Take a stroll in the California sunshine, breathing in the tang of ocean air while waves roll ashore under your feet — and do it without getting your feet wet and while staying within easy reach of food and amusements. And while you're at it, do a little saltwater fishing.
It all happens on some of the piers that stab out into the Pacific from the California coast, mostly in the southern end of the state.
These are not garden-variety docks like the one where your cousin Vern parks his bass boat. There are structures like the Santa Monica Pier — www.santamonicapier.org/ — a combination amusement park and shopping area that stretches about 1,000 feet over the water. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium — www.healthebay.org/smpa/ — sits at beach level. And the Santa Monica Pier Carousel — look under "Pier Directory" — is an ornate beauty that has been fully restored. The pier might look familiar; it's been used for scenes in movies including "The Sting" and TV programs such as "Baywatch."
While you're in Santa Monica — www.santamonica.com/ — go play on its famous beach, sample its restaurants and wander through the twice-a-week farmers market.
Lots of people go to California's piers just for the view or the fresh air. But others use them for fishing, and the Santa Monica Pier is no exception. Take a look at the entry in Pier Fishing in California — tinyurl.com/2bzz5l — for descriptions of the pier's accommodations for anglers — including multilevel sections where you can get your fishing gear closer to the water — and the types of fish that swim around the pilings.
Browse through the rest of Pier Fishing in California — www.pierfishing.com/ — for the author's observations on bait and the locally available fish around other piers. The site's goal is to sell you a copy of the book, but there's also a fat list of links to Web sites for anglers and a short "events" section with fishing tournaments.
By the way, you might not need a fishing license. Go to the state Department of Fish and Game's Frequently Asked Questions — tinyurl.com/2hy2a — and search for the entry on fishing piers.
Planning to be around Santa Barbara? Spend some time on the city's Stearns Wharf — tinyurl.com/2j7doa — which this guide says was originally built in 1972 for cargo and passenger ships and now is an attraction for 5 million people a year. Try the virtual tours and photo gallery, and look at "Things to Do," including eating and looking for whales. Click on the Santa Barbara.com logo at the top of the page for more information on the area. According to the city's guide — tinyurl.com/2mqvec — Stearns is California's longest and oldest working wooden wharf.
To learn about the other piers where you can fish or just relax, Beach California has a photo gallery — www.beachcalifornia.com/piers-beach-california.html — with links to profiles, plus local information for some of them. For example, click on the shot of the Monterey Wharf and you get links to the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium, plus hotels and jazz festivals.
Another view is provided by the aptly named Southern California Fun Places — www.socalfunplaces.com/ — where "Harbors, Bays & Piers" takes you to descriptions of things to do. The entries are brief, but they come in combination with this Web site's tips on other subjects, including places to go whale watching, swimming and surfing, historic missions, scenic drives and "Fun Towns."
You probably don't want to spend your entire vacation on a pier. California's official tourism Web site — gocalif.ca.gov/ — has buckets of information on things to see and do along the coast and inland. You can search by region or by itineraries, activities and events. You'll need to scan "Getting Around" for detailed maps, and check out "Deals" to see if any of the package offerings fit your needs.