The well-known Pier 39 in San Francisco with sea lions. Animals are heated on wooden platforms


Sea Lions at Pier 39

Top choice in The Marina, Fisherman’s Wharf & the Piers

Sea lions took over San Francisco’s most coveted waterfront real estate in 1989 and have been making a public display of themselves ever since. Some speculate their arrival may have had something to do with the Loma Prieta earthquake that October, but it's more likely that the sea lions simply caught on to the charms of Fisherman's Wharf along with all the other tourists.

How to see sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf

These giant mammals ‘haul out’ onto the docks between January and July, and whenever else they feel like sunbathing. Night and day they canoodle, belch, scratch and gleefully shove one another off the docks. Naturally these unkempt squatters have become San Francisco’s favorite mascots, and since California law requires boats to make way for marine mammals, yacht owners have to relinquish valuable slips to accommodate as many as 1000 sea lions.

Tourists and sea lions at Pier 39 ©Michael Urmann/Shutterstock

The city is even celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the sea lions' arrival with a new public art project featuring 30 sea lion sculptures hand-painted by Bay Area artists. Keep your eyes peeled as you roam the streets of San Francisco for these colorful tributes – they each come with a QR code you can scan to read the artist's statement and learn more about some aspect of sea lion life, San Francisco, or Bay Area flora and fauna.

Not only have the sea lions been honored with public art, Mayor London Breed declared January 16 as the city's official Sea Lion Day – so bark and clap your fins if you love these goofy interlopers. 

For more information about San Francisco's sea lions, head upstairs from Pier 35 to the Sea Lion Center, where you can ask questions and check out the sea lion exhibits, including the full-sized skeleton of an adult male.

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