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It’s personal at San Francisco

I visited San Francisco in 2010 with a long list of sights to see, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown among them. But the most surprisingly delightful experience came at Pier 39.

Part of the Fisherman’s Wharf area, Pier 39 is one of San Francisco’s shopping and entertainment hot spots for tourists. Attractions include the Marine Mammal center, the Aquarium of the Bay and numerous shops and restaurants. But the most interesting element of the pier is the group of California sea lions that sprawl on the docks of the marina, putting themselves on display to the delight of visitors.

I first heard the sea lions before I saw them; from time to time, they bellow out thick, throaty groans that echo throughout the area. Upon hearing a couple of these calls, I followed the sound to the water’s edge, where dozens of sea lions were splayed out on the empty boat docks, basking in the glow of San Francisco’s famously cool summer sun.

The sea lions first started coming to the area in 1989, and nobody knows exactly why they like it so much. Their numbers ebb and flow: Sometimes you’ll see only a few dozen there, and on other days, there may be hundreds piled onto the docks, even overlapping each other.

It was the first time I had ever seen these large, lumbering creatures outside of an aquarium, and I could have stood for hours watching them. When your group visits San Francisco, give them some time to do the same.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.