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"Baggers", December 1, 2012

PIERS OF THE WEST COAST: CRYSTAL PIER

PACIFIC BEACH SAN DIEGO

WORDS: Gary Koz Mraz

PHOTO: Ron Sinoy & Mraz

The piers jutting California’s coast range from working wharfs, pleasure piers to barren fishing spots. Only one pier actually has accommodations right above the ocean. Crystal Pier was built in 1927 and originally it supported a large stucco ballroom with giant arches, towers, and a cork floor to dance on all night. Beautifully painted murals, colored lights in the balconies, and a large glittering mirrored ball gave the pier its name. Unfortunately, this massive elegant building lacked adequate structural support and swayed in the surf. Only four months after opening it was condemned.

The remodeled pier with the present cottages was opened in 1936 and was completely renovated in 1949. Additional cottages were added in 1991 and Crystal Pier is without question one of California’s most unique places to stay. Located at Mission and Garnet Street in Pacific Beach, it’s bustling with activity and has always been rider friendly. In the ’60s and ’70s, Maynard’s was the “happening place” with a spaghetti night, taco night, and Sunday morning Spanish omelets for only 25¢.

I’ve patronized my share of ocean lodgings and visited many a pier but none embody the total “pier experience” more than Crystal Pier. And nothing compares to sleeping over the ocean.

The Crystal Pier experience begins with the clatter of vintage wood as your motorcycle rumbles over these historic planks. The smell of summertime and childhood memories permeates the air as a thunderous surf pounds the beach 25 feet below. The newest cottages A, B, C, and D occupy the outermost perimeter and are the epicenter of a truly visceral and emotionally charged experience. Exactly what us motorcyclists live for, it’s off the Richter scale and an absolutely amazing concoction of rushing wind, pounding ocean surf and motion. The farther from the shoreline, the more the pier shudders with the waves. If that’s not your thing, Crystal Pier Motel has ample spacious beachfront rooms with spectacular views that will suit you just fine. We were fortunate enough to stay in the new section, room B, at the very end and loved every minute of it.

You’ll probably park your bike in front of your cottage and never touch the starter until checkout. There’s no need to. You’re surrounded by restaurants, bars, pubs, breakfast spots, grocery stores, and a passing parade of beach goers. In fact, the cottages are fully stocked with utensils and dishware for six, a large fridge, stove and microwave, everything you need to cook a meal for a family. Most serious Crystal Pier goers rent for several days or a week and come fully prepared with groceries. Located on a long sandy beach with no rocks or reefs, my girlfriend, Darla, and I lazily strolled the promenade and sipped margaritas from the roof of the Pacific Beach Ale House to the bar at Tower 23.

We had dinner at Kafe Yen a hundred feet from the pier. It’s nice to get out, but next time we’re never leaving the cottage because they deliver. Their Tofu Gone Wild is golden fried in a sesame sauce and the Drunken Noodles were fantastic. The menu touts a Thai-and-more cuisine and everything looked and smelled fantastic. Thry offer a full bar and fantastic food in a modern intimate setting; what more could you ask for?

Jim Bostian has been Crystal Pier’s general manager for 25 years. He’s hands-on for all daily operations and his staff has every detail completely attended to. Whether it’s the stock of board games in the office, tips on restaurants, or just hanging out with the Crystal Pier dog, Bonita, they make everyone feel at home. The pier is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (or sunset) daily but cottage dwellers have complete privacy and security. The A, B, C, and D cottages have their own private porch/decks overlooking the ocean. The back cottages share an expansive open deck with divided railings, and the upper cottages have privacy and second-story views of the pier and ocean. Guests have keys for security gate access and complete privacy after sundown.

Belmont Park in Mission Beach is only a mile away and offers everything from roller coasters to wave machines, laser tag, arcades, and fun for the whole family.

Breakfast the next morning was at Kono’s Surf Club touting breakfast all day. Only 20 feet from the pier, they offer a hearty, reasonably priced beginning of the day. There is a coffee vendor in their outside patio cooking up a mean cappuccino. The Kono potatoes are a meal in themselves comprised of sliced potatoes, bell peppers, onions, and cheese. Their “Little Breakfast,” at $4.95, is huge and the egg burrito at $5.95 is even bigger.

The cottages range from one bedroom/one bath and no kitchen that sleeps two to multi-bedroom/bathroom suites with kitchens and large enclosed decks that sleep six. All have spectacular views of the ocean. Crystal Pier will rock your world, we already plan on coming back next year. Pay attention readers! You will need to book months if not a year in advance because Crystal Pier is so popular and there are only 25 cottages. Prior patrons have priority and there are generations of families that book the same room every summer.

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