Annenberg Community Beach House – Santa Monica’s Historic Oceanfront Gem
Once a hot spot for Old Hollywood, the Annenberg Community Beach House is now a favorite destination for many SoCal locals. The five-acre oceanfront estate sits next to Santa Monica State Beach and offers guests a historic swimming pool, a splash pad and play area for kids, an art gallery, and a boardwalk leading down to the water.
The site was originally developed by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, actress Marion Davies, in the Gold Coast era of the 1920’s. Hearst worked with architect Julia Morgan to produce a 110-room Georgian Revival mansion complete with guest houses, tennis courts, and an ornate marble swimming pool. Here, Davies and Hearst often hosted lavish parties for their famous Hollywood friends like Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Samuel Goldwyn, and Greta Garbo, among others.
Davies sold the estate to a developer in 1947 and it was converted into luxury hotel Oceanhouse and the Sand & Sea Club, a limited membership beach club. A few years later, the Oceanhouse venture ended and the main mansion was torn down. Soon after, the State of California purchased the property, continuing to operate the Sand & Sea Club until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake severely damaged the structures.
With a damaged historical property on their hands, the City of Santa Monica began to entertain the notion of converting the estate into a year-round public beach space. The vision was there but the money wasn’t—until Wallis Annenberg of the Annenberg Foundation, who had fond memories of visiting the Sand & Sea Club, heard of the project and pledged a $27.5 million dollar grant. This grant money allowed the city to build the new public Beach House. A team of architects and builders rehabilitated the Marion Davies Guest House and the marble swimming pool. They also constructed new, modern facilities—including changing rooms and family-friendly amenities like the splash pad, playground, and boardwalk, which is a great feature for the stroller-pushing crowd.
The Beach House is open year round (hours and admission, directions and parking) with summer weekends obviously drawing the biggest crowds. Staff at the Beach House offer fall and winter activities too, including bird walks and tours. Organizations and individuals may also rent out the space for meetings, weddings, and other special events.