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Santa Monica in the Movies

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Santa Monica in the Movies

It’s easy to forget when walking around the unassuming streets of Santa Monica what a historic and iconic city it truly is. The city is short on skyscrapers and landmarks, save the pier. But it was the city where Whitey Bulger was finally arrested. The city that has been the subject of countless songs and novels.

A great way to track our beach city’s place in pop culture history is to look at the many movies which have been shot here. By visiting the places these famous movies were filmed, you can get a sense of what the outside world has seen of our city — as well as how the city has changed over the years.

1457 Broadway, Santa Monica

As you start to reach the end of the Third Street Promenade, just down the street from Santa Monica Place, where two time traveling killer robots confronted each other in “Terminator II: Judgement Day,you find a Lululemon — a popular fitness clothing store — and fast food joint Steak and Shake. But not too long ago, a popular restaurant here named Broadway Deli fed thousands of hungry guests all day and late into the night. Before it served its last plate of cheese blintzs, that deli entered the realm of hit-movie location history.

“Heat,” a hit, gritty, crime-drama about bank robbers and the cops who pursue them around dark Los Angeles filmed here. Directed by Michael Mann and starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, “Heat” was shot at 65 locations around Los Angeles, according to IMDB.


But, the film wasn’t all guns and chases. The director of Heat used the Broadway Deli’s long lunch counter for a scene which featured De Niro’s character’s first meeting with his love interest in the film, Amy Brenneman. The area where the counter once stood is now part of the west coast’s flagship Lululemon location. Gleaming circular racks holding high-end fitness apparel sit where waiters once carried plates of French Toast and Pastrami Sandwiches to waiting customers. Now, plush purple banded sports bras and moisture-wicking wrap coats are on display in the expansive space, brightly lit by abundant rays of golden sunlight. Energetic, but sophisticated rock music pumps through the air. It could make anyone feel guilty about eating butter.

“I feel the spirit of De Niro every day, in my everyday life,” says Will Haraldson, a smiling Lululemon employee and huge fan of the actor who remarks that the film’s 20th anniversary is quickly approaching. Standing just inside the open street-side doors of the store, Haraldson is a pleasant evangelist for the Lululemon brand who is unaware that an actor he reveres filmed a scene in this location.

Haraldson asks if the scene from Heat which featured De Niro and Pacino sitting in a restaurant together was possibly filmed here. It wasn’t. That was at now closed Kate Mantelini in Beverly Hills.

Still, Haraldson seems very pleased to learn that he’s working in a space with De Niro history. Does anyone ever wander in and ask about the film? Not really. But, Haraldson says, “We get a lot of confused tourists who are looking for stuff that pops up on Google here… a lot of folks who visited Santa Monica back in the day are still looking for that deli.”

Santa Monica Pier Carousel

In the Academy Award winning film “The Sting,” film legends Paul Newman and Robert Redford play Chicago con men who engineer a horse-racing scam on a murderous mob boss played by Robert Shaw. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. While the film is set in 1930s Chicago, part of it was filmed on location, here at the Santa Monica Pier at the carousel.

Now, there’s a 1930s themed ice cream parlor in the building with the carousel. A uniformed soda jerk, complete with a pointed paper hat serves a variety of cones, floats, malts, soda pops, sundaes, rickeys and phosphates named after iconic Southern California movies and stars, including The Sting, a sundae made with a shot of espresso. This is where Paul Newman’s character lives in the movie, and its where Newman and Redford’s characters first meet.


The carousel has been on the south side of the pier since 1947. Beautifully restored and resplendent in its colors and lights, it still has lots of appeal to locals and tourists alike.

“It’s the lights, it’s the spinning around, it’s the music, and all the mirrors and just everything’s moving around, just excitement around you,” says ride operator Vanessa Roth.

“You get lots of people coming around, but mostly it’s the couples that enjoy it, and the adults that are still that kid inside. And kids with disabilities, physical or mental handicaps, those children seem to really latch onto this ride,” says Roth.

