ROAD TRIP: The Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica

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Some road trips take you hours away, others take you minutes. And then there are those that take you worlds away.  Summer is pretty much over, but you can still cling to it with a quick road trip to 1930’s Hollywood via the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica.

Opened last April on the former estate of 1930’s actress and party girl Marion Davies, this “public beach club” and swimming pool, along with the adjacent Marion Davies Guesthouse, were once part of what was called The Versailles of Hollywood.  The historic guesthouse is also now open to the public for tours or just hanging around. The Beach House was made possible by generous gift ($27.5 million) from the Annenberg Foundation, at the recommendation of Wallis Annenberg. It is operated by the City of Santa Monica and owned by the State of California. The project architect was Frederick Fisher.

The Annenberg Community Beach House

The Annenberg Community Beach House opened in April 2009 on the site that was once Marion Davies' estate. Photo: Grant Mudford, 2009

Though the mansion itself, built by the actress’ lifelong love William Randolph Hearst (and overseen by noted architect Julia Morgan) has long since been demolished, the spirit of Davies still lives in the guesthouse. Black and white stills of her cavorting with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Mary Pickford grace the walls, and window shades feature translucent scenes from her lavish, star-studded costume parties.

Although Hearst and Davies were never able to marry (Hearst’s wife Millicent refused to grant him a divorce), they were very much together until death.  In the years after her death, the grand estate eventually became a hotel, and then the Sand and Sea club.  Now, through a generous donation by philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, who spent time at the Sand and Sea as a young girl, it has undergone a multi-million dollar makeover to become a beach club for the public.

The pool will be open weekends through September and will re-open in May.

The pool will be open weekends through September and will re-open in May. Photo: Grant Mudford, 2009

While entry to the guesthouse is free, reservations are required for the swimming pool, which costs $10 for adults and $4 for children.  Parking is $4 per hour, or $10 for the day.  Be sure to make reservations well in advance as they book up quickly – and one more hint: get there before noon in order to snag one of the chaise lounges around the pool.  If you’re going to summer like a 1930’s movie star, you certainly don’t want to find yourself on the hard concrete upon a soggy towel!

On a recent road trip with a girlfriend and our two sons, it took just 40 minutes from the San Fernando Valley to the Annenberg one weekday in August.  For a total of $32, including parking, we were members of a beach club for a day.  We languished by the enormous pool, soaking up our last rays of sun before the stress and angst of middle school begins. In addition to the historic swimming pool and guesthouse, the Beach House has volleyball and beach tennis courts, a kiddie play area and a “splash pad” – not to mention the actual beach, where you can boogie board if you get tired of the pool. And if you get hungry — and I always do — just a few steps away is Back On The Beach Cafe, which has also undergone a recent renovation, has a new chef, and is now enjoying its own revival.

Marion Davies guest house

Marion Davies guest house adjacent to the Beach House is open for public tours. Photo: Grant Mudford, 2009

To be honest, I’ve never thought that the food at Back on the Beach was anything to write (home or otherwise) about, always validating my long-held belief that beachside eateries are always mediocre at best.  However, that afternoon, I was happily surprised by some of the best fish tacos I have eaten this side of Baja.  The tacos are simple, as they should be, but perfect:  lovely, moist tilapia, citrus-marinated and grilled, and served with warm corn tortillas and spicy pico de gallo, washed down with an old fashioned iced tea. Delicious.  On the other hand, perhaps they were so tasty because my toes were sinking into the warm sand as I ate my lunch.  It doesn’t get much better than that on a summer day, does it?   After a few more hours at the Annenberg, it was time to pack up and head back home.  Even though we caught a bit of traffic on the way, no one seemed to mind.  After all, we were relaxed, sun-kissed and content from our day at our very own beach club.

Sancastles in front of The Beach House

Sandcastles in front of The Annenberg Community Beach House. Photo: Joe Rossell, 2009

Note: The pool will be open only on weekends through September, however, the Pool House View Deck will remain open at no charge. The pool will re-open in May. It’s a fantastic spot with a spectacular ocean view – perfect to bring a book and hang out or sit and watch the sunset.  The Beach House is available to rent for events and meetings.

Free cultural events and docent tours will continue (hours subject to change… most likely weekends only).

Affordable yoga classes ($10 each) will also continue through September.

The schedule for additional recreation & fitness classes beyond September is being developed and will be available by early October.  The entire facility offers free WiFi access.  Check the Beach House website for updates:

Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway Santa Monica, CA 90402  (310) 458-4904

Back on the Beach Cafe 415 Pacific Coast Highway Santa Monica, CA 90402
 (310) 393-8282

Jennifer Evans Gardner is a food and travel writer, cookbook author, and owner of the Little Feet in the Kitchen cooking school. Formerly Editor-in-Chief for, Jennifer has also written for ePregnancy, Eating, Santa Barbara, and Kiwi, among other publications.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Leticia Flack

    What a graet idea! I like this.

    • NervyLisa

      What an informative piece. I greatly enjoyed it.
      In fact, here’s a tidbit of trivia pertaining to the beach house: when my uncle worked there from 1948-50, it was called “Oceanhouse” before Sand and Sea bought it years later. My uncle helped run the hot dog/concession stand on the beach side. He loved those times – it really was the heyday era of Hollywood…

  • Charlotte

    During a short trip to LA this summer, I noticed this on PCH. Can’t wait to try it out soon. Thanks for making it a must for my next visit!

  • Fred Rubin

    Very nice article Jennifer! Sounds like a terrific LA place to visit. I’m going to try and get a pool reservation as soon as possible.

  • Dottie Mauzy

    What a wonderful way to end the waning days of summer! Can’t wait to try it out next summer!

  • montreal florist

    Wow! It’s beautiful with bright sun light. Gorgeours

  • Jackie Houchin

    I’ve seen this while driving by on PCH, but I didn’t know it was open to the public. Thanks… and excelent photos too.

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