California piers of yesteryear were used as centers for maritime trade. Today, these historical landmarks draw visitors for fishing, encounters with ocean wildlife and sun-drenched days spent exploring, shopping and dining. Piers are reason enough to visit the Golden State—so if you're planning a California itinerary, consider adding these eight cool piers Visit California recommends.
Built in the 1920s, Crystal Pier in San Diego's Pacific Beach neighborhood was originally a classic amusement park with flashing arcade lights and elegantly dressed couples twirling in the Crystal Ballroom. Today, the amusement park and ballroom are gone—offering a serene spot to enjoy sweeping coastal views. Only the Crystal Pier Hotel remains, where guests could stay in updated 1930s-era cottages. For a livelier scene, the intersecting boardwalk offers three-and-a-half miles of eclectic shops and restaurants.
Venice Pier's 1,300-foot walking path offers ocean views in the colorful Venice district of Los Angeles. Catch fishermen reeling in the day's catch or enjoy some entertaining people-watching in any direction. The nearby boardwalk features a variety of restaurants, shops selling everything from souvenir tees to local art and street performers and artists.
San Simeon Pier
This pier is located at the William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, which is protected under the California Marine Life Protection Act, and is home to a sea otter preserve and part of a colony of 15,000 elephant seals. In the fall, visitors could see up-close glimpses of migrating humpback whales. The best way to explore the area and its sea life is via kayak. Both guided and self-guided tours are available.
Monterey Wharf II
With its shops and restaurants, the original Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey might garner the most attention—but Wharf II is the center of the local seafood trade, where groups could watch fishermen unload the day's haul and enjoy a delicious fish dinner. In addition to serving as an active fishing pier, Wharf II is home to fish markets, restaurants, an abalone farm and a private yacht club.
If your clients are dreaming of a trip to the Mediterranean, enchant them with the Capitola in Santa Cruz instead. With pastel buildings and a shoreline dotted with café patio umbrellas, Capitola is reminiscent of a European sea village. Rent a kayak for a sunset dolphin-spotting excursion, savor a seafood dinner with panoramic views, or enjoy twilight concerts, June through August.
Santa Cruz Wharf
The half-mile-long Santa Cruz Wharf pier draws nearly two million visitors each year. Explore the surrounding Monterey Bay while fishing, kayaking and whale watching, or enjoy a sunset view from the wharf's wine bar and 10 restaurants. Just east of the wharf, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is home to one of California's oldest amusement parks.
Hyde Street Pier
The Hyde Street Pier is home to six historic ships and part of the San Francisco Maritime National Park, which houses the largest maritime collection on the West Coast and the biggest museum and research collection in the National Park Service. View more than 500,000 photographs and 2,500 pieces of folk and fine art showcasing the region's rich maritime heritage—and then stroll to the end of the pier for sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
The jagged edge of the pacific meets ancient emerald forests in redwood country, where Trinidad pier juts into Trinidad Harbor—a popular crabbing spot. Marvel at breathtaking coastline, enjoy microbrews and hearty bowls of chowder, and tour the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse. Just a 15-minute drive north, hike to Wedding Rock at Patrick's Point State Park.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.
Photo courtesy of Andreas Hub/Visit California.