A Collection of Santa Monica Stories

Posted March 5, 2019

We recently asked Sunset magazine readers to share their Santa Monica story. From celeb-gazing at the 1962 Academy Awards to a first kiss that led to “I Do”, here’s just some of what was shared…

Visitors Share Fond Memories of Santa Monica:

Couple watching sunset on fence at sunset in Palisades Park

I fell in love at Santa Monica. Savoring the taste of the salt air at Santa Monica Beach is as real to me today as it was 50 years ago. Many things change, but the sea in your lungs never dies.  – David Holland

Five years ago I took a vacation to Santa Monica, from bitterly cold Michigan, with my new girlfriend of two months. As we strolled the promenade and pier, we chatted about deep topics we had yet to discuss during our young love affair. I remember distinctly the moment we fell in love with each other. We were sitting on the beach, just north of the pier. We decided then that if we ever got married we would move to Santa Monica. Next month will be our first anniversary of marriage and our second anniversary of living in Santa Monica. It has been a long journey for us over the last five years. I left a job, my wife got a job and I almost died of a massive blood clot. But, luckily, our journey has brought us to our forever home – Santa Monica. Our relationship started here and will end here; we would never live in any other place in the world.  – Steven Jacobs

Walking down the streets or beach at sunset, it is just a spectacular moment that you want to share with your friends and loved ones. This was my first impression of lovely Santa Monica. The place where I want to be because it felt so good – like I belong here!  – Natsha O.

Pacific Park Ferris Wheel

We ended up on the Ferris Wheel at the pier and at the very top of the ride. With a view to die for of the city spread out to one side of us and the dark ocean to the other, we had our first kiss. Lucky me, I kept driving that six hour drive every weekend until I asked her to marry me and moved [to Santa Monica] permanently and to this day, we kiss every time we see a Ferris wheel. Thank you, Santa Monica!  – Timothy Gesner

In 1996, Santa Monica wanted to kick off its solar program with a high-profile project, so I designed solar panels for the Pier. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times announced the Pier’s 100th anniversary. So, I sent this letter to the Times that they published: “Millions of people have fond memories about the Santa Monica Pier. I met my wife at the pier on our first date. Years later, I designed the Ferris wheel’s solar power system. You can be sure that we will be celebrating the pier’s 100th – and our 25th – anniversary.  – Joel Davidson

A couple of years ago, on my first ever trip to California, I decided to drive up Route 1 to Camarillo, and was able to visit Santa Monica. It was the first city and beach area that I saw after landing at LAX. The beaches and people watching were amazing. I put on my swim trunks and ran head first into the ocean, thrilled to be the farthest west I’d ever been in my life.  – Tyler Gaetano

Ocean waves off of Santa Monica Beach

The day after I arrived [to visit my daughter, Monica], we took the train to Santa Monica. Secretly, I was hoping to get a glimpse of some famous movie star, but what I didn’t expect was that I fell in love with the ocean immediately. The smell of the salt water, smooth sand and the humid air that I was not accustomed to from my life in the desert was simply enchanting. It was the waves though that really got my attention…the thunderous claps as they crashed into the water. I couldn’t stop staring, I was mesmerized… just waiting for the next really big one. Monica noticed my staring, and she asked me to listen to the silence before the wave. What a concept. Doing so made the wave seem even more powerful. On our outing to Santa Monica, we also shared some incredible beer battered fish and chips at a friendly neighborhood pub, happened upon one of the best farmer’s markets I have ever witnessed, had the pleasure of sampling many varieties of freshly picked peaches and plums and saw a film at a local movie theatre. I left feeling completely satisfied. Pondering my visit, I realize that I think of Santa Monica with her power, beauty and grace and it dawns on me that those are qualities that I admire in my own daughter, whose name really is Monica.  – Catherine Calabrese

