By Lisa Kestenbaum
In California, we love our coastline. And dotting the Southland’s best beaches are some must-visit piers; from roller coaster rides to private bungalows, there is plenty to see and do at these often overlooked spots.
Orange County is home to San Clemente Pier, where time seems to stand still and ocean waves crash on a pristine beach below. Travelers on the Pacific Coastliner Amtrak train can board and depart at the pier, which feels like a time warp, between the Spanish Colonial design of the homes surrounding it and the 50s style surfer dudes. Pop into the Oyster Bar for a casual bite or catch the last slivers of sun as it goes down over the water.
In San Diego, you can make an entire daytrip out of visiting the Coronado Ferry Landing. Filled with shops, galleries and restaurants, this strip inside the City of Coronado offers a great view of San Diego across the water. On the weekends, there are often live bands and every Tuesday, you can visit the Farmer’s Market. The Ferry Landing also offers bike and kayak tours, if you’re feeling adventurous or want to do something active. You can also visit the pier by way of the Coronado Ferry, which runs hourly.
Also in San Diego is Crystal Pier, which features a different kind of pier experience with its Crystal Pier Hotel. Family owned and operated since 1961, the hotel is comprised of 26 cottages that sit above the water and give off a cozy vibe to those passing through Pacific Beach. Open year-round, the Crystal Pier cottages are the quintessential waterfront stay.
Built in 1909, the Santa Monica pier was the first on the West Coast to be constructed by concrete instead of traditional wood. Now, the pier hosts popular fishing spots and restaurants, too. But what really makes the Santa Monica Pier stand out is Pacific Park, the amusement park that takes up the majority of the pier. With rides like “Inkies Pirate Ship” and the classic Ferris wheel, the park delights both young and old. Aside from the West Coaster high-speed rollercoaster, the Santa Monica Pier also attracts thrill seekers to its trapeze school. Or, if you would rather stay on your feet and learn the history of the pier, you can take a walking tour. The hour-long excursion includes a trip to famed Muscle Beach and secret nooks and crannies of the structure.
There’s never a shortage of things to do in Santa Monica and the Pier is home to many of them. In June, hundreds of people climb on stationary spin bikes to raise money for the Harold Robinson Foundation, which raises funds to send inner-city kids to camp. Athletic enthusiasts also can sign up for the Tommy Bahama Paddle Board Race & Ocean Festival, which pays homage to the area’s first paddleboard races in the 1930s, or summertime Roga classes, which combine running and yoga for free every Saturday from September 19 – October 24. Rounding out the best of the summertime events is the Twilight Concert Series, every Thursday night July through September. The free concerts attract thousands of people who set up blankets and picnics on the beach below to listen to and watch that week’s band play on the pier, above.
If it’s fresh seafood you’re after, head a little north to Ventura. Every Saturday, dozens of fishermen bring that morning’s catch to the Ventura Harbor Fisherman’s Market. Visitors line up to pick up the best seafood the area has to offer. Once you stock up on everything from halibut to sea bass, settle in to watch the boats in the harbor or stroll across the promenade to California Street in the heart of downtown Ventura. To get the full pier experience, venture out to the end of the pier and turn around – from there, you’ll take in the marvelous view of the coastline and the Maricopa Mountains in the backdrop.
Further up north in Santa Barbara is Stearns Wharf. Originally built to handle the passenger and shipping needs of the area, the pier now hosts everything from fortune telling to water taxis and a Museum of Natural History. Visitors can also enjoy wine tasting, dining and shopping along the wharf, which was built in 1872 and has weathered many storms over the years. You wouldn’t know it, though, as the pier is immaculately maintained and always bustling. For a more leisurely experience, hop on board Celebration Cruise’s luxury yacht for a sunset, brunch or dinner cruise. The yacht is a favorite for private events while the Lil Toot Water Taxi is perfect for a waterfront shuttle. Stearns Wharf truly comes to life in July when Independence Day is celebrated with a live band, a front seat to the city’s fireworks show and celebratory fare.