If you're heading to the beach this summer, take a moment to take a closer look at the many piers that jut out into the Pacific — and the historic relics that surround them.
Together, they tell stories of turn-of-the-last century recreation, seaside disasters and the evolution of beach-based sports and the athletes who've made their mark.
The Los Angeles area has lost many of its historic piers to decline, demolition and destruction — but their memories live on in a number of tributes, homages and even reproductions and replicas.
So strap on your good walking shoes or sandals, grab a bottle of water and set out to experience first-hand some of the pier-related history that's hiding in plain sight — and today's pier attractions that offer history in-the-making.
1. The Pike, Long Beach
The City of Long Beach demolished the greater part of The Pike in 1979 — and for decades, Looff's Lite-a-Line was the last man standing among the amusements that surrounded the Long Beach Pier and Rainbow Pier. A game of skill invented by Arthur Looff, it occupied the Pike's circa 1911 carousel building starting in 1941. Miraculously, the Lite-a-Line business (so named because the object of the game is to "light up a line") survived and, in the year 2000, moved to its current location at 2500 Long Beach Boulevard. It's now open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., and till 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Even if you don't play the game, you can explore its mini-museum of Long Beach amusement artifacts, which includes old wooden carousel horses, antique signs, wood carved funhouse figures (circa 1900), a bumper car and a restored "Cyclone Racer" car from the rollercoaster that thrilled Pike visitors from 1930 to 1968.
Everything else from the Pike has disappeared — although the design of the Cyclone Racer rollercoaster is evoked by the suspension-style pedestrian bridge that crosses over Shoreline Drive to connect The Pike Outlets with Shoreline Aquatic Park and Pine Avenue Pier. It opened in 2003.
Since 2005, visitors have been able to ride a contemporary ferris wheel and a 1920 Herschell-Spillman carousel with three rows of carved wooden horses — both an homage to the history of the area. To learn even more about what used to amuse Long Beach visitors (including fleets of sailors) in The Pike's heyday, visit the "Rainbow Fountain" by Michael Davis, located just outside of The Laugh Factory and adjacent to the carousel house. It features quotations and vintage photos of the Cyclone Racer, Penny Arcade, Plunge and more provided by The Historical Society of Long Beach.
2. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
The first concrete pier to be built on the West Coast, the Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 as part of a utility to dispose of city sewage. It wasn't until 1925 that it flourished as the Ocean Park Pier, replete with family amusements and concessionaires. But throughout the first six decades of the 20th century, Santa Monica's hometown pier experienced more ups and downs than a rollercoaster ride on repeat!
The last remaining vestige of what Santa Monica Pier was in its heyday as the "Pleasure Pier" is the historic carousel building once known as Looff's Hippodrome, named after carousel builder Charles I.D. Looff and built in 1916. The third and current vintage carousel inside is Philadelphia Toboggan Company's #62 carousel, built in 1922 and relocated from Venice in 1947. The antique wooden horses and other animals in the menagerie all gallop along to the sound of a Wurlitzer band organ.
Today, the Santa Monica Pier's own modern-day amusement park, Pacific Park, features a solar-powered Ferris wheel and nearly a dozen other family-friendly rides. Other pier attractions include the family-friendly Heal the Bay Aquarium (adjacent to the carousel building), sportfishing decks (no license required and onsite rentals are available), the whimsical Pier Playground, and the first-ever location of Hot Dog On a Stick, which opened in 1946 in its existing structure.
3. Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Beach
The Redondo Beach waterfront and the King Harbor Marina area is slated for a major remodel — a "reinvention" that promises to return the pier back to its "glory days," when it once housed its own Looff carousel and was known as the "Pleasure Pier" (sometimes called the "Endless Pier"). Today's horseshoe-shaped pier structure dates back just to 1995 — and it's actually the seventh such pier to have been built in that spot since 1892!
In addition to the requisite souvenir stores and bait shops, boat rentals are available by the hour from Redondo Beach Kayak, SUP & Pedal Boat Rentals, located in the Redondo Beach Marina. It operates on weekends and most holidays (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9 a.m. to sunset. Venture out on the water and you might catch a glimpse of the sea lions that hang out in the harbor.
Once you've worked up an appetite (and some thirst), visit Redondo Beach's landmark pier eatery Tony's On the Pier, a.k.a. Old Tony's, just past the bronze bust of George Freeth, the so-called "first surfer in the U.S." who died in 1919 from the flu pandemic. Tony's "crow's nest" bar upstairs and huge bay windows in the downstairs dining room offer panoramic views of the shoreline for you to enjoy as you sip Mai tai or a "Fire Chief" cocktail, both served in a free souvenir glass.
Then, walk off your buzz down the boardwalk to Portofino Way and visit the Bill & Bob Meistrell Memorial, which honors the brothers who pioneered the first commercial neoprene wetsuits that forever changed the surfing industry. Next to it is the historical marker for The Plunge and the Lightning Racer — a 1909 bathhouse with saltwater pools (financed by Henry Huntington and reachable by taking the Pacific Electric line), which closed in 1941, and a twin racing style, wooden rollercoaster, which ran from 1913 to 1923. You can find both of them across from the Seaside Lagoon.
