Magazine article Sunset

Summer on Southern California's Piers

Magazine article Sunset

Summer on Southern California's Piers

Article excerpt

From San Diego to San Luis Obispo, you'll find more than two dozen spots for fishing, strolling, or just breathing in the cool salt air

When the historic horseshoe-shaped Redondo Beach pier reopened in February after nearly seven years of planning, haggling, and construction, city officials handed out balloons proclaiming 1995 "The Year of the Pier."

They may be right. After almost a decade of closures and demolitions following brutal winter storms in 1987 and 1988, many landmark Southern California piers are once again luring strollers, joggers, and anglers to their decks.

Perhaps more than any other civic structure, piers reflect the communities they serve. The Redondo Beach pier, for example, is eclectic and tourist-oriented, crammed with seafood restaurants, gift shops, and an arcade. The Belmont Shore pier caters to people who are serious about fishing. Yet despite their differences, all piers share a few constants: the stiff breeze, the sea gulls edging each other off the railings, the heart-stopping sunsets.

Most of Southern California's newer piers are made of concrete and steel to increase their durability, but our favorites are the creosote-scented platforms built on cross-braced wood pilings. Half the fun of these piers is walking out over the ocean, visible through gaps in the planks, and feeling the entire structure tremble beneath you as the swells build before crashing on shore.

We've selected 16 of our favorite piers, both wood and concrete. Piers are listed from south to north by city.

Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is to San Diego what Venice Beach is to Los Angeles. It's a little funky, but the mix of people is lively - from old residents to newbies, the hip to the homeless. The pier itself, at 1,971 feet, is the longest concrete structure on the coast. Its gull wing-shaped end is a favorite of the fishing crowd. A bait-and-tackle shop sits next door to a cafe, where some days the special is all-you-can-eat pancakes for $2.25.

Pacific Beach. Looking like a blue-and-white Alamo, the Crystal Pier Hotel ("Sleep Over The Ocean") guards the entry to this landmark as languidly as Sinjin, the blond Labrador usually found napping in the office doorway. Older cottages closer to the foot of the pier rent for $140 to $165 a day; newer cottages, with kitchenettes and private decks where you can watch the surfers below, run from $165 to $180; call (619) 483-6983.

Oceanside. This wooden pier first opened on July 4, 1927. About halfway out are twin towers, joined by a footbridge, housing a lifeguard post and a bait shop. At the end is an excellent oyster bar and seafood restaurant, where you can dine on steamed clams while watching locals haul in mackerel and white croaker.

San Clemente. This picturesque wooden pier is also convenient for rail travelers - Amtrak stops at its foot twice a day. Although it opened in 1928 as Southern California's first pleasure pier (meaning it had amusement park-style rides and such), today the 1,200-foot-long boardwalk is known for a seafood restaurant on its south side and an oyster bar on its north. It's also known for fishing: the end of the pier is virtually reserved for the sport, so that's where you'll find the bait-and-tackle shop.

Balboa Pier. Ruby's, a popular '40s-style diner ubiquitous to Southern California piers, is one of the big draws. The other is the view. On a clear day, you can see the San Gabriel Mountains and the peaks of Saddleback inland, and Santa Catalina Island offshore.

Newport Beach. The historic dory fleet, which has been fishing here for more than 100 years, still sells its catch alongside the pier. …

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