Walks on the Water: Southern California’s Best Piers

Malibu Farm Pier

Malibu Farm Pier

Some seaside restaurants tend to skimp on quality cuisine, as if gorgeous views should suffice. Not at Malibu Farm Pier (23000 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310.456.1112), which offers two delightful dining options. Malibu Farm Restaurant, closer to shore, has a full bar and is open from breakfast through dinner. Malibu Farm Café, on the end of the pier, is an order-and-sit spot with tables that look out at the ocean, the surfers, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, dolphins. Both locations present farm-to-table options for discerning foodies in a chic-yet-rustic setting that matches Malibu itself. Don’t leave without making a stop at the Ranch, a gift shop near the end of the pier that sells everything from surfboards to spa products. malibu-farm.com

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier

At the end of Manhattan Beach Boulevard is Manhattan Beach Pier, 99 years old and still going strong. Unencumbered by shops or cafés (all found onshore nearby), it’s home to the recently renovated Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium. Free to visitors, the aquarium has touch tanks for kids and hosts classes, parties, and camps. roundhouseaquarium.org

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

The rough wood-plank boardwalk of Santa Monica Pier, where Colorado Avenue meets the sea, is always packed with visitors and offers something different for every one of them. Playland Arcade is lined with games of chance and a cavernous room full of classic video games, pinball machines, whack-a-moles, and air hockey. It’s like the greatest 1970s basement rec room ever. The whole family will enjoy the historic carousel and the West Coast’s only amusement park on a pier, complete with a roller coaster and the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel. If that’s not enough, there’s a trapeze school where you can watch aspiring acrobats or sign up for lessons. santamonicapier.org

Stearns Warf

Starting where State Street ends, you’ll find one of Santa Barbara’s most enduring attractions. Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wharf in California, was built in 1872 and stretches out a whopping 2,300 feet. Lining it are five restaurants serving everything from fish and chips to Dungeness crabs, and assorted shops specializing in candy, ice cream, toys, clothes, gifts, jewelry, design items, wine tastings, fortune-telling, and bait. Lil’ Toot, the town’s official water taxi, will take you out on the water, if you’re so inclined. Or, to get a peek at life below the water’s surface, visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Its vast array of activities includes a 1,500-gallon tide pool tank you can wade in. stearnswharf.org

Redondo Beach Pier

Redondo Beach Pier

Redondo Beach Pier (100 Fisherman’s Wharf) is bustling with action. Its unique horseshoe shape has room for more than 30 businesses, as well as myriad community events: a kite festival, a summer concert series on Thursday and Saturday evenings, a chalk art festival, movie screenings, and even yoga classes. Pick from more than a dozen dining options, including Redondo Coffee & Bait Shop, where you can grab some grub or grab some grubs, rent a pole, and head out to catch your own dinner. Or dine at Tony’s on the Pier, a.k.a. Old Tony’s, a family-owned dining institution serving up fresh fish and the beloved Fire Chief, the restaurant’s twist on a mai tai. You can even keep the glass. Top of Tony’s, on the second floor, has a stellar view up and down the coast. redondopier.com

—By Lisa Rosen

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