Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39, San Francisco, is home to more than 20,000 local marine animals.
The aquarium showcases the beauty and diversity of Northern California aquatic life, and the stars include sharks, rays, octopuses, jellyfish, anchovies, river otters, etc.
Also known as the San Francisco aquarium, it gets half a million visitors annually.
Table of contents
- What to expect at Aquarium of the Bay
- How to reach San Francisco aquarium
- San Francisco aquarium hours
- Best time to visit San Francisco aquarium
- How long does the Aquarium of the Bay take
- San Francisco aquarium tickets
- Free with CityPass
- What to see at Aquarium of the Bay
- Sea Lion Center
What to expect at Aquarium of the Bay
How to reach San Francisco aquarium
San Francisco aquarium is at Pier 39, The Embarcadero and Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94133. Get Directions
It is best to get off the train at Embarcadero Station and go to the ground level exiting tunnel toward Drumm Street or Spear Street.
Then you must walk to Market Street & Main Street and transfer to the MUNI F-Market Street Car.
On the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is F Line’s final stop, the streetcar stops right across from the Bay Area aquarium.
Unfortunately, the San Francisco aquarium doesn’t have parking of its own.
But public parking is available at Pier 39 Garage, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also park at Pier 35.
San Francisco aquarium hours
San Francisco aquarium opens at 11 am and closes at 6 pm, all through the week.
The last entry is one hour before closure.
On 24 December, the aquarium is open only from 11 am to 3 pm, and it remains closed on 25 December.
Best time to visit San Francisco aquarium
The best time to visit the San Francisco Aquarium by the Bay is as soon as they open at 11 am.
An early visit helps you avoid the long lines, which start around noon, especially in summer, during school holidays, and the weekends.
Animals in the touch pools are also most active in the early part of the day. As more and more people dip their hands, the sea creatures get tired.
With fewer people, you get enough time to explore the exhibits on your own and take photographs without others in the frame.
Tip: Buy your tickets online to avoid wasting time in long queues.
How long does the Aquarium of the Bay take
If you visit with kids, who tend to spend more time with the exhibits, attend all feeding sessions, see all shows, etc., you will need around two hours to explore the San Francisco aquarium at Pier 39.
Visitors in a hurry can quickly browse through the aquarium’s exhibits and attend the must-sees in an hour.
With the regular aquarium tickets, you can exit and re-enter the aquarium, which means you can even visit it twice.
Visitors to the Aquarium of the Bay usually also book a cruise of the San Francisco Bay. When you book them together, you get a 10% discount.
San Francisco aquarium tickets
This San Francisco aquarium ticket gets you access to all the three areas of the wildlife attraction – Discover The Bay, Under The Bay, and Touch The Bay.
Besides the aquarium, these tickets also get you entry to the Sea Lion Center, where you can learn about the wild sea lions living in San Francisco Bay.
When you make the purchase, the tickets get emailed to you, and on the day of your visit, you can show them on your smartphone and enter.
Re-entering is possible with this Aquarium of the Bay ticket.
San Francisco aquarium prices
Aquarium of the Bay tickets for visitors 13 to 64 years cost $29.25 per person.
Seniors 65 years and above pay a discounted price of $23.25 for entry, while kids four to 12 years get an $11 reduction and pay only $18.25 for their tickets.
Kids under four years enter for free.
Adult ticket (13 to 64 years): $29.25
Seniors ticket (65+ years): $23.25
Child ticket (4 to 12 years): $18.25
Infant ticket: (up to 3 years): Free entry
San Francisco has two other aquariums. The Steinhart Aquarium, which is part of the California Academy of Sciences, is within the city, while the Monterey Bay Aquarium is 201 Kms (125 Miles) South of San Francisco.
Free with CityPass
If you plan to save some money on your Bay area holiday, look no further than the San Francisco CityPass.
With this discount pass, you can visit the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf aquarium and three other attractions and yet save 45% of your ticket costs.
With the SFO CityPass, you get guaranteed entry to:
- California Academy of Sciences
- Blue & Gold Fleet San Francisco Bay Cruise
And you can choose admission to any two other attractions from the list below –
- Aquarium of the Bay
- The Walt Disney Family Museum
- San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
Visitors with CityPass don’t need to reserve their visit to the aquarium in advance.
They can present their CityPASS tickets at the entrance and walk in.
Cost of San Francisco CityPass
Adult Pass (12+ years): $76
Child Pass (4 to 11 years): $56
What to see at Aquarium of the Bay
At the San Francisco aquarium by the Bay, visitors get up close and personal with more than 20,000 local marine animals.
Discover The Bay
Discover The Bay exhibit is about the ecosystem of San Francisco Bay and consists of seven different animal habitats.
The three most popular sections are the Beauties of the Bay, the Swirling school of Anchovies, and the Bay Babies.
Under the Bay
Under the Bay helps visitors explore what’s below San Francisco Bay with a fully immersive experience as they walk through 300 feet of acrylic tunnels filled with sea creatures.
The Near Shore Tunnel exhibits the creatures that live in three to four meters (10-15 feet) deep shallow waters of the Bay.
In here, you get to see anchovies, Rockfish, bright-orange Garibaldi, Giant Pacific Octopuses, etc.
Alcatraz Tunnel is the second tunnel exhibit, and it helps unravel the mysteries of the deeper waters of San Francisco Bay.
Visitors get to see sharks, rays, sturgeons, and more. Don’t miss out on Sevengill sharks, the largest predatory animal in the Bay, leopard sharks, soupfin sharks, etc.
Go With The Flow
Go with the Flow is part of the Under the Bay gallery and is full of mesmerizing jellies.
There are two massive tanks – the 725-gallon cylinder tank displaying Moon Jellies and the wall-mounted 740-gallon tank full of Pacific Sea Nettles.
Ambient lighting ensures you get in the mood for a long session with the hypnotic invertebrates.
Touch the Bay
This gallery allows visitors to touch several sea creatures.
Visitors can touch sharks, rays, skates, sea stars, and anemones at the Touch Pools.
The Bay Lab has many land animals such as chinchillas, tortoises, frogs, etc. Besides seeing the animals, you also learn how their habits and habitats are affected by climate change.
At the Bay Lab Station, naturalists conduct interactions with land animals and participatory climate change discussions, in which everybody can participate.
River Otters Gallery
At the River Otters Gallery, visitors can see four playful river otters – Shasta, Ryer, Baxter, and the youngest, Tahoe.
A sign of a healthy waterway, otters are a massive hit with the kids.
Sea Lion Center
The Sea Lion Center in San Francisco has an interesting background.
The Sea Lion Center, overlooking K-Dock in the marina adjacent to Pier 39, is operated and managed by the Aquarium of the Bay.
The regular Aquarium of the Bay tickets gets you to access the Sea Lion Center as well.
The Sea Lion Center is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, and educational programs start four times a day – at 10.30 am, 12.30 pm, 2.30 pm, and 4.40 pm.
At Sea Lion Center, visitors can learn everything about the wild creatures through interactive displays, educational videos, and fascinating presentations.
Besides all the learning, you can also watch the fascinating animals eat and sleep and listen to their barks.
From the Sea Lion Center, visitors can also enjoy beautiful views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.