United States: California Sea Lions ‘Occupy’ Exclusive Marina in San Francisco Bay


California sea lions occupied an exclusive marina on the waterfront in San Francisco more than 25 years ago, forcing boat owners from their berths, and they’ve been noisily calling the place home ever since.


Sea lions on the docks of Pier 39 with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Photo Credit: Ronnie Macdonald..


In late 1989, a handful of California sea lions occupied the marina of Pier 39. Their numbers quickly grew, and they have called the place home ever since.

Shortly after the devastating Loma Preta Earthquake rocked Northern California in October 1989, a few hearty California sea lions crawled up unto one of the docks of the marina at Pier 39, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex along the waterfront in San Francisco, California.

The playful sea lions were an instant hit, drawing locals and tourists alike. But why were they there, how long would they remain, and – most controversially – should they be allowed to stay?

As it turned out, the sea lions not only found safe refuge – the sea lions’ natural predators rarely swim into San Francisco Bay. They also found an abundant supply of food.

Pier 39


Pier 39 with Coit Tower and the TransAmerica Tower in the distance. Photo Credit: Daniel Ramirez.

If the sea lions were a hit with the public at large, tenants of the marina were not so upbeat. Where, after all, were they supposed to berth their boats?

Instead of vacating their wooden roosts over the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, however, the sea lions were quickly joined by hundreds more.

By January 1990, their numbers had grown to more than 300. By March, 100 more had joined them, and boat owners had to evacuate the marina, which California sea lions have called home ever since.

Could this have happened anywhere else?

Their numbers ebb and flow with the seasons. Many migrate to the Channel Islands when it is time to mate, returning when mating season is over.

Pier 39



Pier 39 in San Francisco at dusk (top) and night (bottom). Photo Credit: J.J. Ron.

If boat owners were forced to vacate their marina, the sea lions have proved a huge boon to the dozens of cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and shops that populate Pier 39, one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions.

In addition to sea lions, shops, and food and beverage outlets, Pier 39 offers regularly scheduled live entertainment several times a day, and the performances are entirely free.

Included is music at the Entrance Plaza and street performers at Carousel Stage.

Overlooking San Francisco Bay, Pier 39 offers breathtaking views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

And if the views don’t take your breath away, surely the icy winds blowing in through the Golden Gate will!!!

Make sure to bring our overcoat!

Save up to 44% on San Francisco’s Municipal Railway and 4 other attractions with CityPASS. Shop Now!


Pier 39, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, California. 

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Talking Points

Do you think sea lions would have been allowed to occupy an exclusive marina in other parts of the world?

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One Reply to “United States: California Sea Lions ‘Occupy’ Exclusive Marina in San Francisco Bay”

  1. What memories this brings back! I remember when the sea lions first occupied the marina. Everyone just thought it would be temporary. Can’t believe they are still there after all these years!

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