AAA Magazines

10 SoCal piers that are perfect for a romantic walk

Huntington Beach Pier

Picture strolling hand in hand with your sweetheart on an ocean pier, surrounded by shimmering water as waves lap against the pilings. You might get goose bumps—and not just because it can get chilly by the shore.

Photographer Shelly Waldman’s personal “California Piers” project features her favorite piers that invite romantic strolls. The Claremont resident has been fascinated by these structures ever since she celebrated her 16th birthday at the Huntington Beach Pier. Years later, the day after her wedding, she and her new husband continued the celebration with a stroll on the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach.

“Piers offer us a way to literally walk on water and connect with the ocean like nothing else,” Waldman says. “And I love how each one has a personality unique to its location, history, and community.”

Most piers in Southern California were built to allow steamships to tie up and unload. These days, people take to piers for walking, fishing, spotting surfers, and taking sunset selfies. Waldman’s project focuses on the structures themselves, as well as nearby restaurants and activities that make a visit even more enjoyable. Here are 10 piers from Waldman’s photography project, presented from north to south, whose simplicity is part of their appeal.

You may also like: 11 fun budget date ideas in Southern California

1. Harford Pier, Port San Luis (Avila Beach)

Diners at Mersea's enjoying the view from the Hartford Pier

Length: 1,320 feet 
Construction Materials: Wood 
Built: 1873

This rustic, all-wood structure is one of 2 public piers in San Luis Obispo Bay. Built as a private dock for businessman John Harford in 1873, this pier is still a working wharf. Anglers come here to fish or launch their boats, and seafood wholesaler Ice House Fish Company and retail fish market Harford Seafood Company both operate on the premises.

Check out the catches of the day at the Fishermen’s Market held on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. At Mersea’s, situated at the end of the pier, you can grab a drink at the bar or dine on fresh seafood and enjoy blissful bay views from the deck. Don’t forget to blow a kiss to the sea lions basking next to the pier on attached floating platforms.

You may also like: 10 charming Central Coast towns where you can relax and recharge

2. Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier seen from different vantage points

Length: 780 feet
Construction Materials: Wood
Built: 1905

Business magnate Frederick Hastings Rindge built this pier in 1905 to transport goods from ships to his Malibu ranch. The pier opened to the public in 1934 and has since undergone several renovations, mainly due to damage from severe storms.

Today, the pier is sandwiched between 2 chic eating establishments featuring farm-to-table fare. Malibu Farm is a full-service restaurant at the start of the pier. Malibu Farm Café, located at the end of the pier, has counter service. Want to buy a souvenir for your sweetie? Stop by Ranch at the Pier (ceramics to sun hats) and Miansai (jewelry and leather goods), which is adorably housed in a 1949 Airstream. This pier is short compared with others, but you can easily continue your stroll along miles of beach.

3. Venice Fishing Pier

A visitor watching the surfers from Venice Fishing Pier

Length: 700 feet 
Construction Materials: Plastic wood-fiber composite decking, reinforced concrete pillars, wooden railings 
Built: 1965

In 1905, millionaire Abbot Kinney founded the resort town of Venice, dubbed the Coney Island of the Pacific. Its Venice Amusement Pier was a big tourist draw, sporting colorful names like The Million Dollar Pier and Sunset Pier. Storms and fires destroyed the structure more than once through the years, and even swept away its bathrooms at one point. The current pier has been in place since 2006.

Today, you’ll find anglers lining the railings at all hours, happy to show off their catch. (The railings have cutouts designed for people who use wheelchairs.) Situated at the end of Washington Boulevard, the pier is a perfect starting point for exploring restaurants and boutique shops along the oceanfront boulevard or for wandering around the Venice canals.

You may also like: Venice, where funky meets fancy

4. Manhattan Beach Pier

A couple on Manhattan Beach Pier

Length: 928 feet 
Construction Materials: Concrete 
Built: 1920

The Manhattan Beach Pier began as a wooden pier in 1901. Pylons were made by fastening 3 railroad ties together and driving them into the ocean floor. The pier, with its signature seafoam teal railings, has undergone numerous renovations since then, and it’s now the oldest remaining concrete pier on the West Coast.

Surfers walking beneath Manhattan Beach Pier

This California Historical Landmark also serves as the Volleyball Walk of Fame: Bronze plaques memorialize winners of the AVP Manhattan Beach Open. Look for the names of Olympians such as Kerri Walsh, Karch Kiraly, and Sinjin Smith.

People walking along the Manhattan Beach Pier toward Roundhouse Aquarium

At the end of the pier, step inside the recently renovated octagonal Roundhouse Aquarium. It’s free to the public (cheap date!)and features 4 galleries showcasing SoCal marine habitats. At the seahorse exhibit, impress your date with this fun fact: Males are the ones that give birth.

