Pier Review: Orange County’s Five Coastal Treasures

Five Main Piers to Visit, Explore and Taste in the OC



here are five main piers in Orange County; one in Seal Beach, one in Huntington Beach, two in Newport Beach, and one in San Clemente. So you might be thinking, “Ok, a pier is a pier, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Maybe other places are like that, but not here! Our piers each bring their own experiences, styles, activities and flavors. If you’re nearby, planning a trip, or just happen to be in the neighborhood, you should definitely take advantage of what we’re so lucky to have.


Seal Beach:

I have a lot of love for Seal Beach. I have memories of my grandma jogging me in a stroller on the bumpy, wooden pier then taking me down the ramp to the park that was right next to it. Even though that was decades ago, Seal Beach has remained pretty much the same. A lot of the shops and restaurants on the historic Main Street are the same as when I was a kid. It’s been able to maintain its quiet charm over the years, and that’s why everyone loves it so much.

One of my favorite places to grab breakfast is Nick’s Deli. They’re known for their breakfast burritos, and trust me, you’re going to want to try the salsa. They’re a quick, cash-only business, and they’re usually busy. What I like to do is to call ahead and place the order to-go, pick it up, then walk down to the benches on the grassy area overlooking the ocean. If you’re more in the mood for dining in, I suggest Crema Cafe for their sweet and savory crepes.

After you stroll through the boutiques and the must-see California Sea Shell Company, head over to The Abbey for lunch. You have to try the Asian Nachos! If you’re in the mood for a swim afterward, the ocean stays pretty calm for the most part. Want an escape? Try Bistro St. Germain for dinner. Their rich, French flavors and warm atmosphere are perfect for stirring up a good conversation. If you plan it right, you can probably catch a wine and paint class there.

Want something a little less quiet? O’Malley’s On Main serves delicious tavern-style food (and lots of Guinness). By the end of the night, if you’re craving a little sugar, Sweet Jill’s can help you out with that. From there the pier is a short walk, but beautiful to go down. It’s incredibly tranquil at night. The stars are so bright, and you can see the city lights from Huntington and Long Beach on either side of you. It’s definitely a perfect day to spend with a special someone.

Huntington Beach:

Orange County Beaches
Photo Courtesy of Surf City USA

Maybe I’m biased because I’m a local, but the Huntington Beach pier should be a destination for everyone to visit. And not just because it’s Surf City, USA. In the past few years, this main area has turned into a booming beach-side mecca.

To start your day, there’s a favorite, family-owned breakfast joint called Sugar Shack. It has large portions and fast, friendly service. It gets packed pretty quickly, so keep that in mind. After you eat, you may want to walk off your pancakes on the pier. It’s fairly long and has an incredible view behind the Ruby’s Diner at the end. Out of all the piers in OC, Huntington probably has the best shopping. Most of the shops immediately next to Main Street are big name surf brands like HSS and Jack’s, but there’s Forever 21 and Irene’s Story not too far away.

There are a lot of lunch options nearby. There’s Bruxie if you’re looking for chicken and waffles, there’s Sushi On Fire, or if you really want a true HB experience, go to Fred’s Mexican Cantina for a margarita and an ocean view.

Huntington Beach’s newest attraction, however, is Pacific City. It’s an outdoor mall with mainstream shops (MAC, H&M, Urban Outfitters) and fantastic food. It’s an easy walk from Main Street, and definitely worth the trip if you’re a foodie or a shopaholic. Keep in mind that Tuesday evenings are the Farmer’s Market that takes over Main Street, which you should try to catch if you can, and on weekend afternoons there is another open-air market closer to the pier.

Newport Beach:

Photo by: Ben McBee

Newport is lucky enough to have two piers. The northernmost of the two is the Newport Municipal Pier. If you get there early enough (and I mean early), you can jump in line at the Dory Fleet Fish Market. It’s a very popular market, but if you plan it right, the freshness and price of the fish and shellfish are so worth it. If you plan on making this an all-day trip, you may want to have a cooler ready in the car.