View from Santa Monica Pier benches

In 2005, our nine-year-old son was taken by med-evac plane from Phoenix to Santa Monica Airport and driven to UCLA Medical Center to await a heart transplant. He spent two months in the hospital before receiving his new heart and a few more weeks after. Upon discharge, he was weak and unable to walk. We were given the option of taking him from the hospital that day, or wait until a wheelchair was available. I chose not to have him spend one more day in the hospital and carried him to the car. We went straight to Santa Monica Pier to see the ocean and feel the wind and the sun and hear the roar of the waves. I know we were a bit of a spectacle, but I carried him up and down the steps of the pier so that he could sit on a bench, watch the seagulls, have some pizza and ice cream and enjoy the freedom of life outside of the hospital. We are eternally grateful to his heart donor family and to everyone who cared for our son and supported our family. Santa Monica will always have a special place in our hearts.  – Linda Fox

Brightly colored bikes on Main Street in Santa Monica

I missed Cara. She was an old friend from my early 20s that I hadn’t seen in years. We fell out of touch after she moved away to Colorado to pursue her career there. I wasn’t sure we’d still get along. She wanted to hang out with me and our friend Kristen. I was hesitant at first—what if she’d changed, what if I’d changed? But, like old friends do – when they come back it can be magic. So, we planned our reunion in Santa Monica. Kristen and I met Cara on Main Street. On the way there it hit me: it didn’t matter and I needed to stop being nervous. We were getting the band back together at the beach. We were biking. It’s what I love. It was what I hoped could bring us together. I love riding my bike along the boardwalk in Santa Monica, peddling against the ocean breeze. This summer, I wanted to bring together these old friends. I wanted to share my love of biking at my favorite cycling spot: the beach. We started with coffee on Main Street and the girls rented bikes. Then, it was time to cruise. We rode along the coast, heading north as the tide moved in along the shore. The beach was empty—only seagulls and the surfers. It was early and we were three girls on an adventure, catching up about our lives. We talked over the mistakes, the good news, the disasters and the funny stuff you only get to do with three girlfriends in Santa Monica on a cool morning before the sun bakes the sand. We’d lost jobs. We’d lost boyfriends. We’d lost family. We’d lost friends. But we still were friends. We still knew who we were. We were still having fun. We turned around when we hit Malibu. We stopped. Instead of rushing around, we decided to take our time. We sat and watched the waves roll in. We talked about how we should do this again, that we should come back. We put our wishes out and watched the seagulls dip in and out of the salt water. We made a pact to come back. We’ll always have that bike ride. We’ll always be friends. And we’ll always have quiet and fun bike ride mornings in Santa Monica.  – Nicole Charky

Two women jumping on Santa Monica Beach at sunset

I grew up in Northern California, but until recently, I had never ventured to the eclectic town of Santa Monica. I knew I would love it because it was on the ocean, but I wasn’t expecting it to change my life forever. My best friend Sarah and I were planning a trip to Los Angeles in 2017 to see Mumford & Sons play at the Greek Theater. We needed a place to stay, and naturally, we thought to stay somewhere conveniently located near the Greek: Glendale and West Hollywood were both places on our short list. Then, Sarah texted me one day during our trip planning stage and said, “Let’s stay by the ocean! Santa Monica.” There are a few things I really love in life – tacos, friends, family and the beach – so staying in Santa Monica was an easy decision. Mumford & Sons are one of my favorite bands and it was to be the main attraction for the weekend, or so I thought. We checked into Le Méridien Delfina and quickly hopped on bikes the hotel offered us. We cruised down Pico Boulevard until it dead-ended at Shutters and the boardwalk. We took a right toward the pier but made a quick stop to appreciate the talents of the many people who flock to the swing, rings and balance beams to practice their skills. It was autumn, yet the weather was a perfect 75 degrees and the boardwalk was filled with walkers, runners and bikers. I couldn’t get enough of the energy that Santa Monica was offering me. I could almost feel it penetrating my skin and entering my soul. After watching the talented boys from Mumford & Sons play their soulful sounds at the Greek, Sarah and I spent our remaining three days riding our bikes through Santa Monica, feeling happy and free, watching the beautiful people living their best life. On our last day in Santa Monica, I sat at the water’s edge, pushing my toes down deep into the sand, feeling melancholy. I never feel melancholy at the beach, so this was a real deep down authentic emotion. I was trying to hide my morose feelings, but my friend noticed. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I just don’t want to leave this place. I had no idea Santa Monica was so amazing. It makes me wonder why I don’t live in a place by the ocean so alive with people and energy.” My visit to Santa Monica was the spark that ignited a fire of change in my family’s life. Because of the inspiration Santa Monica created for me, I was able to realize my dreams and make them come true. Less than two years later, my family of six moved to Carlsbad, California – only two hours south of Santa Monica – to live near the beach and the vibrant downtown. We often visit Santa Monica and it always impresses me – the amazing people, the great restaurants, the boardwalks and the expansive sandy beach. Santa Monica will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the inspiration that changed my life for the better.  – Megan Woolsey

