Protecting the Future of an Historic Ocean Icon

Ocean Beach PierSan Diego, CA—USA

The Ocean Beach Pier, an iconic structure stretching over 1,900 feet into the Pacific Ocean, has been a beloved landmark in San Diego since the 1960s, and today a multidisciplinary team is working with the City on renewal and replacement plans to ensure the pier remains a cherished destination for generations to come.

This traditional concrete fishing pier—the longest on the U.S. west coast—was built in 1966 and now suffers from failing rebar and other structural systems. It also faces the challenges of sea level rise, as ocean waves already hit the door of the pier’s cafe. In 2018, the engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol studied the pier’s structure and determined it can’t be repaired and rather must be rebuilt if it is to survive. This gives the City of San Diego an opportunity to pursue a renewal of the pier, a project for which California has already designated $8.4 million in state funding.

In Implementation
City of San Diego
Vision Planning, Urban Design
Project type/category
Civic/Municipal, Pier, Waterfront

For decades, Ocean Beach Pier has been one of San Diego’s most visited attractions with more than 500,000 people using it each year. While it’s popular with surfers who “shoot the pier” as they surf below it, the pier itself is a mostly linear experience for people who walk out to its end and then back to shore, taking in not only the expansive ocean views but also the varied views of the beaches and jetties to the north and coastal bluffs to the south. As a new pier is considered, there’s an opportunity to determine ways to make it more than a singular experience and keep people sticking around. Multiple public meetings were held in 2023 and 2024 in order to solicit input from the community about what they want. At the first meeting, community members were invited to share their greatest experiences or memories of the pier, to record video messages about what the pier means to them, and to vote on what they feel is missing from the current pier experience. Seating? Shade? Art? Food and beverage? Fishing amenities?

In addition to the hundreds who’ve attended in-person meetings, over 4,000 individuals participated in a series of online surveys, providing valuable feedback that guided the design process. Based on the public’s needs and wants, the project team developed three different design schemes that were presented in the fall of 2023. The public was then asked a number of questions, including identifying their favorite features of the three options as well choosing the design that best reflects Ocean Beach’s culture.

ocean beach pier squint test concept

Option 1: The Squint Test

Enhancing the Everyday

This concept utilizes the original layout and design of the pier while exploring placemaking and activation strategies that have been thoughtfully located to minimize their visibility from the land and retain the historic and iconic pier silhouette.

ocean beach pier remora concept

Option 2: The Remora

Celebrating the Place

Inspired by remora fish and the sharks they attach themselves to, this concept uses the original pier’s layout as an armature for a new series of places and features that celebrate a variety of Ocean Beach experiences and activities.

ocean beach pier braid concept

Option 3: The Braid

Walking Over Water

The third concept rethinks and differentiates the pier design with a more fluid, curved layout and a secondary walking experience that flows from the linear pier structure and provides a 360-degree view of the ocean and its horizon.

The overwhelming choice was the boldest design concept called “The Braid,” which the project team has since refined as the foundation of the current scheme featuring a fluid, curved layout and unique second-level walking experience that flows from the linear pier structure and provides an elevated 360-degree view of the ocean and the horizon. At the end of the pier, an infinity edge plaza not only provides breathtaking panoramic views but also underscores the community’s strong connection to the ocean and its stewardship.

ocean beach pier braid concept

Ocean Beach’s eclectic culture and love for the ocean is intricately woven into the design. Prioritizing placemaking over mere infrastructure, the pier emerges not just as a fishing destination with amenities for anglers, but as a dynamic social hub with a variety of gathering spaces. From the surfer’s lounge strategically positioned above the breaking waves to the ADA-accessible walkways inviting all to partake in the ocean’s majesty, every element is a testament to forward-thinking inclusivity.