Nine Great Things to Do in Santa Monica (Besides Frieze Los Angeles)

The fair’s 2024 home has a rich history, from the Mexican rancho era to the Gold Coast 1920s and ’30s, and today boasts bohemian dining, starry architecture and Lalanne sculptures

BY Chris Waywell in Frieze Los Angeles | 03 JAN 24

Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park

Along with its seaside glories and Pacific Park funfair, Santa Monica Pier was the site in 1955 of a landmark exhibition, “Action 1”, curated by Walter Hopps. Taking place in the Merry-go-Round Building, it featured works by the likes of Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, and composer John Cage’s work Speech, scored for five randomly tuned radios. The Cage piece was performed in the same venue at Frieze Los Angeles 2023 as part of Jay Ezra Nayssan’s “Against the Edge” curatorial program.

The pier will also see the debut in 2024 of the Los Angeles Wine & Food Festival (March 1–3, 2024), which will  coincide with Frieze Los Angeles and bring together food and drink stars, local restaurants, and cultural events. Visitors will have access to unlimited tastings from more than 30 chefs a day, and get to sample 50+ beer wine, and spirits brands, along with art collaborations and DJ sets.

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401

The Lalanne Dinosaurs

A uniquely Californian-feeling combination of topiary, outdoor sculpture and water feature, the The Dinosaurs of Santa Monica on Third Street were created in 1989 by esteemed art duo Claude and Françoise-Xavier Lalanne. From Broadway to Wilshire, the dinosaurs are: triceratops, stegosaurus, diplodocus, apatosaurus, iguanodon and dimetrodon. The work pays tongue-in-cheek homage to the rich paleolithic past of the region, which includes the La Brea tarpits adjoining the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the unfortunate final resting place of many prehistoric giants.

3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Lalanne Dinosaurs, Santa Monica
Lalanne Dinosaurs, Santa Monica. Photo: Rob Corder


A bona-fide Santa Monica institution since 1979, Michael McCarty’s restaurant is seen as the birthplace of “California Cuisine”. It has also had a longstanding connection to the artworld, thanks to Michael’s wife Kim, an artist. LA customers like Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney and Dennis Hopper ate there and then their work started to be hung on the walls. Today, Michael’s hosts events to mark Frieze Week Los Angeles.

1147 3rd St, Santa Monica, CA 90403

Micheal's Santa Monica
Michael’s Santa Monica. Photo: courtesy Michael’s

Annenberg Community Beach House 

A remnant of Santa Monica’s prewar “Gold Coast” heyday, the Annenberg Beach House was built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst for his movie-star mistress Marion Davis, and designed by pioneering female architect Julia Morgan. Hearst, the inspiration for Citizen Kane, created a giant fantastical mansion that people joked was “bigger than the White House”. After WWII, it became a hotel, before being seriously damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and boarded up. With support from the philanthropic Annenberg Foundation, it has been restored as a culture and leisure centre for the community. At Frieze Los Angeles 2023, the city and Frieze partnered to acquire a work by Edgar Ramirez for the Santa Monica Art Bank collection, some of which is on display at the Annenberg Community Beach House Gallery.

415 Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90402

Annenberg Community Beach House
Annenberg Community Beach House. Photo: Annenberg Community Beach House, all rights reserved

The Original Muscle Beach

The global fitness craze began in the 1930s on what became known as “Muscle Beach”, south of Santa Monica Pier, after an outdoor gym was built there by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. Bodybuilding’s adoption of classical sculptural motifs and its distinctive subcultural aesthetic have since seen it continually referenced in art, from Peter Blake’s pop-art pin-ups to debates around it as a genre in its own right

Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401

The Original Muscle Beach, Santa Monica. Photo: Getty
The Original Muscle Beach, Santa Monica. Photo: Getty

Chez Jay

Chez Jay is a little window back into Santa Monica’s postwar era as a resort for leisured, perma-tanned Californians. Opened in 1959, it quickly became a haunt of celebrities, film stars and rockstars, including the Rat Pack, Jim Morrison and Richard Burton. Just far enough away from Hollywood to grant a degree of anonymity, and helped by its tightlipped policy of no paps, no photos, no gossip, Chez Jay was a site of assignations, with its curtained-off Table 10 reputedly frequented by Marilyn Monroe and JFK. Since then, it’s had a starring role (playing itself) in the Billy Bob Thornton drama Goliath

1657 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Gehry Residence / Santa Monica Place / Binoculars Building

One of the world’s most important living architects, Canadian-born Frank Gehry has a private house in Santa Monica. His family moved to California when he was a teenager, and after a stint in Paris he established his practice in LA in 1967. His Santa Monica residence displays many of his hallmarks, including the use of humble everyday materials such as corrugated metal, and dramatically angled flat planes. One of Gehry’s significant early public commissions is nearby: Santa Monica Place, a shopping mall he designed in 1980, while one of his most recognizable works, the so-called “Binoculars Building”, incorporating the titular giant spy-glasses by Claes Oldenberg, is located between Santa Monica and Venice. 

Gehry Residence, 1002 22nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90403; Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401; Binocular Building, 340 Main St, Venice, CA 90291

Gehry House Santa Monica
Gehry House Santa Monica. Photo: Wikicommons

18th Street Art Center

Frieze Los Angeles’s neighbor at the Santa Monica Airport campus, 18th Street Art Center is the oldest artist residency scheme in Southern California, having supported global practitioners for more than 30 years, and being, in the words of artist Suzanne Lacy, “a force in LA for feminist, gay and performance art … crucial for so many areas of social, political, exploratory and avant­-garde kinds of thinking”. Alongside its curated residencies, it offers a community program of events and exhibitions, commissions new work and participates in the monthly Art at the Airport open studios. Its current show, Luciana Abait’s “Escape-Route”, will be running at Laguna Art Gallery just down the coast during Frieze Los Angeles 2024. 

3026 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405

Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery

Laid out in the 1840s, this family graveyard harks back to California’s rancho period, when the Mexican government—which controlled the territory at the time—distributed plots of land to farmers and cattle ranchers. This cemetery was once part of Rancho Boca, but over the years, as Santa Monica became a popular resort, new developments encroached upon it. In 1926 the site was protected by an adobe wall by well-known architect John Byers, and in 2016, a descendant of the Marquez family put up new grave markers for the site’s unidentified bodies in a vernacular assemblage style influenced by Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers

637 San Lorenzo St, Santa Monica, CA 90402 

Pascual Marquez Cemetery
Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery. Photo: Jengod / Wikicommons


Frieze Los Angeles returns to Santa Monica Airport for its fifth edition from February 29–March 3, 2024.

Last chance to get tickets to the fair

Frieze In Person membership is now sold out, but there are still limited tickets available to purchase for this weekend. Grab them now before they're gone.



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Main image: Santa Monica Pier. Photo: Richard l’Anson / Getty

Chris Waywell is Senior Editor of Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.