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The Golden Era of Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s

The Golden Era of Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s


The Golden Era of Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s

Discover the beauty and charm of Santa Monica Beach during the 1800s. From its humble beginnings to its rise as a popular tourist destination, learn about the history, people, and events that shaped the beach’s golden era.

If you think Santa Monica Beach is a paradise today, wait to hear about its golden era in the 1800s. Back then, the beach was a place for leisure, relaxation, and cultural, social, and economic activity. From the first settlers to the influx of visitors and businesses, Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s was a melting pot of history and culture. So, grab your sunscreen, put on your shades, and stroll down memory lane to discover the hidden gems and untold stories of Santa Monica Beach’s golden era.

The Early Days of Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s

Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s was only sometimes a charming and bustling place. It started as a remote and uninhabited area with nothing but dunes, rocks, and sea creatures. However, that did not stop a few brave souls from exploring the potential of the beach.

The First Settlers

The first settlers of Santa Monica Beach were the Tongva people, a Native American tribe that had lived in the area for thousands of years. They called the beach “Kecheek” and used it for fishing, hunting, and gathering. However, their peaceful existence was soon disrupted by the arrival of European explorers and colonizers.

The Spanish Era

In 1769, a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá and Junípero Serra reached the Santa Monica area. They named it “La Playa de Los Muertos” (The Beach of the Dead) because of the many whale carcasses that washed ashore. The Spanish built a small settlement and a chapel but did not stay long.

The American Era

After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Santa Monica Beach became part of the Mexican territory. However, it was in the mid-1800s that the American settlers arrived and claimed the land. One of the first American families was that of Senator John P. Jones, who purchased a 160-acre plot in 1874.

The Rise of Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s

With the arrival of the Americans, it began to transform into a vibrant and prosperous community. The beach’s natural beauty and pleasant climate attracted people from all over the country, who saw the potential for business and pleasure.

The Railroad and the Pier

One of the most significant events that contributed to the rise of was the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1875. The railroad connected the beach to Los Angeles and other cities, making it more accessible and attractive. To accommodate the growing number of visitors, the Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909, becoming a popular spot for fishing, entertainment, and transportation.

The Beach Clubs and Hotels

As more people came to the beach, the demand for accommodation and entertainment grew. Soon, beach clubs and hotels sprouted along the coast, offering luxurious amenities and services. The most famous were the Arcadia Hotel, the La Monica Ballroom, and the Miramar Hotel.

The Sports and Recreation

The 1800s was not just a place to stay and eat but also for sports and recreation. The mild weather and ocean breezes made it an ideal spot for outdoor activities such as swimming, surfing, and beach volleyball. The beach also hosted various events and festivals, including beauty contests, boat races, and kite flying.

The People and Culture of Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s

The 1800s was a hub of tourism and commerce and a diverse and dynamic community. From the working-class fishermen to the wealthy socialites, the beach attracted people from all walks of life, creating a unique cultural melting pot.

The Fishermen and the Whalers

The beach’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its abundant marine life made it a haven for fishermen and whalers. The fishermen would go to sea in their boats and return with their catch, which they would sell or trade with the locals. On the other hand, the whalers hunted whales for their oil, which was used for lighting and heating.

The Immigrants and the Ethnic Enclaves

As the beach grew, so did its population of immigrants, who brought their cultures and traditions with them. The Chinese, for example, established a thriving community of merchants and laborers in the area now known as “China Alley.” The African Americans also settled in Santa Monica Beach, building churches and social clubs.

The Artists and the Bohemians

The 1800s also attracted artists and intellectuals who sought inspiration and freedom from the constraints of society. They formed a bohemian subculture, which included writers, painters, musicians, and poets. Some of the most famous ones were Jack London, Robinson Jeffers, and Upton Sinclair.


  • What was Santa Monica Beach called before?

    Santa Monica Beach was called “La Playa de Los Muertos” by the Spanish explorers.

  • When did the Southern Pacific Railroad arrive at Santa Monica Beach?

    The Southern Pacific Railroad arrived at Santa Monica Beach in 1875.

  • What were some famous beach clubs and hotels in Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s?

    Some famous beach clubs and hotels in Santa Monica Beach in the 1800s were the Arcadia Hotel, the La Monica Ballroom, and the Miramar Hotel.

  • What was Santa Monica Beach like in the 1800s?

    The 1800s was primarily inhabited by the Tongva people for fishing and fun. In the following century, it transformed into a glamorous and bustling attraction, with wealthy Los Angeles residents arriving by horse and carriage. The ultimate highlight, though, was the ening of the Municipal Pier in 1909, beckoning visitors to indulge in all sorts of seaside activities.

  • When did the first pier at Santa Monica Beach open?

    The Santa Monica Municipal Pier in 1909 beckoned visitors to indulge in various seaside activities.

  • What kind of entertainment was available at Santa Monica Beach in the early 1900s?

    The vibrant culture in the early 1900s, where swimming, sunbathing, and beach sports were all the rage. But that’s not all – the beach was also home to numerous social clubs that attracted the wealthy elite. And let’s remember the Ocean Park Pier, a haven for adrenaline fans and lovers of live entertainment alike with thrilling roller coasters, Ferris wheels, and vaudeville shows galore.


The 1800s was a magical and transformative time in the history of this iconic landmark. From its humble beginnings to its rise as a popular tourist destination, the beach witnessed the convergence of people, cultures, and events that shaped its golden era. Santa Monica beach in the early 1800s and 1900s may seem a world apart from the current coastal oasis it has grown into over time.

Going back to a simpler era, where visitors strolled along peaceful sandy beaches, embracing the beauty of each sunset on the horizon. As times have changed, however, this iconic area has been transformed into a bustling tourist attraction with all kinds of attractions for travelers and locals alike. Today, you can ride a Ferris wheel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, hang out with friends in one of the many shops and restaurants dotting the beachfront boardwalk, or relax at Oceana Santa Monica Hotel for some much-needed relaxation.