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 Bay Bridge. But the real draw is the traffic (sailboats to freighters) in the channel.
—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.
—Manhattan Beach Pier, Los Angeles County: L.A.'s most charming pier. The rounded end — a novelty of its 1922 design — is capped with the fanciful two-story Roundhouse, which includes the Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium. In early morning or late afternoon, it's a photo op waiting just for you.
—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 World War I-era tanker whose only journey was to this spot. It briefly became an entertainment destination in the early '30s. That failed, and waves now wash around its remnants. Easily the strangest sight from a California pier.
—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.