Up and down the East and West coasts of the U.S., and along some of its best lakefronts, you’ll find incredible piers. Many are occupied by classic seaside amusement parks and additional perks for visitors. Others simply provide an idyllic place to take a walk out over the water or watch the sunset.
This week’s Bucket List brings you seven of the best piers in the country. Whether you’re planning a spring break trip or thinking ahead to summer vacation, these destinations and their iconic piers are begging for a spot on your itinerary.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Unique among the others on this list, Chicago's Navy Pier is lake based. With more than nine million people visiting each year, and for good reason, it has been called the most-visited attraction in the entire Midwest. While many locals will tell visitors to avoid the crowds, Navy Pier is a Chicago landmark with plenty to offer. The 3,300-foot pier packs an impressive list of attractions into its 50 or so acres. Located on Lake Michigan's shoreline on Chicago's Near North Side, Navy Pier is home to an indoor botanical garden, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Children's Museum, a Ferris wheel and other amusement park rides, an IMAX theater, as well as a concert venue. A variety of entertainment and sightseeing boat cruises also depart from the pier, like the popular Seadog speed boat and the tall ship Windy. During warm weather months, Navy Pier also hosts weekly firework shows on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
Photo by LWimages, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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In the early 1900s, New York City's Chelsea Piers were a prominent passenger ship terminal for big name ocean liners like the Lusitania, Carpathia and, had it made it, the Titanic. Today the piers are a sports and entertainment hub home to the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex, which includes basketball courts, indoor soccer fields, a rock climbing wall, gymnastics training facility, dance studios, bowling alley, batting cages, ice rinks, as well as a driving range and golf club. With so many options for working up an appetite, it should be no surprise that the piers are also home to a variety of restaurants, including Chelsea Craft Brewing Company and the all-glass dinner cruise boat Bateaux.
Photo by Roman Kruglov, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Kids and kids at heart will love Morey's Piers along the boardwalk in Wildwoods, New Jersey. The island is home to not one, but three piers that are modeled after a classic seaside amusement park with more than 100 rides. Dating back to 1969, the piers have been family owned ever since. They feature amusement park favorites like a wooden rollercoaster and a Ferris wheel, as well as a teacup ride and carousel. The piers also have bumper cars, batting cages, a Grand Pix raceway and more. If all that doesn't sound entertaining enough, there are two adjacent waterparks for good measure.
Photo by Jackie Allen, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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One of the most recognizable piers in the country, California's Santa Monica Pier has been a favorite for more than 100 years. The pier is home to Pacific Park, an amusement park with an assortment of rides and attractions like a Ferris wheel, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, shops and restaurants, an arcade and even a trapeze school. Adjacent the pier you'll also find the original Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome, a national landmark that dates back to 1916. Santa Monica Pier has been featured in an impressive list of films and television shows, including Forest Gump, Titanic, A Night at the Roxbury, Three's Company, The Amazing Race, Gilmore Girls and many, many more.
Photo by ilirjan rrumbullaku, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Pier 39 is a San Francisco icon. Visit and you'll find countless attractions, including restaurants, an aquarium, arcade, shops and amusement park rides. One of its most famous draws are the resident sea lions that can be observed lounging off the pier on docks in San Francisco Bay. You can also catch a glimpse of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from Pier 39.
Photo by Airwolfhound, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Texas' Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is relatively new, having officially opened in 2012. The original pier, which dated back to the mid-1940s, and many of its attractions were destroyed by hurricane. The one that stands in its place today is home to a variety of amusement park rides and games, including a Ferris wheel and a rollercoaster called the Iron Shark.
Photo by IsleShire, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Cocoa Beach Pier, formerly Cape Canaveral Pier, is a Florida landmark that dates back to 1962. The pier extends 800 feet over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cocoa Beach and is a cherished attraction by locals, visitors and especially surfers. Cocoa Beach has been dubbed the surfing capital of the East Coast and the pier was home to one of the first Ron Jon Surf Shops. It also has a handful of restaurants to offer, including the award-winning Atlantic Ocean Grille, as well as several bars and shops.
Photo by Matthew Paulson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0