Wooden piers have become a classic symbol of California beach culture, but they were initially intended for practical purposes. Built to make it possible for large ships to unload heavy cargo, wharves, as they were originally known, could cement a small city’s future as a commercial hub. That’s exactly what the Oceanside Board of Trustees promised when it began raising funds for a 1,505-foot pier back in 1887. While things didn’t necessarily go according to plan, the pier you see here today has been a favorite fishing and leisure site for over a century, and stands out as one of Oceanside’s most iconic landmarks. Read on for the story of how the pier came to be, and the best ways to make the most of your visit to this picturesque symbol of Oceanside.
A Short History of Our Long Pier
After scaling back from a design proposal that included a railroad track, the first piling for what would eventually become the Oceanside Pier was hammered into the sand in May of 1888. Relying on $28,000 pledged by local citizens, by June the city watched as shipments of lumber began arriving through the high seas (delivered, fittingly, by a captain named Starbuck). To them, it would be only a matter of months until Oceanside’s economic boom skyrocketed them to great wealth.
By August 1888, the pier extended 1,304 feet, nearly its full length, and had already become a popular local fishing spot. Unfortunately, construction halted due to a nail shortage. Then, in December, disaster struck as a winter storm swept away much of the progress.
By 1889 citizens had begun to lose faith, referring to the battered pier as “a barnacle roost.” Bad weather and theft of construction materials slowed progress, and then, in December of 1890, a winter storm washed the remaining 300 feet of pier out to sea. (You can sometimes see the remains of this first pier at the end of Wisconsin Street at low tide; the Visit Oceanside site has more detailed history and photographs.)
It wasn’t until 1894 that Oceanside’s first pier was officially completed, in a new site at the end of Pier Way (then called Third Street). The Oceanside Pier still stands there today, having been replaced six times, most recently in 1987. Today it draws fishermen and visitors from far and wide, and its timeless image has come to represent leisurely days spent at the SoCal shore.
6 Great Ways to Spend a Day at the Pier
GO FISHING Follow in the footsteps of centuries of O’siders and drop a line off the pier. Anyone is welcome to fish, but you must obtain a license first (it’s fast and easy). A charming built-in bait and tackle shop partway down the pier supplies everything you need to cast off and collect your catch, which could be croakers near the shore, larger halibut and sea bass further out, and even mackerel and bonito.
WATCH THE SUNSET The pier is a beloved place to watch the sun sink behind the waves, offering an epic array of colors to capture on camera. Many visitors take shots of the pier itself from shore, but walk out a bit to find unique vantage points of the horizon.
VISIT CHARLIE THE PELICAN Cheeky, prehistoric-looking brown pelicans are a common sight on the pier, but one special pelican has earned a role as Oceanside’s unofficial mascot: Charlie is a fixture outside the Pier Bait Shop, where he and his pals — whom locals have dubbed Mike, Three Toes, Chompers, and Boo — hang out to clean up after the fishermen. Remember the birds are part of Oceanside’s precious ecosystem, so please treat them with respect.
WATCH A SURF COMPETITION Many of Oceanside’s major surf events take place directly beside the pier, including August’s family-friendly Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club Contest and its accompanying beach festival. Later in the month, you can watch athletes do incredible tricks sans boards during the World Bodysurfing Championships. September brings the Super Girl Surf Pro, the only women’s Association of Professional Surfing (ASP) qualifying event in North America.
PAINT THE PIER While it’s not technically on the pier, you’ll get the best view in town from Mission Pacific’s rooftop, where Paint, Sip, and Gaze happens every Friday from 5:30–7:30pm. Our art expert provides all the supplies and instruction you need to create your own portrait of the pier — not to mention a glass of wine or cocktail for creative inspiration.
EXPLORE THE SUNSET MARKET Just steps from the foot of the pier, the Oceanside Sunset Market takes place every Thursday from 5 to 9pm. International food vendors dish up everything from El Salvadoran pupusas to fresh sashimi and Belgian waffles. There’s also a marketplace for local crafts and live music, plus a kid-friendly play area with games.