Silicon Beach Bomo - Orientation Guide | The Pierhead & Central Seafront Area

  — Bournemouth’s recently refurbished pier-head area may not be a regular business hub, but it is central to its identity as “Silicon Beach.” And the Pierhead area is "front and centre", offering access in all 4 directions to the central seafront area.

Left: The central seafront area, extending east and west from Bournemouth Pier, with pedestrian routes in both directions. There are also shorter walking routes north and south from the pier-head square.
Bournemouth developed as a resort initially as a health spa. Here, “taking the waters” did not mean drinking the local mineral waters, as at inland spas like Bath, but sea-bathing. The sheltered bay has 7 miles of sandy beaches, a fact prominently referenced in tourism advertising.
The natural starting point of any orientation tour would be the recently refurbished Pierhead area. From here, you can head in all 4 compass directions: N inland up the Lower Gardens, E to the Eastcliff area, S out onto the Pier, or W along the seafront or clifftop to Westcliff. When heading E or W, you can proceed along the seafront promenade or the clifftop, encountering different amenities in each case, but for simplicity, we'll cover both. (There are chine-side and cliff-face zigzag paths along the route, linking seafront and clifftop.)

The Pierhead, or Pier Approach Area

The Pier Approach, as it's officially known, was always a key site. Official distances were counted from the hotel here, which opened in 1838 and also had the town's first version of a library. There were also municipal baths here until the mid 1980s. These were torn down and in the 1990s the Waterfront complex was built on the spot as a new all-weather attraction. This hosted an upstairs bar and a restaurant, plus an IMAX cinema. The building blocked the sea view for anyone coming down Bath Road, and the IMAX never seemed to be promoted, and soon closed eithout explanation. After a long series of complaints and protests (including being voted the ugliest building in Britain), the entire edifice was pulled down at great expense.

Left: the area before its most recent redevelopment. The now-demolished IMAX building's glass front facade is visible at right.


Left: The redesigned pier-approach square, partly rebuilt after the demolition of the IMAX building, looking E. (Where the IMAX stood is now the space at far right.)

The Pierhead, or Pier Approach Area as it’s officially known, is now really a “square” itself. It was once a bus terminus. It’s been developed as a pedestrian area since the Bath Rd flyover and underpass setup was built in the 70s. The pulling down of the hated Waterfront IMAX building prompted the most recent development. Where the Waterfront building stood is now an amphitheatre which can put to use for various concert-style events. (An attempt by the Council to plant a Disney-style fairground ride there met with such a negative response they have promised it will not be repeated.)
There is still a merry-go-round or carousel ride taking up some of the W side of the Pierhead square, and other amenities from time to time (during the annual Airshow, there is a 'popup' bar.) Some development is ongoing, as is the controversy.The present plan is for a crazy-golf minicourse with a 'smugglers' theme [supposedly to reflect the town's heritage].
On the W side, by the Oceanarium, is Hot Rocks café-bar, with terrace out front. The Hermitage Hotel behind finally opened their new Roundhouse restaurant, now rebranded as Neo. (It was held up for 9 years by the Council on a disputed technicality.)

Just beyond, up Exeter Rd past the BIC, are various bars and restaurants between here and the Square, beginning with the Park Central Hotel, which has a lounge-bar and the popular Crab seafood restaurant.

In the main pierhead building upstairs (the ground-floor interior is mainly a noisy 'Amusements Arcade' with video games and gambling fun machines for the youngsters), is the Caribbean-themed Aruba bar-restaurant, which has a terrace with sea view. There is also a coffee shop and a small ice-cream parlour with a few outside tables, facing the square, and a fish-n-chips cafe facing the seafront.

Left: Council-run landtrains run along the promenade in both directions. Pictured is one of the first such seafront landtrains, over a decade ago, passing Harry Ramsden's fish & chip restaurant.

The Lower Gardens
Starting our clockwise tour at "twelve o'clock", you can walk N from the Pier Approach area into the Central Lower Gardens. which begin just beyond the flyover. Between here and the town Square are several amenities, starting with the Pavilion, now refurbished as a multi-purpose site with a cinema /performing arts / conference space etc, which has a cafe with terrace, facing inland. There is also the Picnic Park Deli, a kiosk with all outdoors seating, up on the N side above the bandstand.

Left: The view S and N from the Pavilion. The pierhead/lower gardens area should be covered by FusionWifi (which is 'social wifi', meaning you have to sign in via Facebook etc, so they can harvest your personal details.) The annual 'Silicon Beach' conference [ended 2018] advertised the Pavilion, visible left, as being only fifty yards from the seafront (as the wifi signal flies, anyway). Visible just beyond the road flyover leading to the pierhead area is Hot Rocks cafe next to the Oceanarium. The edge of the redbrick Bournemouth International Centre is just visible on the right above. Mouse over image to see view N from the Pavilion Terrace cafe.

The East Cliff

The East Cliff is largely a designated conservation area, and has fewer cafes, the amenities being mainly found in the larger hotels along here. Exploring these means walking along the clifftop rather than the promenade. The ramped walkway connecting the pier approach with East Overcliff Drive can be seen here.

