Santa Monica Pier Street Performers and Musicians

Violist on the Santa Monica Pier

Street musicians, caricature artists, magicians, and dancers all make up the colorful atmosphere of the Santa Monica Pier

Along the boardwalk of the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, you will find musicians, artists, comedians, and unique entertainers performing for tips. These street performers have been part of the Pier’s unique make up for over 20 years and some of the performers on the Pier today have been coming to the boardwalk for nearly as long. There is no audition or application to perform on the Santa Monica Pier, but performers must follow a set of guidelines set by the Santa Monica Pier Corporation.

The basic steps for performing on the Santa Monica Pier is:
– Fall under the correct type of performer/artist
– Obtain a performance business license from the City
– Win a spot to perform on the Pier from the daily lottery system

Pier Performer Spaces

There are 24 spaces designated for Pier street performers. These are marked with a white star painted onto the Pier deck. The spaces run the length of the Pier boardwalk, on the West end viewing deck, and part of the west fire lane by Pacific Park. These spaces have been designated by the Pier Corporation to allow individual performers space to gather an audience and perform without obstructing other performers, businesses, and travel ways on the Pier. There are 4 lotteries a day held at the Carousel Plaza on the east end of the Pier where applicants can draw for one of these designated spaces.

Types of Performers and Artists at the Santa Monica Pier

There are few restrictions on what is considered a “performance”, but the City does prohibit some types of art and performance including hair weaving, tattooing (both permanent and temporary) and the selling of mass-produced art or crafts which would be considered merchandise and applicable to the guidelines of the Pier’s cart vending program. A performer is generally considered as musicians, artisans making handcrafts, dancers, artists who paint, draw or make sculptures. Although the variety of performers will change from day to day, most visitors can expect to see the following:
Music – Many musicians come to play at the Pier with performances as varied as the fish in the sea. Acoustic guitar, violin, and vocalists singing over pre-recorded tracks are very common and they will perform many genres of music from classics, folk, R&B, hip-hop, and even the occasional punk rock band.
Painting – there are several artists who make their living making original paintings at the Pier. Some of these artworks will be of the Pier or our colorful sunsets, but may also include abstract subject matter.
Clay face carvings – Clay sculptors can render a plain block of clay into a depiction of you or a loved one. Each clay face is a unique original that you can see take form right in front of your eyes.
Name on a grain of rice – if you are looking for a keepsake that takes up a little less room in your luggage, consider having one of these dexterous artisans etch your name on a tiny grain of rice.
Name in illustrated letters – when you’d like more people to see your name, consider one of the water-colorists who can paint your name with flowery and elaborate letters.
Caricatures – There are usually one or two caricature artists on the Pier who can create a stylized sketch of you, a fun and unique way to record a memory from the your visit.

Business License Requirements

Any performer or artist is required to obtain a license from the City of Santa Monica. There are a few exceptions, such as individuals performing early in the morning during the non-peak season for visitation. The license fee is $37 and the permit is valid for the remainder of the year when the purchased. Fees and the application process are managed by the City of Santa Monica. You can learn more, review the application, and even apply by visiting SMGov.net.

Lottery Process

After obtaining a license, Pier Performers must then receive an assignment for one of the designated performer spaces on the Pier. These assignments are for a 3-4 hour window at a one of the designated performer spots. These assignments are granted at the Performer Lottery which takes place on the Pier 4 times a day. Performers interested in performing on the Pier must attend the lottery and have their name drawn to receive a spot on which they can perform. Lotteries take place by the east side of the carousel building at 9 AM, 11 AM, 2 PM and 5 PM daily. The lottery is managed by the Pier Corporation and more information about the lottery process can be found at SMGov.net.

3rd Street Promenade, Palisades Park, and other Locations in Santa Monica for Public Performance

Performers with a Santa Monica Performance Permit can also perform at other locations in Santa Monica including 3rd Street Promenade and the Transit Plaza. No performers are assigned space to perform in Palisades Park, Ocean Front Walk or Main Street. The 3rd Street Promenade has additional restrictions on the spaces and times a person or group can perform.

New Pier Performer Process

If you are interested in performing at the Santa Monica Pier as an individual or a group, you should first visit the Pier to see what types of performances are common, what guests enjoy, and learn what you or your group could bring to the Pier. Next, go to the City’s website to apply for a Santa Monica Street Performer Permit. Once you have received your permit, you can attend the Performer Lottery to get a space and time assignment on the Pier. It is important to note that performers cannot sell merchandise or food items; those activities are considered vending. You can learn about vending on the City’s website. School bands, choirs and other large group performances seeking information about performing on the Pier should contact the Pier Corporation for more information about these types of special, one-off performances.

Not allowed

Personal services like hairweaving and face painting are not allowed on the Pier as they are not considered a performance or vending. Selling merchandise is considered vending and only allowed on the Pier through the vending cart program. Some performers will solicit tips and donations and will also provide goods for those donations. For example, a caricature artist will draw you, but they will also expect a tip to let you take the drawing home. It is a subtle difference, but one the City allows so that these artists can exhibit at the Pier.
It’s also important to note that some vendors selling food or other items on and around the Pier may not have permission from the Pier Corporation City to be there. With 7 acres of pier and nearly 3 miles of beach, the City can’t prevent aggressive vendors from setting up temporarily to sell items to the thousands of visitors to the Pier. Before making a purchase or tipping, be sure to look for the white star on the ground or a posted business license. All food sold on or around the Pier must be done so from a permitted vending cart, these can be identified as having an LA County Health Inspection Rating posted, such as the cart below.

Tipping Street Performers on the Santa Monica Pier

Street performers are not paid. They make money of tips and contributions from guests that enjoy their performance or art. Generally speaking, it is customary to tip a few dollars if you photograph or video any of the performers. Some musicians also have CDs available for a donation of around $10.
Similarly, artists who draw caricatures or make other forms of art on the Pier can’t directly “sell” their art; instead it is understood that guests can have an artist make them a piece of art for a donation. These artists typically post the suggested donation for the different types of art available. A caricature will usually have a $xx donation where as a having your name painted might be $xx per letter.

Popular Performers

Here are some of the most popular performers you’re likely to see out on the Pier!

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