Think California, and sun, sand, and the swells of the Pacific Ocean might first come to mind. The Golden State maximizes its seaside scenery with a variety of piers and boardwalks along the coast that provide your group with easy access to diverse opportunities for sightseeing, dining, shopping, cycling, walking—and, of course, people watching.

In Los Angeles, most group tours head straight to the Santa Monica Pier, an iconic symbol of Southern California with its Pacific Park amusements—including its solar-powered Ferris Wheel and the West Coaster roller coaster that rises 55 feet above the ocean. On the pier is also Heal the Bay Aquarium below the carousel and bountiful food courts. The 1,600-foot pier is also the terminus of historic Route 66. Constructed in 1909 as a public utility for the city, the pier’s Looff Hippodrome is now a National Historic Landmark. With a colorful, multisensory event backdrop, visitors often happen upon film and fashion shoots, concerts, romantic moments, and celebrity sightings while on the pier. For selfies and making group memories, the vibrant blue and gold Santa Monica Yacht Harbor neon sign is one of the most popular spots in Los Angeles.

For a more laid-back excursion, the Manhattan Beach Pier has its own photogenic charm. While only 928 feet long, the bustling pier has turquoise-blue steel railings setting off the red-roofed roundhouse at the end, which houses the Roundhouse Aquarium Teaching Center. Palm trees line the parking lot, with a plethora of shops, cafes, and restaurants at the pier entrance.

The pier’s real claim to fame, however, is its sand and surf. While beach volleyball originated in Hawaii, Manhattan Beach is where the game is played. The smooth sand is always dotted with volleyball nets and home to the annual pro volleyball tournament, the Manhattan Beach Open. And what’s sand without surf? The International Surf Festival is also a big draw to Manhattan Beach every summer.

Up the coast, at San Francisco’s 45-acre Pier 39, your group can enjoy activities galore. Cruise the bay with the Blue & Gold Fleet. Take a twirl around the handcrafted two-level Italian carousel. Watch the famous sea lions heaved up on the floats and learn more about them at the Sea Lion Center. Visit the Aquarium of the Bay. Enjoy the Players Sports Grill & Arcade or get lost in Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. The Flyer Thrill Zone & 7D Experience will take your breath away as your group competes in an out-of-this-world gaming experience. Street performers, musicians, sailing charters, whale tours, and an array of dining experiences—including Forbes Island, the only man-made floating island restaurant in the world—makes Pier 39 a must-see for any group outing.

By C. L. Lefevre

Main Image: Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles; Credit: Unsplash/Matthew Lejune