top of page

Santa Monica in the 1890s: A Coastal Paradise Comes to Life

The 1890s were a defining decade for the picturesque coastal city of Santa Monica. Nestled along the sun-kissed shores of Southern California, Santa Monica experienced a period of rapid growth and transformation during this era. The arrival of the railroad, the development of tourism, and the emergence of new industries laid the foundation for the city's future prosperity. Let’s explore the vibrant history of Santa Monica in the 1890s and delve into the factors that shaped its identity as a coastal paradise.

The advent of the railroad in the 1890s revolutionized Santa Monica's accessibility and played a pivotal role in its development. The Southern Pacific Railroad extended its line to Santa Monica, connecting the city to Los Angeles and other major cities along the coast. This newfound ease of travel transformed Santa Monica from a remote coastal enclave into a desirable destination for visitors and settlers alike.

With the arrival of the railroad, Santa Monica quickly became a sought-after resort destination. Its beautiful beaches, mild climate, and pristine coastal views attracted tourists from far and wide. Opulent beachfront hotels, such as the luxurious Arcadia Hotel, began to dot the coastline, offering visitors a taste of luxury and relaxation.

Santa Monica's famous pleasure pier, the first of its kind on the West Coast, opened in 1894. The pier featured an array of amusements, including a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and carousel, captivating both locals and tourists. It became a focal point of the city's vibrant resort culture, providing entertainment and leisure activities for all.

The 1890s saw the diversification of Santa Monica's economy beyond tourism. The arrival of the railroad facilitated the growth of agriculture in the region. Vast citrus groves and vegetable farms flourished, with crops like lemons and beans becoming prominent exports. Additionally, the establishment of industries such as oil production and brick manufacturing further bolstered the local economy.

Prominent figures played key roles in shaping Santa Monica's growth during the 1890s. One such influential figure was Senator John P. Jones, who owned large tracts of land in the area. Jones spearheaded the development of the Ocean Park neighborhood, constructing a casino, a bathhouse, and a racetrack to attract visitors and residents. These efforts transformed Ocean Park into a thriving community within Santa Monica.

Furthermore, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was commissioned to design the Palisades Park, an elevated green space that offered breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. The park's lush landscapes, winding pathways, and scenic overlooks provided a serene escape and became an integral part of Santa Monica's identity.

The 1890s were a transformative period for Santa Monica, marked by the arrival of the railroad, the development of tourism, and the diversification of its economy. As the city blossomed into a renowned coastal resort destination, it attracted visitors, entrepreneurs, and settlers seeking to experience its natural beauty and opportunities for economic growth. Today, Santa Monica's vibrant heritage from the 1890s can still be felt in its magnificent beachfront, thriving tourism industry, and diverse community. By embracing its history, Santa Monica ensures that its coastal paradise remains a cherished destination for generations to come.


Pic 1: A Ferris wheel on Ocean Ave. ca. 1890.

Pic 2: The view looking back from the Santa Monica Pier - ca. 1898. The darker structure at middle right was the North Beach Bathhouse. Opened in 1894, it was one of a few popular bathhouses that lined the coast back around the turn of the 20th century. In the 1920s the site became the Deauville Club which burned down in 1964.

Pic 3: Looking out Santa Monica Canyon towards the ocean ca. 1894. The rail bridge for the LA & Independence Railroad tracks taking both cargo and passengers from Santa Monica to the Long Wharf can be seen at center left. The Long Wharf itself can be seen in the distance.

Pic 4: Looking down Third Street from Colorado towards

Broadway - ca. 1896. Today this block is Santa Monica


Pic 5: The beach just south of the Arcadia and pier back in 1892.

Pic 6: Men standing on a bridge (potentially Ocean Ave. as it crossed the train tracks) with the Arcadia in the distance - ca. 1890.

Pic 7: The first Pasadena & Pacific streetcar arriving in Santa Monica - 1896.

Pic 8: Always love these shots of the tracks along the coast - seen here ca. 1895.

Pic 9: The Long Wharf jutting out into Santa Monica Bay - ca. 1895. When the wharf opened it was the longest in the world at 4,700 ft. Having lost out against the port built down in San Pedro/Long Beach, it stopped cargo service 1913, was shortened in 1920, and was fully removed in 1933.

Photos 1-4 and 8-9 from the CA State Library while photos 5-7 from the Huntington Archives.

View this post and more on our TikTok and Instagram!


L.A. Explained Blog

bottom of page