If there’s one common trait among tourists, it’s a complete lack of spacial awareness. Everywhere I’ve been from Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter to Millennium Park in Chicago and any place in between, I’ve always had to dodge tourists who stop and jump out excitedly pointing out some mundane detail to their equally clueless companions, like “Look, they have Pizza Hut here too!”
So when I visited Pier 39, San Francisco’s infamously tacky tourist trap, I was there for one reason only: to find my way through Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. What better way to feel at home among a bunch of easily confused tourists than to enter a carnival-style mirror maze?
The first puzzle is finding the maze itself. Pier 39 is laid out like a generic 1970’s outdoor shopping center, but the Mirror Maze is on the upper level and difficult to spot from below. I went to consult a map, only to spot the maze across from me. To say I wasn’t off to a good start would be an understatement.
The maze entrance is in a short hallway. I stowed my soaking wet umbrella into my backpack and walked in. The woman at the desk didn’t seem to notice me at first, so I said hi. She replied only with “hi” and I actually had to ask about buying a ticket. I handed her a five dollar bill (they also take cards) and she told me to take a pair of plastic gloves from a box. At no point during this interaction did she look at me.
I put the gloves on and went to the maze entrance. It’s dimly lit with color-changing lights inside, and looks nearly the same in every direction. Forging ahead I spotted a family on one side of me, only to realize they were on the other! Soon I found myself seeing my reflections on more and more sides; a dead end. At this point the gloves became helpful, allowing me to touch the mirrored walls without smudging them with fingerprints.
The maze itself isn’t particularly long though I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to the layout. It’s obviously sort of ring-shaped, but aside from that I have no idea. It’s intensely disorienting in there — which of course is the entire point. By the time I stumbled across the exit I’d only been in there ten minutes or so.
As I exited and disposed of the gloves I couldn’t help but to think I’d have a much better impression of Pier 39 if they had more carnival attractions. They already have gift shops and junk food stands, why not throw in say a love boat ride and a ferris wheel?
My recommendation: I have a simple mnemonic to remember how to avoid tourist traps in major cities: “Hard Rock Cafe? Go the other way.” Pier 39 itself was the inspiration for this simple rule. Still, if you have the focus to visit Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze without getting distracted by tacky restaurants, insufferable gift shops, and crowds of blissfully unaware tourists, it’s a fun but short little adventure. I’d consider trying it again if I were in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.