Monterey County piers
Still Water Cove Pier
Overview: A nondescript plank span of 350 feet or so, but arguably the top pier destination in the state when it comes to tranquil, natural scenery. No restaurants or shops. (This is not to be confused with Stillwater Cove Regional Park in Sonoma County near Ft. Ross.)
Notable views: Staggering scenery no matter where you look. Even by the high standards of California coastline gazing, this spot is special. Straight ahead, facing the water, you'll see the rocky outcropping that shelters the cove. Face in the opposite direction and you'll see golfers approaching a hole at Pebble Beach. Look north and you'll see what appears to be a plein-air painting of Carmel, with towering foothills above and behind the town; look south and you'll see the start of the jagged coastline that marks the beginning of Big Sur.
Parking: Free but limited. For access, you must pay the $10 fee to drive on 17-Mile Drive.
Directions: Highway 1, exit at Pebble Beach Drive. Take Pebble Beach to the Beach & Tennis Club, turn left onto Palmero Way, then another quick left onto Cypress Club Drive. Public parking is next to the club.
Overview: Anyone hoping to find the Monterey of John Steinbeck and the famed Fisherman's Wharf near Cannery Row should know that it has long changed in character. It's now a 16-restaurant, 10-shop outdoor pedestrian mall. There are so few views (except through restaurant windows) of Monterey Bay that you'll hardly feel as though you are on a pier. Only the New Wharf Theatre, down near the pier's end, offers much in the way of character.
Background: The first pier on this site, made of stone, was built in 1846. At the pier's foot is the Old Customhouse, an adobe structure that dates to 1827 and is a California historic landmark.
Parking: A nearby pay lot is $1 an hour, with hundreds of spaces; there are a dozen free spaces along Olivier Street, although they're hard to come by.
Directions: Highway 1 merges in Monterey with Del Monte Avenue. Turn right off Del Monte at Pacific Street, then the first right at Scott Street, then a quick left onto Olivier.
Municipal Wharf No. 2
Overview: About a quarter-mile from its more famous sibling, this pier is more hard-scrabble and in some ways better reflects Monterey's fishing past. There are a few commercial businesses scattered along the pier's length, notably a co-op that sells freshly caught fish to the public as well as Loulou's Griddle in the Middle, a fun eatery.
Notable views: Nothing dramatic, but you are surrounded by Monterey Bay with water on one side and boats on the other.
Parking: Metered spaces alongside the pier as well as at its foot. Rates are about $1 an hour.
Directions: In Monterey, Highway 1 merges with Del Monte Avenue. Turn toward the water at Figueroa Street and take it to the pier.
Monterey Coast Guard Pier
Overview: The town's best pier six months of the year. During the late spring, summer and early fall months, a noisy, smelly collection of 100 or more sea lions and harbor seals — and the occasional sea otter — basks on the nearby rocks, soaking up the afternoon sun. There are also likely to be hundreds of Brandt's Cormorants, which favor the rocks a little higher up. The species seem to have struck a deal to ignore each other and occupy this stinky out-of-the-way spot abutting the Monterey harbor. It's a great location for kids to get a close-up look at animal life.
Parking: The gated pier is open sunrise to sunset. There is a pay station parking lot, $1 an hour, with 200-plus spaces at the base of the pier.
Directions: Take Highway 1 into Monterey until it merges with Del Monte Avenue. Take Del Monte to where it merges into Lighthouse Avenue. Follow Lighthouse a short distance. When you see San Carlos Beach Park to the left, follow Lighthouse into the parking lot. The pier is to the left, paralleling the open water.
-- Christopher Smith