Things You Wouldn’t Expect to See at Pier 39

Behind the fishermen, bridges, and hipster foods in San Francisco are actually even cooler (or stranger) things: piano stairs, prison gift shops, and telepathy games. These sights may be the least anticipated things in San Fran, but maybe it’s just that not enough people know about them. 

Granted these sights may not be Instagram or Facebook worthy, however they can be fun things to see despite the lack of potential social media involvement.

Piano Stairs

Right in the center of Pier 39, is one of the ten piano staircases in the world.

As you walk down the steps, a sensor on the side will detect your movement and will play a note with every step down. It’s a cute place for pictures, and visitors may attempt to create songs out of these steps, but it’s a little impossible since the steps themselves aren’t actual piano keys.

The stairs can be easy to miss since it is located at just one of the staircases up to the second floor of the pier. Just look for the “Mangos” store as shown in the picture above, and it should be right around the corner.

Alcatraz Gift Shop

This is officially the funniest store I have ever visited, but I’m not laughing. Most people are aware of the Alcatraz island-prison located just within sight from the pier. It was shut down in 1963, but that didn’t stop the island from being inhabited by other people. Every year a million tourists visit the island’s ruins which have become a historical landmark. With every landmark though, comes a gift shop, and Alcatraz’s is just full of dark humor.

Hidden in the shady side of the store is a wall of baby mannequin prisoners all hung up on a wall. Frankly the image is blurry because I didn’t want to get too close; the entire row gave me deep chills down my spine and was just not appealing or funny in any way.

As a prison gift shop, the most you would expect is a shop full of prison attire. This store is exactly that. They have really gone all out on their merchandise from costumes to daily wear. There are piles and piles of clothing all coated in black and white stripes. There are even stuffed animals wearing black and white striped t-shirts as well.

Unique Puzzle Stores

On a brighter note, prison stores are not the only unique stores you can find at Pier 39: there is also a puzzle store called “Solve it! Think Out of the Box.” I went in here hoping to find a nice jigsaw puzzle, but they had everything but that.

Here you will find kendamas, all levels of chinese checker games (but are probably not anything close to chinese checkers), weirdly shaped Rubik’s cubes, and mind telepathy games. Something cool about the Rubik’s cubes here is that Mats Valk, an Australian teenager who currently holds the fastest Rubik’s cube world record (5.55 seconds), has completed a Rubik’s cube at the store, which is now a hands-on display there.

The stickers peeled off thanks to Valk’s nifty hands.

The coolest part about this store though, is the telepathy game, “Mindball,” also known as “Brainstorm.”

Here are two Mindball players concentrating deeply on feeling as relaxed as possible.

“The goal is to be more relaxed than your opponent and move a physical ball away from you into your opponent’s goal by using your brain waves. The calmer you are, the more likely you are to win,” according to the banister hanging behind the female player.

A closer look at the ball.

The brainwaves of the players are measured through the electrodes that are wrapped around the players’ heads and are shown on the screens, which display graphs of how calm each player is feeling. The ball will then slowly move away from the player feeling most calm and into the goal.

It’s not everyday you can come across strange and unique places like these, least of all know about them. So next time you visit Pier 39 in San Francisco and have some time to kill, be sure to stop by these three places!


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Lokistar is an aspiring journalist, YA author, and ultimate foodie who loves quirky things like frogs, bubble tea, Narnia, and anything matcha related. She likes to go out on food adventures and sleeps before midnight everyday. Her obsession with frog merchandise may seem overwhelming at first, but once you get used to the fact, you may start to see the appeal in frogs yourself. It would be interesting to get to know her. You can email her at She hopes to meet you soon!

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