Santa Monica Pier – Where to go in Los Angeles, California

The Santa Monica Pier has been a destination for entertainment and recreation since the late nineteenth century when Henry David Thoreau built it. Today, it is a popular spot for family activities and a popular nightlife hotspot. Despite being destroyed by two storms in 1982 and 1983, the pier continues to be a vibrant part of the city’s culture.

The Santa Monica Pier Story

Santa Monica Pier History

Santa Monica Pier has a rich history. Over the decades, it has evolved from arcade fun to a full-blown island resort. It is a popular tourist destination, with four million visitors a year. There are rides, restaurants, carnivals, and even a dance hall.

The pier’s history can be traced to a handful of people. In 1916, Charles Looff, a carousel builder, announced plans to build a 700-foot by 200-foot amusement pier on the northern end of the Municipal Pier. His carousel opened in early August.

Santa Monica Pier, Ca - Sunset
Santa Monica Pier, Ca – Sunset

Looff was forced to build the pier before he could get a franchise for it. Finally, after five years, he agreed to pay the city $200 outright for its rights and 2% of the pier’s gross revenue.

Looff’s son, Arthur, was the building superintendent on several of his father’s projects. On May 31, 1916, the city advertised the sale of the pier. Eventually, the building was sold to the Santa Monica Amusement Company.


As a result of the pier’s success, a businessmen’s association was formed. In addition, a neon sign was installed at the top of the ramp. However, in the 1930s, the pier was no longer a commercial proposition. During World War II, the pier served as a military boat depot.

The Hippodrome at Santa Monica Pier is the home of one of the most famous seaside attractions in the United States. Designed by Charles Looff, the building opened in 1916. Today, it’s a popular backdrop for many Hollywood movies.

Santa Monica Pier Hippodrome (Carousel Building)
Santa Monica Pier Hippodrome (Carousel Building)

It’s a rare intact example of an early shelter structure. Its Moorish architecture combines the best of California and Byzantine design. The Hippodrome was a thriving community. Tenants included Marilyn Monroe. At the time, the pier was the most accessible beach in Los Angeles.

While the city of Santa Monica proposed tearing down the pier, the Save Santa Monica Bay campaign, led by Jane Fonda, was able to stop the demolition.

Historic Carousel
Historic Carousel

Afterward, the community reconstructed the pier and restored it to its former splendor. A new family amusement park, Pacific Park, is now on the pier. Several free music and dancing festivals are held in the park each year.

The carousel has been restored to its original splendor. Today, visitors enjoy the nostalgic experience of spinning a classic wooden horse.

Entrance to Pacific Park, Santa Monica pier
Entrance to Pacific Park, Santa Monica pier

Storm damage in 1982 and 1983

The El Nino-driven coastal storms of the winter of 1982 and 1983 caused significant damage to piers throughout California. These events were among the strongest recorded storms in history.

The storms produced unusually high waves, which flooded many coastal streets. High water levels flooded hundreds of homes. Some beach areas lost significant amounts of sand.

The storms also brought a ferocious tornado to Los Angeles. On March 1, the tornado flipped cars and hurled debris. The tornado also tore part of the roof of the LA Convention Center.

Hurricane from Space
Hurricane from Space

The storms caused an estimated $116 million in coastal damage. During the storm, waves reached up to 25 feet in some locations. This meant that many sand piles were destroyed.

The pounding waves partially demolished many historic structures. Waves also swept a derrick off the end of the structure in Santa Monica.

Locals rallied to save the pier. A group called Save Santa Monica Bay was formed. With public outcry, the city developed more stringent design standards.

Santa Monica Pier in Movies

Santa Monica Pier has been featured in many movies. Some of the most notable include The Sting, Not Another Teen Movie, and Fletch. These films feature scenes of the pier and the Pacific Ocean. Several of the films also feature roller coasters and the amusement park.

Other films featuring the pier include The Entity, NCIS: Los Angeles, and The L Word. In these films, the pier is used to set a climactic scene.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

The Sting is a classic American caper film. Two grifters pull the ultimate con. The movie features a building that looks suspiciously like the Looff Hippodrome.

In the film, Paul Newman plays a character who owns and operates the Looff Hippodrome. The owner hires a group of grifters to pull the ultimate con.

The Sting is a must-see film for fans of classic comedy and caper movies. Visitors can pair their film history tour with a tub of popcorn.

Santa Monica pier
Santa Monica pier

Another classic that features the pier is the Rocky series. This series is known for its action-packed fight scenes. Apollo Creed is a former opponent of Rocky Balboa. Dwayne Johnson plays him.

Another film that includes the pier is The Amazing Race. This is a popular show that is filmed in Los Angeles. Many of the main plot points are set in the vicinity.

Long-term future

The long-term future of Santa Monica Pier is a subject of debate. However, it is an attraction that has been around for a long time and has changed the way people visit and interact with one another.

Several aspects of the pier make it worthwhile. One of these is its historical significance.

As the city developed, the pier was one of its first landmarks. A federally funded Works Project Administration (WPA) constructed the pier’s entry gate in 1938.

Santa Monica Pier people busy
Santa Monica Pier people are busy.

The pier has also been the focus of several community efforts. Save the Santa Monica Bay, a non-profit group, was formed in the early 1970s to fight an elevated waterway over the bay.

Another effort was the “Save the Pier” campaign. Locals rallied to save it when it was announced that the pier was scheduled for demolition. Locals convinced the City Council of the pier’s value and importance.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

During the Great Depression, the pier’s amusement section slowed down. But, despite this, the pier still managed to attract millions of visitors.

A proposal to build an artificial island in Santa Monica Bay was also on the table. These plans included a hotel, convention center, and bridge to get there.

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