You may also like: Day trip: 10 fun things to do in Manhattan Beach

5. Hermosa Beach Pier

Scenes from Hermosa Beach Pier, including Lisa Lerner with her dog

Length: 1,140 feet 
Construction Materials: Concrete
Built: 1965

Several piers have stood in this spot over the years. The original one was built out of just 500 feet of wood in 1904. In 1913, it was replaced with a concrete structure that doubled its length. That pier was razed in 1961, and the current pier opened in 1965.

As you stroll on the pier, check out the plaques that make up the city’s Surfers Walk of Fame. Wally Bennett, a longtime Hermosa Beach lifeguard, is one of the people recognized on the plaques. His daughter, Lisa Lerner (pictured), walks here daily with her golden Labrador to visit her dad, who would have been 101 this year.

The pedestrian-friendly Pier Plaza at the entrance is packed with shops, restaurants, and bars. Visit on Wednesdays for the weekly farmers market, open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

6. Huntington Beach Pier

Couple watching the sunset at Huntington Beach Pier

Length: 1,856 feet 
Construction Materials: Concrete 
Built: 1914

The original pier on this spot was built in 1909. After storms damaged it, the city rebuilt it in 1914 using concrete. In 1930, the pier was extended and a café was placed at the end. First in the spot was Sunshine Café, followed by End Café and then Ruby’s Diner. The latest reincarnation is Bud & Gene’s (named after 2 city lifeguards), which opened in July 2022. Recognized as an icon of Surf City U.S.A., the pier was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

The pier was built to withstand 7.0 earthquakes and 31-foot waves, and the pilings are spaced to accommodate surfers—perfect for the city that hosts the annual U.S. Open of Surfing, one of the world’s largest surfing competitions.

After your stroll, check out the Surfing Walk of Fame and the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, both located directly across from the pier on Main Street.

You may also like: 4 day trips to charming California beach towns

7. Balboa Pier, Newport Beach

Balboa Pier

Length: 920 feet 
Construction Materials: Cement deck, wooden pillars 
Built: 1906

The Balboa Pier was built in 1906 in conjunction with the Balboa Pavilion, which was then the terminus of the Pacific Electric Railway Red Car line. Real estate agents were hoping to lure Angelenos to buy plots on the peninsula and the newly developed island. They did, and today the Balboa Pier lures people with views of surfers and the shore, which is lined with charming beach homes.

In 1982, the bait shop at the end of the pier was converted to the very first Ruby’s Diner, where a burger, fries, and a shake still come with an ocean view. If it’s too early to end your date, catch the nearby ferry to Balboa Island (4 minutes one way; adults, $1.75) and enjoy a stroll on Marine Avenue, including a stop at Sugar ‘N Spice for a Balboa bar. The frozen ice-cream bar is dipped in chocolate and rolled in the topping of your choice.

You may also like: 8 new things to do in Newport Beach

8. Oceanside Pier

Oceanside Pier

Length: 1,942 feet
Construction Materials: Wood
Built: 1987

Four previous piers were built at this spot—the first one as early as 1888—but heavy storms destroyed them all. The pier standing today features lampposts modeled after those that graced the pier in 1927, making it a picturesque backdrop for outdoor concerts, surf and Ironman competitions, and other events.

Couple walking hand in hand down Oceanside Pier

As one of the West Coast’s longest wooden piers, it gives strollers the chance to enjoy a unique vantage point. Toward the end of the pier are twin towers: a lifeguard lookout and a bait shop. The iconic on-site Ruby’s Diner shuttered in 2021, but a new eatery is expected to open in that spot.

Love the O sculpture

Photo by Terry Gorman Brown

While you’re in Oceanside, continue strolling for about 20 minutes to the recently installed Love the O metal sculpture at Oceanside Harbor. Couples can celebrate their commitment by hanging a personal lock on the sculpture and taking a sunset selfie.

You may also like: 7 fun things to do in Oceanside, California

9. Crystal Pier, Pacific Beach in San Diego

Crystal Pier

Length: 872 feet 
Construction Materials: Wood
Built: 1927

Enjoy a stroll along the pier and stay overnight in one of the 32 Cape Cod–style cottages that were added in 1930. The Crystal Pier Hotel (rates start at $225 per night) has been family owned and operated since 1961. For a short period, a ballroom stood at the end of the pier. (Note to romantics: You don’t need a ballroom to slow dance here).

Morning people might want to grab breakfast at nearby Kono’s Surf Club Café: Savor one of their signature egg burritos and a cup of coffee on the deck that overlooks the pier and Pacific Beach.

10. Ocean Beach Pier, San Diego

Ocean Beach Pier

Length: 1,971 feet
Construction Materials: Concrete
Built: 1966

This behemoth is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast. Stretching about a third of a mile, the pier is worth a long, leisurely walk just to appreciate its sheer size. Its original purpose was for fishing, allowing anglers to reach deeper waters and avoid entangling their fishing lines in kelp and rock beds near the shore.

After your stroll, explore the tide pools (check tide schedules) beneath the pier at the foot of Newport Avenue. The pier is located near downtown Ocean Beach, so you’ll find plenty of options for dining after the sun goes down.

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers & deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon