Great Gathering Spots for Groups

From the beginning, piers have been a place where people gathered. In colonial times, the wooden piers were an economic engine of port cities luring workers from the U.S. and abroad. Agricultural products and goods were imported and exported. Fishermen brought their catch to the pier, where the fish were processed and sold. This economic vibrancy attracted shops, restaurants and pubs. Soon attractions sprung up to entertain and educate pier workers, their families and a growing number of pier visitors.

Around the turn of the 20th century, some cities built piers to serve the infant, yet growing, cruise industry. Other cities built a new concept - the pleasure pier - designed to entice visitors to beach areas. Visionary businessmen sought the fastest, largest, most unusual roller coasters, carousels, Ferris wheels and other thrill rides. They built fun zones, arcades and entertainment venues on the piers. It worked! People swarmed by the thousands to these piers drawn by the amusement parks, festivities, pier fishing and the novelty of walking above the ocean waters.

During World War II, the military converted and used many existing piers for defensive purposes, training or transporting troops or rest and relaxation for military trainees. Other piers fell into disrepair during this time. Following the war, piers became gathering spots again, mainly as fishing and pleasure places.

Piers Across the USA

Piers, in the new millennium, are an important part of a city or town's economic engine for tourism, both as an attraction and gathering place for locals and visitors. Many pier and waterfront buildings are now historic treasures and National Historic Landmarks. They feature some of an area's oldest architecture and vestiges of the past, such as historical sailing vessels, vintage shops, bars and restaurants on cobblestone streets. Many piers are part of a waterfront area that includes parks, ferry and ship terminals, promenades and public spaces perfect for fairs and festivals, fishing and sports tournaments and picnics. As in yesteryear, piers provide a way to stroll out over the water for sightseeing: to see a city skyline, watch a beach event or get closer to the water for fishing. Others piers are continuing the pleasure pier tradition offering visitors a chance to soar to new heights on an over-water platform.

Throughout history, storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and other natural and man-made disasters destroyed piers across the country, only to be refurbished, restored, renovated, rebuilt, repurposed and even improved countless times. Today's piers may be built of wood, concrete or steel and concrete.

In this issue, highlights 30 piers in 10 states among the hundreds across the USA. They represent a variety of things to do and places to meet or dine for groups to enjoy. The following Atlas section references each pier's home state.
Enjoy the TRIP!

Boston, MA
Boston Skyline Boston Fish Pier: Located in South Boston, directly across the harbor from Logan International Airport and a short distance from Boston's financial district.
Pier Opened: 1915 Points of Interest: The Boston Fish Pier has the distinction of being the oldest continuously working fish pier in the US. Even though fishing and fish processing are still its primary functions, the Pier has some new ventures. The Exchange Conference Center, formerly the home of the Pier's historic Fish Exchange building, is a multi-purpose facility for corporate and private functions with breathtaking views of the Boston skyline and Harbor.

Commonwealth Pier/Seaport World Trade Center: South Boston.
Pier Opened: 1901 Points of Interest: Once the largest pier building in the world accommodating the largest vessels in Boston Harbor, today this landmark is an 800,000 square foot facility for exhibition space and offices. It connects to the Seaport Hotel, a 428-room hotel encompassing 180,000 square feet of venue space with 40+ meeting and function spaces.

Long Wharf - North Pier: Located in Boston's highly visited Downtown area.
Pier Opened: 1721 Points of Interest: Long Wharf is home to the Marriott Long Wharf, restaurants, shops and passenger ferry services. The Wharf is near many Boston attractions including the adjacent New England Aquarium.
Explore Boston Harbor via the 39-mile HarborWalk, a network of
trails and walkways through waterfront neighborhoods and the
downtown district. When completed, the HarborWalk will be 47 miles.
(Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)

New York, NY
Pier 17: At South Street Seaport on the East River in Lower Manhattan.
Pier Opened: Pre-1783 Points of Interest: By 1830, the 2-mile stretch of South Street piers handled more goods than all of the other East Coast ports, combined. Today, 9,000,000 annual visitors enjoy the maritime history of this designated historic district with its cobblestone streets and 19-century brick buildings. Pier 17 provides world-class art and entertainment. While discussions of Pier 17 renovation persist, the area's attractions, shops, restaurants & special events attract locals and visitors year-round.
Pier 17
Pier 17 at New York City's South Street Seaport is a
year-round gathering spot for tourists and residents.
Chelsea Piers
Pier 59 - 62: Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex.
Pier Opened: 1910 Points of Interest: Built on the Hudson River, Chelsea Piers were New York's premier passenger ship terminal welcoming the world's great ocean liners. The Titanic was to arrive here in 1912. In 1995, Chelsea Piers opened as a 28-acre waterfront sports village housing a variety of venues for team building programs, meetings, weddings and parties.
The Chelsea Piers works with companies to design custom Team Building programs focusing on business objectives, goals and level of physical involvement. (Photo credit: Scott McDermont)
Piers 92/94: Trade show and special event venues.
Pier Opened: 1935 Points of Interest: These Piers were built on the Hudson River to replace the Chelsea Piers as New York's luxury liner terminal as new, bigger ships had outgrown Chelsea Piers. Now, in the heart of Manhattan at 55th Street and West Side Highway, Piers 92/94 are premier tradeshow and special event venues. Connected by a welcoming headhouse, Pier 92 features 75,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit or event space and Pier 94 offers 133,000 square feet. The open space, high ceilings and column-free corridors set the stage for a variety of configurations and flexible spaces.
Piers 92/94
New York's Piers 92/94 are home to art, fashion &
design events in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
Chicago, IL  
Navy Pier: 3,300-foot long Pier on Lake Michigan.
Pier Opened: 1916 Points of Interest: When Navy Pier opened, it was the largest pier in the world, built to handle shipping and entertainment. Today, with 8.6 million visitors each year, this lakefront playground is Chicago's #1 tourist attraction. The Pier and its grounds encompass 50+ acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants and entertainment. The Pier's iconic 15-story Ferris wheel delivers beautiful city and Lake Michigan views. Also at the Pier amusement park is a carousel, miniature golf course, and remote control boats. Other attractions include the Chicago Children's Museum, IMAX Theatre, Funhouse Maze, sightseeing boat tours and dinner cruises, Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, Cirque Shanghai (May 24-September 3, 2012), Landshark Beer Garden and a host of seasonal fireworks, festivals and events. The Pier is in the planning stages for a $155+ million renovation of its public portions, making them more park-like.

When it comes to events, Navy Pier offers several unique venues:
  • First, Festival Hall is the main exhibition space with 170,100 sq. ft. of flexible exhibition space, accommodating up to 900 10x10 booths. This space has theater seating for 2,000, classroom seating for 1,240 and banquet sets for 1,500. The Hall offers 36 meeting rooms with 44,000 sq. ft. of flexible space.

  • Another venue, Lakeview Terrace, features views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline and accommodates groups up to 1,000.

  • For an outdoor venue, the Rooftop is an option available from May 1 - October 31.

  • The Grand Ballroom may be one Chicago's grandest settings with a 80-foot domed ceiling and panoramic views of Lake Michigan. Built in 1916, the Grand Ballroom blends the magnificence of the past with all of today's amenities and services.

Chicago's Navy Pier
Chicago Children's Museum at the Navy Pier entrance.

Chicago Skyline and Festival Hall

Chicago skyline and Navy Pier featuring Festival Hall.
(Photo credit: Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau)

Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach State Park Pier
Second Avenue Pier: Newly renovated southern anchor of the Boardwalk.
Pier Opened: 1936 Points of Interest: One of 8 Piers in Myrtle Beach, the Second Avenue Pier is a Grand Strand landmark. It offers great fishing. Daily fishing passes cost $9; popular fish include flounder, Spanish and king mackerel and sea trout. The Pier is also known for beautiful beach views while dining in the new restaurant and open-air bar. Fireworks from the Pier begin at 9:30pm on Wednesdays, weather permitting.

14th Avenue Pier: Northernmost portion of the Boardwalk and Promenade.
Pier Opened: 1926 Points of Interest: 14th Avenue Pier is a fun spot for enjoying the outdoors whether fishing from the Pier, getting a cold drink from the outdoor bar, shopping in the gift shop or watching the sunset. At night, the Pier 14 Restaurant & Lounge becomes a seafood house.
Myrtle Beach State Park Pier
(Photo credit: Myrtle Beach State Park)
Florida's Space Coast
Cocoa Beach Pier: 800-foot long fishing pier.
Pier Opened: 1962 Points of Interest: Surf spectators love the Cocoa Beach Pier, a surfing hot spot. They enjoy the Pier's 5 restaurants, 4 bars, numerous shops and free live musical entertainment. Steady waves, year-round warm weather and world-class surf shops are a few reasons why Cocoa Beach is recognized as the East Coast surfing capital of the USA. Every year, thousands of surfers from across the globe visit Cocoa Beach to experience the same waves where some of the best surfers in the world learned their craft. This area is home to the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world's largest surf complex - Cocoa Beach Surf Co. and the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. Cocoa Beach Pier hosts world-renowned surfing competitions including the Ron Jon Easter Surfing Festival and National Kidney Foundation Labor Day Surfing Festival.

Titusville Veterans Memorial Fishing Pier: Locally known as the "World's Longest Free Fishing Pier".
Pier Opened: Early 1900s Points of Interest: What kind of fish are biting at this Pier? Fisherman catch flounder, king and Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, snapper, trout, weakfish, whiting. In the spring and fall, bluefish and Spanish mackerel are biting. In the late summer and early fall, fisherman look to catch sea bass and tarpon.
Cocoa Beach Pier
Aerial of End of Cocoa Beach Pier, Beach and Surfers
(Courtesy of the Space Coast Office of Tourism)
Sarasota, FL  
Venice Fishing Pier
T. J. "Tony" Saprito Fishing Pier: Near downtown Sarasota at the end of John Ringling Causeway.
Re-Opened: 2008 Points of Interest: Saprito Fishing Pier is the largest fishing pier and one of the most popular fishing hot spots in Sarasota County. This area is known for entertaining visitors for hours because of its park-like setting, good fishing, great places for taking walks and spotting dolphins and all kinds of birds. Located underneath the Ringling Bridge, the Pier is close to the Ringling Causeway Park and Hart's Landing, providing fishing bait needs. The area has plenty of benches and a gazebo.

Venice Pier: Fishing Pier in the Gulf of Mexico.
Re-Opened: 2004 Points of Interest: The 700-foot long Pier is a great location for fishing and watching a beautiful sunset at the end of a day. Open 24/7, this Pier does not require a fishing license because the city pays the yearly fishing license covering anyone who fishes from the Pier. Connected to the Pier, Sharky's on the Pier is the only restaurant for beach-front, gulfview dining. Other Pier amenities include a bait shop, nearby picnic shelters and sand volleyball courts.
Venice Fishing Pier at Sharky's Restaurant
(Photo credit:
Galveston & Rockport - Fulton, TX  
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier: On the Galveston Seawall.
Opened: 1940s/2012 Points of Interest: Built in the 1940s as a recreational facility for the military, the Pier was turned over to the city after World War II. At that time, Galveston's Pleasure Pier was the largest of its kind in the country. Top dance bands played in the huge ballroom, patrons filled the open-air stadium to watch movies and guests lined up for the midway rides and concessions. The Pier was an iconic destination for decades until it was destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1961. In 1965, the Flagship Hotel opened on the site but was severely damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. The new $60 million family-oriented Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier opened May 2012. It is 120 feet wide and extends approximately 1,130 feet over the Gulf of Mexico. Building on its heritage, the historical elements of the Pier bring back memories of what this destination was known for in the late 1940s. Traditional rides include a 36-foot diameter, double-decker carousel, a 100-foot tall Ferris Wheel, a steel roller coaster with a 100-foot vertical climb, a 200-foot tall swing recognized as the highest ride in Texas. Known for providing great experiences for groups, Landry's Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. opened its first-ever Texas location on this Pier.

Copano Bay State Fishing Pier: A recreational pier used primarily for fishing.
Opened: 1967 Points of Interest: Formerly a causeway over the Copano Bay in Rockport, the road was converted into an excellent fishing pier when the new Causeway opened. The pier's middle section was removed for boat traffic. Now, the south side of the pier is 2,500 feet and the north side is 6,190 feet. Facilities on both sides include concession buildings with fishing supplies, bait, fish cleaning services, snack bar and boat launching ramp. The pier is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is lighted year round.
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Few spots in the world have as many rides over the
water as the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier.
(Photo credit: Billy Hill)
Gulf Shores, AL  
Gulf State Park Pier Gulf State Park Pier: Largest pier over the water in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pier Opened: 2009 Points of Interest: Following the destruction of the old pier by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Alabama's new Gulf State Park Pier is 1,540 feet long, 20 feet wide and rises 20 feet above the water. Its new features include indoor seating for the concession area and restrooms, an indoor retail area for tackle and souvenirs, picnic tables, comfort stations and a snack bar. Fishermen love the new 65-foot octagon capping the pier because it extends over the second sandbar. The big fish, like cobia, king mackerel and tarpon, live here. Fishing is available 24/7 with a fishing license; an annual fishing pier license may be purchased at the pier for $11.
The new Gulf State Park Pier is the largest pier on the
Gulf of Mexico at 1,540 feet long and 41,800 sq. ft.
Mississippi Gulf Coast  
Schooner Pier Complex: Located on Beach Boulevard, Biloxi.
Pier Opened: 2006 Points of Interest: Following Hurricane Katrina, the new Schooner Pier Complex was rebuilt with 3 pavilions, handicapped accessible restrooms, a second story observation deck and an area for a future gift shop. The Pier is also home for the two Biloxi Schooner replicas, Glenn L. Swetman and Mike Sekul. These living examples of maritime history are available for day sailing or charter accommodating up to 49 passengers for weddings, dockside parties, receptions, birthdays and other events.

Coliseum Pier: Across from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum and Convention Center.
Pier Opened: 2010 Points of Interest: Following Hurricane Katrina, the Coliseum Pier was rebuilt as a 900-foot long public pier, perfectly positioned along the water to provide a great gathering and fishing spot. Fishermen report catching Sheepshead, croaker, white trout, flounder and Spanish mackerel in the fall.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Piers
Net casting from a pier on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
(Courtesy of the Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB)
San Francisco, CA  
Pier 39 in San Francisco
Pier 39: Shopping center and tourist destination.
Opened: 1905 Points of Interest: Pier 39 is one of San Francisco's most popular tourist attractions, visited by millions of San Francisco locals and tourists each year. This 45-acre waterfront entertainment complex features 110 specialty shops, and 14 full-service restaurants with 2,500+ seats serving seafood, Italian, American, Japanese, California cuisine and casual fare. Attractions include the Aquarium of the Bay, Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze, Arcade, San Francisco Carousel, famous Sea Lions, street performers as well as multiple tours. No matter where they are on the Pier, visitors are treated to picturesque views of San Francisco icons like Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Fisherman's Wharf and the San Francisco skyline. Pier 39 is able to accommodate groups up to 2,500 people.
Each year, thousands attend San Francisco Fleet Week at Pier 39.
Santa Monica, CA  
Santa Monica Pier: One of California's oldest pleasure piers.
Opened: 1909 Points of Interest: This Pier is the West Coast's only amusement park located on a pier. Each year, 4 million tourists and locals enjoy the amusement park, aquarium, 5-story roller coaster, antique carousel, 9-story ferris wheel, 200+ game arcade, the only over-water miniature golf course and trapeze school. The amusement park has a 3,200 sq. ft. covered Seaside Pavilion with spectacular views of the beach and Pacific Ocean that can host groups from 25 to 250 people. Partial park buy-outs accommodate 300 to 500 people while an exclusive, private function accommodates up to 1,800.
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier.
Photo Credit: Kristen Beinke
Huntington Beach Pier, CA  
Huntington Beach Pier: One of world's longest recreational piers, at 1,853 feet long.
Opened: 1903 Points of Interest: Also known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach hosts 30 national and International surfing competitions each year including the US Open of Surfing every July primarily because of the area's consistently large waves. Visitors to Surf City Pier have a perfect aerial view of the legendary waves, some of the world's best surfers as well as other events including professional beach volleyball tournaments like the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tournaments. Visitors also enjoy free Pier fishing, watching live music concerts, visiting weekly farmer's market and art show. At the end of this concrete pier sits the red-roofed, diner-style Ruby's Restaurant. Here, visitors feel like they are dining in the middle of the ocean.
Huntington Beach Pier
(Photo Courtesy Surf City USA)
San Clemente Pier, CA  
San Clemente Pier San Clemente Pier: A 1,296-foot long pleasure pier with spectacular ocean views.
Opened: 1928 Points of Interest: This wooden Pier offers free fishing with a on-pier bait and tackle shop, great spots to watch surfing competitions and sports activities plus indoor and outdoor restaurant dining at Fishermans Seafood Restaurant. Railroad tracks with a platform-only Amtrak train station is adjacent to the front of the Pier.
Seattle, WA  
Pier 54: Tourist Pier at the foot of Spring Street.
Opened: 1900 Points of Interest: Beginning as a shipping pier, Pier 54 had no creature comforts - like most piers of its time. When Pier 54 became the first pier to add a waiting room, tourism in the Pier District began. In 1938, Ivar Haglund rented the northeast corner of the waiting area and opened a one-room aquarium with a small fish and chips stand. Around 1945 when the aquarium closed, Ivar moved to the southeast corner of the Pier opening Ivar's Acres of Clams, a restaurant that remains one of Seattle's favorite traditions. Pier 54 also has the distinction of being home to one of the Seattle waterfront's oldest existing businesses, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, a licensed museum and gift store founded in 1899.

Pier 55 & 56: Tourist Pier at the foot of Seneca Street.
Pier Opened: 1900 Points of Interest: These Piers are embarkation points for sightseeing and dinner cruises plus cruises to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, where visitors can experience Native American culture.
Pier 54
The piers along Seattle's Waterfront offer a variety
of entertainment and dining experiences.
Photo: ©Tim Thompson
Seattle Aquarium
Pier 57: Miner's Landing at the foot of University Street.
Opened: 1902 Points of Interest: This Pier is now home to several restaurants, event venues, shops, the Seattle Arcade and Pier 57 Carousel. For private events during the summer, Pier 57 has outdoor spaces for up to 75 guests. The end of the Pier is an ideal spot with a stage for larger parties and weddings. Indoors, Miner's Landing offers 2 rooms for up to 250 people, reception-style.

Pier 59: This Pier is home to the Seattle Aquarium.
Pier Opened: 1896 Points of Interest: Since opening in 1977, the Seattle Aquarium has hosted over 22 million visitors becoming the 9th largest Aquarium in the U. S. by attendance and among the top 5 paid visitor attractions in the Puget Sound region. Popular for both field trips and private events, this venue holds up to 800 people for weddings, private parties and corporate functions.

Pier 62/63: Public Piers with easy access to the waterfront.
Opened: 1901/1905 Points of Interest: This Pier is a favorite spot for relaxing and walking out over the water for a view of the Seattle skyline to the east and Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains to the west. Great photo op spot.
The Seattle skyline lines the bustling Waterfront where, among other attractions, the Seattle Aquarium is located. Photo: ©Tim Thompson
Pier 66: Also known as Bell Street Pier, it is an 11-acre complex with shops, restaurants, marina and conference center.
Pier Opened: 1915 Points of Interest: The Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal is home to cruise ships traveling to Alaska and other places in the Pacific Northwest. The Bell Harbor International Conference Center features 100,000 square feet of conference, meeting and event space with panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound's Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline. The Maritime Event Center is a private event venue accommodating groups of 50 to 200 people seated or up to 600 for receptions. The Center's high-tech, high-touch maritime museum, the Maritime Education Initiative, provides classes and tours in global trade, transportation, fisheries and the rich maritime history of Seattle.

Pier 70: The Olympic Sculpture Park is at the end of Pier 70.
Opened: 1902 Points of Interest: Opening in 2007, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a 9-acre green space presented by the Seattle Art Museum featuring sculptures from artists like Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero and Louise Bourgeois. Here, visitors can experience art and sculpture in the outdoors while enjoying the beautiful vistas of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. The Park is open 365 days a year; admission is free.
Pier 66
The two decks of Anthony's Pier 66 Bell Street Diner
offer a beautiful view of Seattle's Bell Harbor Marina.
Photo: ©Tim Thompson

Reprinted from TRIPinfo Resource Atlas & Handbook.

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