Last updated on April 26th, 2022
Films are a big part of California’s history, perhaps more than any other state. Hollywood is located in the Golden State, as are countless studio lots, film producers, filmmakers, actors, actresses, gaffers, crew members – you get the idea. It’s been that way for decades, even before the first “Talkies” hit the big screen. This is largely because cities like Santa Monica make for fantastic film locations.
Numerous movies, short films, and TV shows have been shot in Santa Monica. Everything from Forrest Gump (1994) to Knocked Up (2007) provides some context. Just about every major and minor landmark in the city has found its way into a Hollywood production or two.
Without further delay, we present our movie buff’s guide to Santa Monica. We’ve got a lot to see and a lot of walking to do. Hit up a luggage storage service before you hit the road.
All photos are from Canva.
2nd Street & Broadway
To passersby, 2nd Street and Broadway might seem like two ordinary avenues. Bikers and pedestrians will crisscross the pavement. Commuters, taxi drivers, and Uber and Lyft drivers will cruise through the street. Everything will look and feel par for the course in California. However, 2nd and Broadway are actually two of the oldest film locations in Santa Monica. The legendary comedian Buster Keaton filmed portions of his 1929 film Spite Marriage on these streets.
Cinephiles can have drastically different tastes. Some can adore the works of Stanley Kubrick while others might consider Michael Bay to be a true auteur. In spite of, or perhaps because of, these wildly different tastes, films of all genres and tones have been shot in Santa Monica. Projects created by independent artists and industry veterans are screened at film festivals all the time. Bergamot Station hosts several of these film festivals each year. Movie buffs can visit this place to appreciate works of art and even submit their own masterpieces.
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica City Hall is often viewed as the legislative heart of the city. However, Downton Santa Monica is the area where the city’s culture and character are both on full display. Whenever holidays or major events kick off, you can bet Downtown Santa Monica is tied to the action in some way.
That’s probably why so many films, TV shows, and music videos have been shot out here. There’s also an ArcLight Cinemas located in Downtown Santa Monica – one of only 12 ArcLight theatres in the entire world.
California’s size and scale can feel overwhelming for newcomers. Imagine you’re an aspiring actress who moves to LA County with the goal of breaking into the industry. However, you come from a small town in the mid-states, well California’s going to feel massive and disorienting to you.
The Hotel Shangri-La is a great place to get your bearings. It’s also the place where episodes of The Bachelor and Beverly Hills 90210, and films like The Net (1995) were shot.
Back in 1916, a fellow by the name of Charles Looff embarked on a construction project with his son Arthur. Together, they built the Looff Carousel and the Looff Hippodrome to house it. Both of these structures have been featured in numerous films and TV shows. Special mention goes to The Sting (1973), a film that was completely shot in LA county and serves as a love letter to California as a whole. Guests are still able to visit the Hippodrome decades after it was first constructed. The Hippodrome and Carousel are testaments to Byzantine, Californian, and Moorish architecture.
Thanks to areas like the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and parts of Los Angeles, California is probably viewed as a state that only cares about the present and future. That simply isn’t true; Cali has a very big soft spot for bygone eras. Rae’s Restaurant is an old-school eatery that doubles as a relic from the 1950’s. This joint oozes charm, which is likely why it’s been featured in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The L Word.
Route 66 is a road that hardly needs an introduction. Still, we like to cover our bases and fill in folks who aren’t that knowledgeable about California’s history. Route 66 is one of the United States’ original highways. It stretches all the way across America, with the East end in Chicago and the West end in Santa Monica. Naturally, a landmark with this kind of prestige has graced countless productions. This highway influenced the Route 66 (1960) tv series as well as Cars (2006).
Santa Monica Pier
If we had to pick one landmark to symbolize Santa Monica, it’d easily be the Santa Monica Pier. Photos of this amusement park are some of the first things you’ll see if you search for images of the city. Well, that and its iconic Ferris wheel. Myriad films have used the Pier as a backdrop in their stories. Seriously, we’d be here all day if we tried to count them all. Iron Man (2008), Hancock (2008), Her (2013), and Lords of Dogtown (2005) are just several productions that grace that massive list.
Santa Monica Place Mall
Last but not least, we have the Santa Monica Place Mall. This is the sort of venue that instantly leaves an impression on you when you visit. Folks can shop until they drop or snag souvenirs with the chance of bumping into a few stars who live in LA County. However, we mentioned this location for a very specific reason – Santa Monica Place Mall served as a film location in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). To think that parts of one of cinema’s most iconic action films were shot in such a wholesome and inviting place.