Stunning scenery, cool playgrounds, and fascinating history—not to mention endless sunset selfie possibilities. Stroll along a California pier and you’ll encounter some of the best reasons for visiting the Golden State. While the piers of yesteryear were used for maritime trade and often reimagined as amusement destinations, today’s piers draw visitors for license-free fishing; encounters with ocean wildlife; and leisurely, sun-drenched days spent exploring, shopping, and dining. The Santa Monica Pier and San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are just scratching the surface of the state’s vibrant pier heritage and activity.
“An attraction to California’s piers is human nature—there’s just something romantic about them,” says Ed Grant, author of Piers of the California Coast. Grant visited 37 piers for his research, intrigued by the idea of an eternally changing structure that lives above the waves. “The personality of the pier will change every minute with the shift of people, weather, tide, and sights,” says Grant. “When the surf is big, the piers literally vibrate and come to life. It’s an adventure to be a part of that dynamic environment.”
In addition to satisfying that appetite for adventure, a visit to California’s piers allows you to authentically experience the state’s coastal communities. Whether you’re kayaking beside resident sea lions, chatting with local fishermen, or attending a classic Woodies car show, pier life offers a window into a distinctly California culture. Choose your seaside favorite from the roundup of eight piers covered in the related articles below.