One of the most-visited spots in San Francisco , Pier 39 hosts a wealth of restaurants and shops. If you’ve come down to the pier to see the sea life, start with the unusual Aquarium of the Bay (888/732-3483, www.aquariumofthebay.com , 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily in summer, call for winter hours, $13.95 adults, $7 seniors, $7 children). This 300-foot clear-walled tunnel lets visitors see thousands of species native to the San Francisco Bay, including sharks, rays, and plenty of fish. For a special treat, take the Behind the Scenes Tour or sign up for a Sleeps with the Sharks family sleepover.
Farther down the pier, get personal (but not too close) to the local colony of sea lions. These big, loud mammals tend to congregate at K-Dock in the West Marina. The best time to see the sea lions is wintertime, when the population grows into the hundreds. To learn more about the sea lions, head for the interpretive center on Level 2 of the Marine Mammal Center (415/289-7325, www.marinemammalcenter.org ).
A perennial family favorite, the San Francisco Carousel ($3/ride) is painted with beautiful scenes of San Francisco . Riders on the moving horses, carriages, and seats can look at the paintings or out onto the Pier. Kids also love the daily shows by local street performers. Depending on when you’re on the Pier, you might see jugglers, magicians, or stand-up comedians out on the Alpine Spring Water Center Stage. Shows are free, and show times vary.