Choose your own adventure at our 4 favorite coastal playgrounds.
Most throwback charm. From the tip-top of the Ferris wheel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, you can hear the rickety rumbles of the 1920s wooden Giant Dipper and see the sand below quilted with bright beach towels. The hand-carved carousel is over 100 years old. beachboardwalk.com
The mother of them all. Hail the grande dame of piers: Santa Monica (pictured). This SoCal icon stretches 1,600 feet into the Pacific and has the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, trapeze lessons, bumper cars, funnel cakes, and a Twilight Dance Series (free; Sep). santamonicapier.org
Best for nature-philes. Seaside’s 1920s promenade—“the Prom”—extends 11/2 miles north-south, so you get to see a lot of northern Oregon coast. Bike it, skate it, stroll it, or just gaze at gorgeously green Tillamook Head and sea grass blowing in the white sand. seasideor.com
A seafood-lover’s pier. There’s something nautically old-fashioned about Avila Beach, California’s Harford Pier. And we love Pete’s Pierside Cafe, the sea-directly-to-your-taco-shell operation. Best ever. avilabeachpier.com