The Santa Monica Pier Carousel: A Historical Landmark
For over 100 years, the Santa Monica Pier Carousel has remained a popular entertainment destination for visitors seeking family-friendly amusement. Guests love the rare chance to ride one of the few original merry-go-rounds left from the golden age of seaside entertainment. Many also enjoy photographing the unique Looff Hippodrome building that houses the carousel, with its whimsical blend of Byzantine arches, Spanish Colonial turrets, and Moorish windows.
Most guests, however, do not know the carousel’s complete story. Here, we’ll take at the story of the Santa Monica Pier Carousel and discover how visitors can enjoy this historic landmark.
The Santa Monica Pier Carousel Ride Experience
Originally built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, a company famous for crafting incredibly detailed carousels, the Santa Monica Pier Carousel is an inspiring sight. The structure features 44 hand-carved horses, 2 sleighs, 1 rabbit, and 1 goat lit up by 1100 electric lights. Festive band music makes riders feel like they’ve been transported to another time. The carousel also offers an ADA accessible chariot with a portable ramp for wheelchair users.
With rides priced at $2 for adults, $1 for children, and free for children 2 and under with adults, the carousel offers very affordable entertainment. Some guests, however, love the carousel so much they rent the merry-go-round for birthday parties, photoshoots, or luncheons. Rental rates for these experiences include:
- $250 for 30 guests or less ($5 per person, excluding infants under 1 year)
- $350 for 60 guests or less ($5 per person, excluding infants under 1 year)
- $550 for 90 guests (includes extended space and exclusive entrance)
These fees include tables, chairs, and wristbands for rides, as well as help with clean up and loading riders. Guests can rent the carousel from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on open days. Interested parties should contact Anne@santamonicapier.org.
Operating hours for the Santa Monica Pier Carousel are:
- Monday and Thursday: 11m. to 5pm
- Tuesday and Wednesday: Closed
- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: 11m. to 7pm
Helpful tip: Children who want a more exciting ride should choose the middle row horses that go up and down rather than the outside stationary horses!
The History of the Santa Monica Pier Carousel
Carousels have been an important part of the Pier ever since 1916, when entrepreneur Charles Looff bought land near the Santa Monica Pier. Looff once built carousels for Coney Island and constructed the Looff Pleasure Pier, the Pier’s first amusement park. A master carousel builder, Looff crafted the Pier’s first merry-go-round himself.
Looff housed his carousel in the Pier’s Looff Hippodrome, named after the ancient Greek hippodrome stadiums used for horse and chariot racing. Children loved the “Pier’s Carousel” horses so much that workers added an extra row of horses!
While most of the amusement park’s rides disappeared during the Great Depression, the carousel survived and continued making families happy. In 1943, Venice banker Walter Newcomb bought the Pier from its owners and renamed it “The Newcomb Pier.”
In 1947, Newcomb replaced the Hippodrome’s carousel with his Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousel #62—built in 1922 for Venice Pier. This beautiful, hand-carved merry-go-round has been the Santa Monica Pier Carousel ever since.
The Looff Hippodrome, Santa Monica Pier, and carousel make up some of the most gorgeous and popular backdrops for Hollywood movies and TV shows. Films such as Forrest Gump (1994) and Iron Man (2008) both showcase the Santa Monica Pier in famous scenes.
In particular, the Santa Monica Pier Carousel features prominently in the classic movie The Sting (1973), where Paul Newman’s character lives in the Looff Hippodrome and operates the carousel. Amusingly, while the Hippodrome and its carousel are located in Santa Monica, California, The Sting is set across the country in Depression-era Chicago!
Californians treasure the Santa Monica Pier and view its carousel as an important landmark. Park guests and community members even enjoy calling the Hippodrome the “Merry-Go-Round Building.”
In the 1960s, fishermen, artists, and activists formed an active community with the Pier as their free public gathering space. At the time, folks started renting apartments on the second floor of the Looff Hippodrome. One particular young woman enjoyed spending hours in the Hippodrome watching the carousel’s horses spin around and around. That woman’s name? Legendary Hollywood actress, Marilyn Monroe.
In 1972, the city of Santa Monica proposed a plan to tear down the Pier and Hippodrome to make space for a bridge to a man-made resort island. In response, preservationists and protestors formed the Save Santa Monica Bay activist group. Their grassroots effort proved successful and even helped pass an initiative to preserve the Pier forever. In 1987, the U.S. government designated the Looff Hippodrome a National Historic Landmark.
That devotion was tested in 1983 when a massive storm destroyed over one-third of the Pier. True to their commitment to appreciating and preserving history, the community rebuilt the Santa Monica Pier and restored it to its former splendor.
Today, guests enjoy a new family amusement park on the pier, Pacific Park, full of modern rides and games. The Pier also regularly hosts free music festivals, dancing events, and other live entertainment, recapturing its status as a safe, fun entertainment venue for the entire community.
Those who seek the joys of the past can visit both the Hippodrome and Santa Monica Pier Carousel, which have been restored to their full glory. Today, new generations can relive the timeless fun of the truly historic merry-go-round.
A true historical landmark, the Santa Monica Pier Carousel continues drawing in millions of guests every year with its old school charm. Visitors enjoy celebrating events and taking photos of the carousel and Hippodrome to post on Instagram and YouTube! Thanks to the Santa Monica community, new visitors can enjoy these classic experiences for many years to come.
Feature image courtesy of @xochiltboughtacamera.