I grew up in California just a short drive to the Santa Monica Pier. We would bum rides to the pier from our parents or older siblings, sometimes taking three buses to get there. We would slather on baby oil (yikes!) and spend the whole day jumping in the waves and throwing an orange frisbee back and forth. We would ride the Ferris wheel and bumper cars. We would play silly arcade games. And we would always finish our day with a lemonade from the little hot dog stand. Then, on that magical day that I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, the only thing I could think of was to load my 1969 Pontiac LeMans with my besties and head to the pier. Celebrate my freedom! From that day forward, we would fill the car with now vintage beach chairs, frisbees, boogie boards and potato chips and play on the beach till the sun went down. We would play on the pier and drink that wonderful lemonade. Then, we would head home with our skin tasting of salt and bleached blonde hair. Sun burned faces that screamed summer. Now, some 40 years later, I still get that same stress-free, innocent feeling when I am driving down PCH and glimpse that beautiful wooden pier that framed my teenage wonder years. It makes me smile from ear to ear and thirsty for a lemonade from that stand that is still there to this day.  – Leslie Rehak

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium exterior

On April 9, 1962, my husband and I and our two little boys – aged 1 1/2 years and 5 months – were living in a lovely two bedroom apartment on 7th street in Santa Monica, across from Santa Monica High School. My friend, Faye, and her two children – aged 6 and 8 – who lived in the apartment upstairs, invited us to accompany her down to the outdoor bleachers that were set up at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium a half mile away. What was the occasion? None other than the 34th Annual Academy Awards Red Carpet. We had made no prior arrangements, no tickets were required, no reservations needed. It was strictly spur of the moment on our part. Off we went with my two little ones perched in a stroller and her two following excitedly along. After a short ten-minute walk we arrived to ample seating. Security checks were unheard of. The seats soon filled up, the klieg lights were fired up and the red carpet began. The list of the famous was legendary… Sophia Loren, Maximilian Schell, Rita Moreno, Piper Laurie, Geraldine Paige, Montgomery Clift, George C. Scott, Judy Garland, Natalie Wood, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kramer, Audrey Hepburn and on and on. We cheered in delight as all stargazers do, not realizing that these coveted seats would later become one of the most difficult in the world to obtain; these very seats where spectators get to see, in the flesh, the glamour and glitter of the biggest night ever in the world of film making. We just took a ten-minute walk, helped ourselves to a seat and, without any fanfare at all, enjoyed an evening watching the stars beneath the stars.  – Pat Catherall

Man swinging on rings at Original Muscle Beach

While attending [Santa Monica High School], we had free campus at lunch time. That was a perfect time for me to run down to Muscle Beach near the pier. There were many muscle men using the padded ramp, lifting weights, doing adagio and acrobatics. Being 90 pounds, they could toss me in the air, hand balancing and feet to head. On many occasions I stood atop one’s head and walked to the ocean and back, which created an audience. Little did I know that would be the beginning of a career for me. Every day I would go to Muscle Beach and learn.  – Jeannette Hoogland

We watched muscle men, volleyball players, surfers, and few odd looking people (well it was the 60s). I didn’t buy a souvenir – I’d spent all my money on food and pier tokens. The best memory of that wonderful day? It was the weather, water, fun, friends and food. To this day, when I return to California, I always head to Santa Monica for the weather, water, fun, friends and food.  – Dianne Werthmuller

Santa Monica is more than just a city by the beach. It’s big and small, full and empty, bustling and sleepy, forward-looking and nostalgic. It’s my favorite place to be in Southern California when I want to feel I can fit a million things into a single morning.  – Kristen Havens

It’s the kind of town that makes you want to return again and again. What’s not to love? The warm climate, beach views, charm, great restaurants and shopping, etc. etc.!! I told my husband after the first day that I understood why so many people want to live in such a charming town.  – Margee Berry


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