A ramped walkway connects the E end of the pier approach with East Overcliff Drive. Off this are the back entrances to the Royal Bath Hotel pictured above, [for high tea etc], and the Russell-Cotes museum and art gallery, pictured right, which has a small cafe. (Note you have to leave your bags at the security desk.)
Just beyond where the clifftop path reaches East Overcliff Drive is the Hotel Miramar, which enjoys a certain cachet from its Tolkien association. (He stayed there while visiting Bournemouth friends, and died on one of these visits, though not at the hotel.) It has a small lounge bar and a large lounge/function room, which can get crowded and noisy when used for events such as weddings or bridge tournaments, and a terraced front garden area with tables.  
Along or just off East Overcliff Drive are half a dozen big hotels between here and Boscombe, our end-point as far as coverage goes. All have some sort of lounge bar with sofas etc and sometimes an outside terrace area, but the widest choice is probably found at a set of 3 adjacent hotels owned by Oceana. The Cumberland has the Ventana Grand Bar/ Café, a two rosette brasserie, and its Mirabelle Restaurant as well as the usual hotel-lounge area. The Cliffeside has The Atlantic Restaurant, The Italian Café, and Waves Bar. Just behind it, The Suncliff Hotel has the Atlantis Restaurant, The Overcliff Pub, and the Tropicana Lounge.   
 The Pier
Left: To the S of the pierhead, Bournemouth Pier is the resort's historic centrepiece attraction, and has existed in some form since the mid-Victorian era. The current one is mainly post-war.

The Pier is suitable for a promenade, and there is an end-of-the-pier cafe, with sea views. The toll-booth seen here is because a small admission fee is charged at peak times. There are some covered, outward facing benches. The Pier Theatre visible in the background was one of its attractions, but is no longer operating despite a long campaign to save it. The Pier Theatre bar, where arty types used to meet, is also closed, but at the end of the pier there is Key West Bar & Grill, with outside seating. Note that Council-run places usually close at 4pm to avoid paying overtime.

The West Cliff

Continuing our clockwise orientation tour takes along the West Cliff, towards Poole. Visible here is the first cafe along here, WestBeach, next to the Oceanarium. This seafood restaurant with outside seating was the start of the town's move upmarket away from the primitive fish-n-chip parlours of the old days when as a resort it catered to mass tourism.

Left: the first stretch of seafront to the W, showing the Marriott Highcliff Hotel on the high ground, and the BIC (Bournemouth International Centre) to its right. The ramp visible here is pedestrian only; two other links between the esplanade and the clifftop routes can be glimpsed at left: the cliff-face funicular lift below the hotel, and the zigzag path beyond to the W.

The Marriott Highcliff Hotel takes pride of place on the clifftop. (Though not 5-star, this is is where VIPs like PMs stay.) It has recently been refurbished [again] and has a front lounge with sofas and coffee tables adajcent to the bar; the 'library' room at the back is basically an overflow lounge for the small bar-room opposite, but there is a terrace with brasserie-style semi-covered dining verandah out front [Brasserie Blanc], some tables with bench seating in the front garden, a spa, and bookable function rooms.

The giant bunker-like building pictured above is the BIC or Bournemouth International Carbuncle Centre, built as a conference centre and leisure facility in the 1980s. The BIC and surrounding area used to become a high-security zone every autumn, with thousands of armed police on hand to guard the two main parties. (With over 20,000 delegates and almost as many press and police, Labour’s 1999 conference here was said to be the biggest political gathering Europe had ever seen). The wave-machine swimming pool was ripped out to build a 4th conference hall.
However since Conservative delegates had to queue in a car park for hours to pick up their security passes in 2005, only small parties like the LibDems and Greens come here. It still has entertainment events year-round. The cosy corner Smugglers Bar is gone, and for the public, all that remains amenity-wise is a coffee shop.

The sections of seafront have natural divisions in the form of the chines or wooded ravines all along the coast here. The first going W is Middle Chine, which as yet has no amenities of interest. Beyond that is Durley Chine, which does.

Left: where it says Durley Chine Meet Point is now a new cafe, Chineside, opposite the Durley Inn pub-restaurant [see photos below].

Farther W the next cafe is somewhat hidden on the clifftop, the Argyll Cafe in Argyll Gardens, a cafeteria-style restaurant with terrace, open April until late September, which was set up as an adjunct to the bowling green there. (A zigzag cliffpath just beyond leads up there.)

Just beyond is Alum Chine and Vesuvio Italian restaurant. Above Alum Chine on the W side is the Edge bar-restaurant, part of the clifftop Studland Dene apartment complex.

Below left: The new Durley Chine cafe, Chineside, and the Durley Inn pub-restaurant opposite. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image).


Above: Clifftop area next to Argyll Gardens, where a pathway leads down to the West Undercliff Promenade at Alum Chine. Along the entire length of clifftop are greens with public benches overlooking the bay, usually with zigzag footpaths linking clifftop and promenade.

Above: the view from farther W, beyond the Poole boundary, where there are scenic nooks below the clifftop road

Beyond Alum Chine is Poole, which is outside our coverage here, but you can continue walking, cycling etc along the beachfront (the clifftop is trickier) for miles, to Branksome Chine [cafe with terrace pictured here], then the well-heeled Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks districts, up to Poole Harbour-mouth, past the seafront Sandbanks and Haven Hotels.

Left: The central seafront on Google Maps satellite view. Click on map screenshot for interactive original.

Below: Westcliff seafront: note the extensive row of beach huts. Some are Council-owned, which can be hired by the day or week when available. Deckchairs are also available for day-hire.

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