The Hermosa Pier & Pier Plaza.
Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?
A. In most scenes,
a pier in the distance. The plaza near the pier is sometimes seen as a
general hangout / shopping area.
Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?
A. In Newport
Beach (either the Balboa Pier or the Newport Pier - most likely the former).
Q. When did we see it on the show?
A. On several
occasions. In Episode
5 (of season one), "The Outsider", we see it as
a pier in the background of some shots of Marissa and Summer talking on
the beach. Later (in that same episode) we see Marissa & Summer
talking about boys in the pier plaza (she is later joined by Ryan, who
asks her out on their first date). In Episode 6 (of season one), "The Girlfriend",
we see the pier in the background of the scenes set at the Crab
Shack sidewalk cafe.
Q. What is it actually in real life?
A. A real pier,
and the adjacent beach town.
Q. Where can I find it in real life?
A. Hermosa Beach is a beach town just north of Redondo Beach, in the South Bay.
Although The O.C. producers use the Redondo Beach pier for most of their pier shots, when they want to show the whole pier from a distance (and pretend that it's in Newport), they shoot the Hermosa Beach Pier. That's because the Hermosa Pier is a standard, single pier (like those in Newport), while the Redondo Pier is a much larger, horseshoe-shaped pier that (when seen from a distance) looks nothing like the piers in Newport.
(I shot the photo below in 2006, looking northwest from The Strand.)
In addition, they also film around the area known as Pier Plaza, which lies at the east/land end of the Hermosa Pier (not to be confused with the Pier Plaza Business Park near the Redondo Pier). The plaza is actually part of Pier Avenue (the main street in Hermosa Beach), but the city has permanently blocked off this section of the street to traffic, lined it with palm trees, and have made it a pedestrian shopping area. (I shot the photo below in 2006, looking northeast from the foot of the pier.)
When Marissa is talking to Ryan in the next scene (when he asks her out), look closely and you can see the Hermosa surfer statue in the background. This statue sits at the foot of the Hermosa Pier. (See the photo below on the left.)
Just a few short steps south of the Hermosa pier, you'll find the Sea Sprite Motel (at 1016 The Strand), where the pornographer (Lance Baldwin) who was blackmailing Judy was staying when he was visited by Sandy (and later Caleb).
Also in the Pier Plaza is the clothing store where Trey almost got into a fight with the manager when the manager insisted on searching Trey's bag.
And running north / south right past the foot of the Hermosa Pier is the broad beach walkway known as The Strand, a popular spot for walkers, runners and bike riders, which is where they filmed several conversation scenes and where (some ways north of the pier) they faked the location of the Crab Shack cafe.
In the fourth and final season, The OC producers created an entirely new location: Newport Pier Plaza, which was loosely based on Hermosa's Pier Avenue promenade and its Loreto Plaza center. This "Newport Plaza" appeared in almost every episode of the final season, and contained (among other businesses), Seth's comic book store and the Mexican restaurant & bar where Ryan worked. But except for an establishing shot of Pier Avenue (that always preceded those Plaza scenes), those scenes were actually shot on an elaborate studio set, not on the real Pier Avenue.
Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?
A. The Hermosa Pier is easy to tell apart from the other two piers in the neighborhood. Unlike the horseshoe-shaped Redondo Pier, the Hermosa Pier is a single, straight pier. And unlike the Manhattan Beach pier, it doesn't have a building with a bright red roof at the pier's end. Also, when seen from a distance, the "legs"/supports of the three piers look different. Not to mention, some of the shots were taken from The Strand, which is immediately identifiable to anyone who has been to The Strand. As for Pier Plaza, the sight of the Mermaid Cafe in the background originally tipped me to its location. In the fourth season, that establishing shot of Pier Avenue was a dead giveaway (despite the fake "Balboa Blvd" sign).
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