It’s been a big year at the Santa Monica Pier, culminating tonight, Sept. 9, with a fireworks spectacular at 8:45 p.m. to mark the 100th anniversary of this big ol’ pile of sticks. I love the Pier for its retro sign and its solar-powered ferris wheel, which swings you out over the ocean (this is a dazzling experience to share with out-of-towners), but I love it most of all for the Twilight Dance Series, which each summer presents free concerts on Thursday nights. Being free, they draw a really mixed crowd, and it just doesn’t get any cooler than people-watching in the waning, golden California light while some of your fave artists are onstage and you can see the ocean foaming up beneath those weathered old boards you’re standing on. They’ve added free valet bike parking, and more people than ever seems to be throwing down blankets on the sand south of the Pier, where they can still hear (if not see) the show. For me, the rockin’est events this summer were Patti Smith (who played for the second year in a row, and led the crowd in a sing-along “Happy Birthday” to the Pier) and Dave Alvin, who absolutely burnt the place down with his blazing new crew, the Guilty Women. Photography below by Billy Vasquez — just double click any image to see it full-size.