How To Do Pier 39 With Kids
First things first, go visit the sea lions. In 1990 they began to arrive in droves, much to the chagrin of the boat owners there. Environmentalists studied why the sea lions loved that spot so much. Turns out, there are a ton of fish there and they are protected from predators. The environmentalists and the boat owners debated for a while over whether the slippery fellows would be allowed to stay. Of course the environmentalists won (this is San Francisco after all) and now the sea lions are as much of a Pier 39 fixture as sourdough bread bowls.
Speaking of bread bowls, go grab dinner at Boudin's Bakery. The clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is the most San Francisco meal you can have, but I also like their turkey avocado on a croissant and their crab sandwiches. Kids love to watch the baskets whisk by, filled with bread shaped like animals. Also be sure to catch the chefs making bread at the big window! They pipe sourdough smell out to the street and it's heavenly.
Keep venturing down The Embarcadero until you hit Musee Mechanique. It's this funky penny arcade featured in The Princess Diaries. The museum is free to enter though each game costs to play. The whole collection has over 300 games in total. A man named Dan Zelinsky began collecting them when he was 11. The museum used to be in the now-closed Playland in the Richmond District and was moved to this spot in the 70's. Laughing Sal is the creepy massive doll near the entrance. She's given me nightmares since I was a child. I actually just Googled the museum and her picture popped up and I immediately had to close the screen. Hours: 10-8.
Next up, Ghirardelli Square! This is an experience AND a restaurant. Head down to the end of the Embarcadero, go left up the hill, and you'll see the big Ghirardelli sign. Once you climb the stairs to Ghirardelli square, you'll notice that there are actually TWO Ghirardelli restaurants. Go get a chocolate sample from the entrance of the first one and then walk to the back one because it's always less crowded. Plus, two chocolate samples!
Once you’ve done all the stuff listed, LEAVE! There is so much more to San Francisco beyond Pier 39 and unfortunately many tourists never make the time to see it. After you’ve crossed Pier 39 off your list, you can move on to the REAL San Francisco stuff.