Pier 39 in San Francisco

Pier 39 is the biggest outdoor, multistory shopping mall sitting on/masquerading as a pier in California. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Candlestick Point Park Pier

Overview: This plank pier is only 150 feet long. Although the views here aren't as striking as others along the bay, there is plenty to see in the 170-acre Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, including small wildlife, plus ducks and other water fowl. A colorful human subspecies — the windsurfer — often is in evidence.

Background: The site is named for Candlestick Stadium, formerly home of the Giants baseball team and current home of pro football's '49ers. (Trivia point: It was the site of the last full concert by the Beatles on Aug. 29, 1966.) The stadium, as well as the pier, is in the Alemany Gap, an opening between the coastal mountains and the ocean responsible for the wind, fog and erratic weather patterns.

Parking: Plenty of free parking; take one of the paths that leads about a third of a mile to the coastline and the pier.

Directions: Take the Candlestick Park exit from Highway 101 in San Francisco. Follow the Hunters Point Expressway around the stadium to the state recreation area. There's limited parking along the road, plentiful parking near the main picnic/ day use area.

Pier 24

Overview: Pier 24 sits on the Embarcadero underneath the Bay Bridge, the major traffic artery between San Francisco and Oakland. It was built in 1935 and used for various industrial purposes until 1980. It then was vacant for more than a quarter-century. After an imaginative, two-year remodel, it opened as Pier 24 Photography and now houses the Pilara Foundation and the Pilara Photographic Collection in 28,000 square feet. It also hosts two or three major photographic exhibitions a year. Open Mondays-Thursdays by appointment only. (415) 512-7424, http://www.pier24.org

Parking: There are metered parking spots along the Embarcadero as well as a pay parking lot at Pier 30/32 at Bryant Street and the Embarcadero.

Directions: Take Market Street to its end at the Ferry Building. Turn right on Embarcadero. Pier 24 is about a third of a mile.

Pier 14

Overview: This 637-foot-long pedestrian span is the newest recreational pier on the San Francisco waterfront. Opened in 2006, it was built so that visitors and downtown workers could get some exercise and take in the views. U-back chairs dot the pier — you can sit and do a 360-degree swivel so that your view changes from water to city skyline. It's a nice stop for anyone with 10 minutes on their hands.

Parking: The Ferry Building is about a 25-yard walk to Pier 14, http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/parking.php

Directions: Take Market Street south to where it ends at the Ferry Building. The entrance to Pier 14 is about a 50-yard walk south on Embarcadero.

Pier 7

Overview: This is coolest pier in San Francisco to hang out, people watch and take in the stellar views. There are nice touches down its 840-foot length, including stylish ornamental iron handrails and light fixtures. Best of all are the crafted iron and wooden benches — you can happily plop down and enjoy (this stretch of the Embarcadero tends to get more sun than other spots). The pier is close to Fisherman's Wharf so lots of visitors find it, but because it has no shopping, those who come are mostly here for the views. There is also a great look down the pier's length at the imposing Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge.

Parking: There are all-day parking lots across Embarcadero, but they are pricey. Better options are the metered spots along Embarcadero or on Pier 5 at the Ferry Building where hourly rates are a bit cheaper.¿

Directions: Take Market Street south until it dead-ends at the Ferry Building. Turn left on Embarcadero. Pier 7 is three-tenths of a mile from the Ferry Building.

Pier 39

Overview: The biggest outdoor, multistory shopping mall sitting on/masquerading as a pier in California. A visitor will probably have one of two reactions: waste-of-time tourist trap or a mecca for mainstream eating and the acquisition of vacation mementos. Water views are a bit obscure except through restaurant windows.

Background: There is one fabled bit of wildlife that is a big draw to Pier 39, the seal lion colony of K dock. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, sea lions began to take over docks on the west side of the pier. From late July to mid-May there can be hundreds to more than a thousand mostly younger males lolling about and barking volubly.