Let's call these MVPs—Must Visit Piers. Here are my choices from south to north:
—Coronado Ferry Landing, San Diego: Don't tell San Francisco, but this spot may have the most jaw-dropping city views in the state. Highlights include the snazzy skyline, whatever Navy craft are at berth and the Coronado
—Crystal Pier, San Diego County: Its trim cottages — built in 1936 and rehabbed over the years — line both sides of the pier. Each of the 21 lodgings comes with a small, private deck that looks out on the water and provide some privacy.
—San Clemente Pier, Orange County: The view of land trumps the view out to sea. Cliffs showcase buildings and homes that riff on classic Spanish Colonial design. It has the energy of a typical California coastal town but manages to be unhurried and pleasant.
—Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara: A perennial favorite. Extensive eating/shopping and a natural educational opportunity at the Ty Warner Sea Center.
—Port San Luis (Harford) Pier, San Luis Obispo County: A place-that-time-forgot ambience. It's mostly about fish, both the commercial acquisition and the consumption of them.
—San Simeon Pier, San Luis Obispo County: Where else can you look back and see Hearst Castle suspended in the distance like some fairy tale citadel? Magic on a clear day.
—Sea Cliff State Park Pier, Santa Cruz County: This nondescript 500-foot spur extends out to the Palo Alto, a cement
—Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz: Somehow this half-mile-plus structure serves up commerce and nature in a simpatico way.
—Still Water Cove Pier, Monterey County: 360-degree picture-postcards views. On a clear day, you'll see water, seashore, hills and the town of Carmel.
—Pier 41, San Francisco: If you are at Fisherman's Wharf and want stellar city and water views from a single vantage point, this is it.
—Elephant Rock Pier, Tiburon. Here's the one pier in San Francisco Bay that's not about the view. A 75-foot ramp crosses above the water, then encircles Elephant Rock. It's a good kid-friendly break.
—Point Pinole Pier, Richmond: The pier is secondary. It's the getting there, through parklands, that makes it special.
—Trinidad Pier, Humboldt County: Come September, this will be the newest pier in the state. Engineers estimate that this $8.3-million rebuild should last for at least the next half century.