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The West Coaster

Published on July 11, 2024

The West Coaster, Pacific Park’s famous roller coaster, is considered on of the most photographed rollercoasters in the world. Not only is it visually memorable, it’s also a whole lot of fun to ride.

Because it’s located right on the Santa Monica Pier, you’ll be treated to gentle ocean sprays as you get your thrills at 55 feet. Plus, from the top of the ride you’ll gaze out over the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Bay. It’s pretty unbeatable.

And, did you know that the West Coaster is the only oceanfront, steel roller coaster on a Pier over the Pacific Coastline? Often silhouetted by the setting sun, the Coaster’s iconic seaside attraction status is rivaled only by the decades-old wooden coasters at Santa Cruz Beach Board Walk and Belmont Shores.

History of the West Coaster

The West Coaster debuted on May 25, 1996, when Pacific Park first opened. It has been a signature of the Park ever since.

The ride was built by D. H. Morgan Manufacturing, a rollercoaster manufacturer founded in California in 1983. The company also made custom amusement rides, carousels,  and various amusement mechanisms. Morgan, as the company was later known, designed and built nine steel rollercoasters before closing in 2001.

The Coaster’s double-helix-shaped track has become an iconic profile for the Pier. You’ll see it often in films, TV shows, and advertisements as a quintessential “amusement park” shape.

The West Coaster on the Big (and Little) Screen

Perhaps the most frequently filmed rollercoaster in America, the West Coaster has made countless appearances in film and television. Because it’s so iconic and familiar, it’s often used as an establishing shot for the Los Angeles area.

It’s not difficult to see why so many filmmakers choose to immortalize Santa Monica’s landmark. From afar, the Pier’s exhilarating silhouette, complete with boardwalk and amusement park, is set against a great blue Pacific backdrop. Get closer, and its classic beach-town character and colorful attractions exude Americana.

The West Coaster has even appeared in video games. If you’ve ever played the best-selling 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll know you can visit a virtual version of the entire Santa Monica Pier and even ride the rollercoaster, which is called “The Leviathan” in the game.

You can even get a long-range view of film history while riding the Coaster. On the Pier’s east end, easily visible from onboard the ride, you’ll see the historic Looff Hippodrome, where several scenes from the 1974 Academy Award winner The Sting were filmed. The film also shows an exterior shot of the building, but with a painting of Chicago’s skyline replacing the coastal background.

Riding the West Coaster

Steel rollercoasters have a generally smoother ride than their wooden counterparts, and due to their strength, rides can have more complex and faster turns and twists without jolting riders.

The West Coaster ride begins with a 50ft climb to the top of the Park where riders can take in the sweeping views of the Los Angeles Bay before plummeting around the first helix.

From the rotational trajectory of the helix, the coaster rides over two stomach-lifting hills called “bunny hops” before careening into the second helix that completely surrounds the Scrambler next to the towering Pacific Wheel.

Speeding from one end of the Park to the other at 35 mph, the train dips down to the Pier deck right before returning to the station. The West Coaster runs with 4-5 cars that each seat 6 people.

West Coaster Inspired an Indie Film

Filmmaker John Luksetich was inspired to make an indie family movie with his daughter, Maria, a spirited young woman with Down Syndrome. The film’s message is that “life is a roller coaster” and was inspired by her joy riding the West Coaster at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier. The film, Different Eye, was released in 2013.