San Clemente Pier in Orange County

From the San Clemente Pier, the view of land trumps the view out to sea. Cliffs showcase buildings and homes that riff on classic Spanish Colonial design. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

San Clemente Pier

Overview: This 1,296-foot wood-plank pier, built in 1928 and refurbished several times, is springy. There is a benign ambience here, which extends to the Hawaiian vibe at the Pier Shack & Grill at the end of the pier. There, a Spam musubi (a grilled slab of Spam on a block of rice wrapped with nouri seaweed), Loco Moco (hamburger, egg, gravy) and the equally goopy pepper belly (corn chips, chili and cheese) are low-cost.

Notable views: Gazing inland trumps looking out to sea. Atmospheric cliffs show off a California seaside town with Spanish Colonial touches. Meanwhile, Amtrak and Metrolink trains stop at the foot of the pier.

Parking: $1.50 an hour from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. at two pay lots on Del Mar Street, which winds down to the shoreline; adjacent metered spots on the street cost the same. A few free spaces are on Coronado, Alameda, Monterey and other nearby residential streets.

Directions: Exit the 5 Freeway on Avenida Palizada and turn right. In two blocks, turn left onto North El Camino Real, then turn right on Avenida del Mar. It turns into Avenida Victoria and leads to the pier.

Dana Point Pier

Overview: The only O.C. pier not over the ocean. This 150-foot spur sits between a baby beach and the Ocean Institute complex in Dana Point Harbor. The pier was built in 1970-71 and refurbished in 1988. Don't be put off — it has a pleasant, noncommercial vibe, and on weekdays, when few are about, the quiet beckons.

Notable views: Dana Point's bluffs loom over the harbor's northern and western sides; the view to the south has the pleasant harbor and boats in the two marinas. To the southeast, the view is of the jetty and the ocean sparkling beyond it.

Parking: Free in several hundred or so spaces at the foot of the pier.

Directions: From Highway 1, take Green Lantern south into Dana Point Harbor. Turn right at Cove Road, then drive along the waterfront parking lots until you spot the pier.

Balboa Pier

Overview: Built in 1906, then rebuilt at various times — most recently in 1998 — this concrete walkway has a small-town charm. At the end of the pier is the original Ruby's Diner, which opened in December 1982 and occupies the historic cupola.

Notable views: Facing south, past the expanse of beach and beachfront homes, you get a distant look at the Wedge bodysurfing spot and the Newport Harbor jetty.

Parking: Two street lots next to the northern foot of the pier cost $1.50 an hour. There is metered street parking, coins only, also at $1.50 an hour. Free parking is limited to small residential streets between Palm Street and Balboa Boulevard (but don't park in the alleys).

Directions: The 55 Freeway south until it turns into Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa. Stay on it as it curves to the left and becomes Balboa Boulevard (if you see a pier to your right, ignore it — it's the Newport Beach Pier, not the Balboa Pier). Turn right onto Palm Street and then, when it dead-ends, left onto East Oceanfront Boulevard. The pier is to the right.¿

Newport Beach Pier

Overview: At 1,032 feet and with a concrete walkway, the pier makes for a good, brisk stroll, especially with Catalina Island visible on a clear day. From the foot of the pier, cross the parking lot and at the row of shops (if you see Blackie's Bar, you're in the right area), look for the 24-hour Seaside Bakery, 2108 W. Oceanfront Ave. Locals and Yelpers alike go nuts for its savory jalapeño ham-and-cheese croissant.

Background: The first pier in this location was built in 1888 by would-be shipping tycoons Robert and James McFadden. The McFaddens did well for a bit — by 1896, they had bought the surrounding land that would become Newport Beach for $1 an acre — but the burgeoning port of San Pedro to the north depleted demand and the McFaddens sold out in 1902. Their pier continued as a mecca for fishermen and tourists until 1940, when it was dismantled and replaced by the current version.¿

Parking: $1.50 an hour in the metered lot at the foot of the pier. There are also metered spots on nearby streets for the same price. Free spaces on residential blocks off of 21st and 22nd streets are rarely open.

Directions: The 55 Freeway south until it turns into Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa. Just as it begins to curve to the left, turn right onto 22nd Street, then right on West Oceanfront and a left to stay on West Oceanfront, and then park in one of the lots.