California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 14, section 1.88, defines a public pier as a publicly owned man-made structure that has the following characteristics: is connected above the mean high tide to the main coastline or to the land mass of a named and charted natural island, has unrestricted free access for the general public, and has been built or currently functions for the primary purpose of allowing angling access to ocean waters. Additionally, publicly owned jetties or breakwaters that are connected to land, as described above, that have free unrestricted access for the general public, and whose purpose it is to form the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor, are public piers.
What places do NOT fit into this category of where you can fish without a license?
Jetties, breakwaters, promenades, sea walls, moles, docks, linings, barriers and other structures that are not the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor, are not public piers.
Even though a license is not required on a public pier, all other regulations (including minimum size, bag limits and seasons) apply while fishing from a public pier. Additionally, only two rods and lines, handlines, or nets, traps, or other appliances used to take crabs may be used per person on a public pier (CCR Title 14, section 28.65(b)).
If you are in doubt about whether a license is needed to fish a particular location, the best way to avoid a potential citation is to purchase a license or find another spot to fish where you are sure that a license is not required, or ask your local California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) office.
Photo Credit; title pic & #3 by SDFish.com, #2 by VisitOceanside.com