 – Built underneath the Bay Bridge in 1935 and vacant since 1980, it underwent a two-year long remodel and opened as Pier 24 Photography in 2010. It houses the Pilara Foundation and the Pilara Photographic Collection, and hosts two-to-three major photographic exhibitions a year. Click here for more information.
Pier 14 – This 637-foot-long pedestrian span is one of newest recreational piers on the waterfront. Opened in 2006, it was built so that visitors and downtown workers could get some exercise and take in the views. U-back chairs dot the pier, making it a nice stop for anyone with a few minutes to spare.
Piers 1, 1 ½, 3 and 5 – The Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District is one of the largest surviving pier complexes along the Embarcadero and now home to The Piers, a unique dining and retail space located just north of the Ferry Building. Perhaps its most famous attraction is Michael Chiarello’s newly opened Coqueta restaurant.
Pier 7 – This wood-planked pier is possibly the coolest place to hang out, people watch and cheer on the fisherman reeling in their catch. Pay attention to its special detailing including ornamental iron handrails and light fixtures. Benches offer comfortable seating while enjoying views of the water, Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge.
Pier 15 – Now open at Pier 15, the newly re-designed Exploratorium is bigger and better than ever. It features nearly 600 hands-on exhibits, including a magnificent all-glass Bay Observatory Gallery. The tactile dome and Forum are set to open later this summer. Learn more by visiting their website at
Pier 27 and 29 – These two are unique in that they are at an angle to one another and are joined at the end. They are currently being used as a viewing and outdoor concert stage for the America’s Cup, but will soon be home to the new James R. Herman Cruise Ship Terminal. Scheduled to open in spring 2014, once construction is complete the berth will welcome the 40-80 cruise ships that visit San Francisco each year.
Pier 39 – Flocks of tourists visit Pier 39 each year for shopping and dining. It’s also a draw to the sea lion colony of K dock. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, sea lions began to take over docks on the west side of the pier. From late July to mid-May there can be hundreds to more than a thousand mostly younger males lolling about and barking volubly.
Pier 41 – Another wooden pier, it serves passenger ferry traffic and has great views of the City skyline and harbor. On non-foggy days you get even better views of Alcatraz and Angel islands, as well as the Marin coastline beyond.
Pier 43½ – Better known as Fisherman’s Wharf, its home to the Red & White Fleet, SS Jeremiah O’Brien, the famous Alioto’s, and other restaurants and stores that attract spillover tourism from Pier 39. It’s worth the walk up the block.
Municipal Pier – No, it’s not numbered but it’s still worth mentioning. Its unique crescent shape cuts out over the Bay better than any other pier along the waterfront. There are incredible views of the City, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin coast, Angel and Alcatraz islands.
Fort Mason Piers – Lastly, you get three piers in one here on this Army base. A multicultural consortium of groups, including fine art museums, dance groups, theaters and even legal services for the arts, reside here, along with supporting organizations. Fort Mason has a full calendar of performance and educational events.