4. Hermosa Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach
Just a couple of miles north of the Redondo Beach Pier is the second of L.A.'s three Beach Cities, Hermosa Beach — and you can find its pier at the end of Pier Avenue, just after it crosses The Strand. Prior wooden iterations of the pier were so battered by seawater swells and storms that they had to be replaced time and again. The current concrete version, which now extends 1,140 feet into the Pacific Ocean (and is the L.A. area's longest), was constructed in 1965.
Look for the bronze Tim Kelly Lifeguard Memorial at its entrance plaza, where you can pay homage to the community leader of the South Bay's Junior Lifeguard Program who died tragically at the age of 24 in the 1960s. In fact, with its Surfers Walk of Fame, the Hermosa Beach Pier in nearly its entirety is a living memorial to the surfing elite. Annual inductees receive a plaque on the pier walkway — and past inductees since its 2003 inception have included surfboard builder Rick Stoner, pro surfer Ronnie Garner, Bill and Bob Meistrell (honorary), George Freeth (honorary), the Beach Boys, and more.
As it's owned by the City of Hermosa Beach, this pier is subject to a number of municipal regulations — which include the prohibition of alcohol consumption, smoking, pets, and jumping off the pier. And while it is considered a fishing pier, overhead casting of lines and leaving bait on the pier are also forbidden. Otherwise, just adhere to the rules set by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for pier-based sportfishing. But there's nothing, of course, keeping you from reenacting the film "La La Land," whose "City of Stars" musical number was shot on this pier.
5. Manhattan Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach
The oldest standing reinforced concrete pier on the West Coast is located in the Beach City community of Manhattan Beach — right at the end of Manhattan Beach Boulevard. The Manhattan Beach Pier celebrated its 100th birthday in 2020, although it's gone through a number of restorations, repairs and additions/extensions since its 1920 grand opening. It's a California state landmark — the only extant pier to receive such a historic designation in the L.A. area. Look for the historical marker on the right as you walk onto the pier.
Here, beach volleyball takes the spotlight, as the sand below it has been the site of the annual Manhattan Beach Open competition since 1960. Annually, winners of this pro tournament — the longest running of its kind in the world — get immortalized on the pier's MBO Walk of Fame.
At the end of the 928-foot pier is the Roundhouse Aquarium, in an octagonal-shaped pavilion that was added to the pier in 1921. Today, it's a free and family-friendly educational center that's currently open weekdays 2 to 7 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Advance reservations can be made online and are highly recommended.
Visit the pier during the day, to catch the sunset, or in November for the annual holiday pier lighting ceremony and open house, which has been an annual local tradition since 1989. The annual Manhattan Beach Holiday Fireworks show also takes place in December, with the pyrotechnics launching right off the end of the pier. This year, it's scheduled for December 12, 2021.
6. Malibu Pier, Malibu
Malibu was once known as the "Riviera of America" — and the Malibu Pier at Malibu Lagoon State Beach today is a destination for foodies, fishermen, and surfers looking to catch a wave on Surfrider Beach. The site is so significant to the history of surfing — and not just because it was Gidget's favorite spot — that in 2010, it was the first ever to be dedicated as a World Surfing Reserve.
The pier itself, originally built in 1905 for Frederick H. Rindge's Malibu Rancho operations, officially opened to the public in 1934 — although during World War II, the Coast Guard took over the end of the pier to use it as a daylight lookout station. In 1985, the California Historical Resources Commission named it a Los Angeles County Point of Historical Interest. And in 2009, the Los Angeles Conservancy gave its Preservation Award to California State Parks, the agency that owns it, for its restoration of the landmark.
Malibu Surf Shack offers surfboard rentals and surfing lessons, as well as standup paddleboard and kayak rentals and guided tours and even bodysuits. While the pier is open daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., check with individual restaurants and other businesses for their operating times. Service animals are welcome, but no pets — and no smoking anywhere or consuming alcohol outside of the licensed eateries.
7. Port Los Angeles Long Wharf, Pacific Palisades
Once the longest wooden pier in the world, the Port Los Angeles Long Wharf measured 4,720 feet long when the Southern Pacific Railroad Company completed it in 1893. Nicknamed the "Mile Long Pier" and "Mammoth Wharf," this freight train pier only lasted four years before the area's major seaport activity shifted from Santa Monica Bay to San Pedro Bay, a.k.a. today's "Port of Los Angeles."
Unfortunately, there's nothing left of the old wharf to see today — but the site is marked by a plaque mounted on some old railroad ties and tracks next to a flagpole at the Will Rogers State Beach Lifeguard Headquarters.
Look for the white-and-brown signs on either side of the PCH, and enter the beach parking area (for a fee) across from Temescal Canyon Road. Head north through the surface lot just past lifeguard tower 13 and the public showers.
BONUS: Venice Fishing Pier, Venice Beach
The circa 1963 concrete fishing pier at the end of West Washington Boulevard off of Venice Beach has been closed for repairs since 2018, in the wake of a destructive electrical fire. When it reopens (slated for Summer 2021), it will welcome back those interested in fishing and history — as it's the last remaining Venice pier among several that have been lost (Atlantic Pier, Kinney Amusement Pier, Pickering Pleasure Pier, Sunset Pier, Lick Pier and so on). Hours will be 6 a.m. to midnight daily.