While you’re waiting in line (if the smell of fish won’t kill your appetite) enjoy a breakfast treat from Seaside Donuts. If you’re on a low-carb diet, try Bonzai Bowls. Like most beaches, bike riding is a popular pastime at Newport. If you get hungry, there are plenty of quick bites near the pier. One of my family’s favorites is Avila’s El Ranchito. One sniff of the fajitas and you’ll probably be more hooked than a fisherman’s catch. If you miss it in NB, there are locations at HB and Seal, too.

Afterward, it’s time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Newport Beach pier is very quiet, more so than Balboa, until nightfall at least. The bar scene on Newport is pretty fun, and yes, your Hawaiian shirt is more than appropriate. If you’re looking for fine dining, I would suggest 21 Oceanfront. They have a scrumptious menu for food and drink, a gorgeous view, and sometimes live musical guests. It’s not a bad way to spend or start an evening.

The calm atmosphere of the Newport Pier is probably better suited for adults. Whether you have kids, or you’re still a kid at heart, head over to the Balboa Pier. Nothing beats the nostalgic Balboa Pier, although new things are on the horizon for this pier — stay tuned!

Grab breakfast at Orange Blossom Cafe. I’m a huge fan of their delicious crepes and smoothies. A scrumptious meal paired with their ocean view will let you ease into your fun-packed day. After breakfast, head over to the admissions-free Fun Zone where you can pay as you play. For the active bunch, try bungee jumping, catching a ride on a giant swing, or climbing a palm tree. If you’re looking for something a bit more relaxing, there’s plenty of scenery to indulge in.

Later, take a break on the famous Ferris Wheel. If breakfast is starting to wear off, get a snack at Jane’s Corn Dogs. A Balboa Bar (my favorite) or a frozen banana (my mom’s favorite) will settle your sweet tooth. If you’re ready for lunch, stroll down to Ruby’s on the end of the pier. It’s not too long of a walk, and let’s face it, it’s sort of a tradition. What I like to do is skip lunch and survive on snack food, so I’m good and hungry for a big dinner.

Newport Landing has a great menu and view, or you can continue your extended cheat meal with some baby back ribs at Balboa Bar-B-Que. Then for dessert, you can find out if you like the Balboa Bar or the Frozen Banana better. It’s always good to double-check before you pick sides. After you treat your belly, treat your eyes to another walk around. Enjoy the lit-up Ferris Wheel and catching the reflection of the lights in the water. It’s a classic end to a classic day.

San Clemente:

Photo by: D. Colwell

The most southbound pier is in San Clemente. One of its most popular features is its railway, which is good if you’re coming in from out of town (you don’t have to worry about parking that way). After your arrival, get a pick-me-up at Bear Coast Coffee for a light bite. Plan your day around walking, shopping and eating. Definitely, wear comfy shoes!

An amazing part of this pier is that it’s close to a plethora of tasty restaurants if you don’t mind a good walk. Honestly, the only bad thing about San Clemente I can find is that my appetite isn’t endless enough to try every eatery. There’s a restaurant for pretty much any style you may be craving. And speaking of good eats, you can always find the San Clemente Farmer’s Market every Sunday from 9 am to 1 pm.

Personally, I’m more of an explorer and a taste-tester, so if you’re like me, staying in one place may be a little tough. A genius feature of San Clemente is the free trolley that’ll take you up the main road to the Del Mar shopping district or even all the way out to the outlets. If you’d rather stay closer to the sand, the beach and the park are always a hit for family fun. Just come prepared and with a plan if you want to snag a fire pit for a bonfire later that evening. If you’re not planning on dining beside an open flame, make room for delicious pier-side seafood at The Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar. I’m pretty sure I’ve had a couple of dreams about their crab cakes and calamari.

We are so fortunate to have these places in our own backyards. They are ideal stay-cation destinations, and each one offers entirely different opportunities. There is one thing they can all guarantee; with salty air and good company, it’s bound to be a perfect day.


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