Corner of Main Street and Ocean Park Boulevard

Three blocks from the beach, at this corner, Big Blue Bus number eight stops on a route that begins in downtown Santa Monica and ends at UCLA. Right next to an expansive surfboard shop that also sells GoPro cameras, skateboards, and Von Zipper sunglasses, and across the street from a grey, rundown car wash. This bus stop was immortalized in the blockbuster movie “Speed,” starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. This stop is where Bullock’s character, Annie, runs up a hill to board the bus that she’ll soon be forced to keep above 50 miles per hour to keep the passengers alive, as part of a sadistic saboteur’s twisted ransom plan.


On a recent afternoon, a woman waits for the bus while eating a fudgesicle and carrying two large, lemon yellow canvas bags filled with clothes and groceries. An elderly man sits at its bench holding a cane and waiting for the Big Blue to roll up. Across the street, another man waits for his bus to arrive. Wearing a mustache, a collared short-sleeve shirt, wraparound sunglasses, and clothes that are too clean and crisp for this beachy area. He looks like a cop, the same profession Reeves had in the movie. What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to him while riding a bus? “It would take too long to tell,” he says just before his bus rolls up and he hops on board.

Santa Monica Airport

Recently, the Santa Monica City Council voted to close the airport which has been operating since 1919. When it’s gone, it will take the locations of scenes in “Point Break”and “The Big Lebowski” with it. The Dude’s fantasy dance sequence in “Lebowski” was shot in a hangar there, and the shootout scene in the original surfer-bank robber blockbuster “Point Break” was filmed around the parked planes and open spaces of this airport.

Before it’s gone, a fully functioning flight simulator and an interactive Boeing 727 cockpit are available for film fans and everyone who wants to play and learn about flight at the airport’s flight museum. Also on the grounds: a soccer field, a playground, the Spitfire Grill, a busy off-leash dog park, and a satellite campus of SMC.

Rae’s Restaurant 2901 Pico Boulevard

A few minutes away from SMC’s main campus, on a corner with a tiny parking lot on Pico Boulevard, sits Rae’s Restaurant. It’s an old-fashioned diner that’s been serving up chicken-fried steak, tapioca pudding, buttermilk biscuits with gravy, and corn flakes since 1958. Rae’s is a location used over the years in 13 movies including: “Lords of Dogtown,” “True Romance,” and “Starsky and Hutch.”

Stepping through its doors is like stepping back into 1966. The restaurant is clean and spotless but doesn’t hide its age. There’s an old fashioned cash register at the end of the green tiled lunch counter lined with blue vinyl stools. White globe lights are suspended from the ceiling. Wide, lipstick-red upholstered booths with simulated wood-grain tables offer the luxury of space in their seating for customers. It looks like the kind of place Don Draper would drop into for a quick bite during one of his down-low excursions into the city. In real life those who drop in include neighborhood locals and some of the most recognizable stars in the world.

“I remember when Harrison Ford came in. He sat at the first booth, and he had the California breakfast with an English muffin, salsa and orange marmalade,” says Sarah Alvarez, a pleasant cashier who has worked at Rae’s for 22 years. She remembers Ford’s visit like it was yesterday. But he isn’t the only one everyone would recognize. “Kiefer Sutherland used to come in two or three times a week,” says Alvarez. “But we here in the restaurant, we don’t bother the movie stars. We don’t go over there and say ‘give me an autograph, blah blah blah.’ No.”

A poster with a photo collage of all the films shot at Rae’s hangs on a back wall near the entrance. But it will soon need an update. Alvarez says, “We’re shooting on Tuesday.”

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3 Responses to “Santa Monica in the Movies”

  1. Britt Overbaugh on September 22nd, 2016 3:57 pm

    Don’t forget “Mother, Jugs, and Speed” (1976). The Sunlight Mission is fully visible at the corner of Main and Hill St.

  2. William A. Gordon on September 29th, 2016 3:04 pm

    Nice story. If you check out my book, “The Ultimate Hollywood TourBook,” you will find some more movies filmed at the Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier, and one of the two houses featured in “Beverly Hills Cop.” You also might want to do a story about Chez Jay, where the infamous Pentagon Papers were passed to the New York Times.

  3. Britt Overbaugh on October 4th, 2016 2:52 pm

    Excuse me, I meant the Sunlight Mission Thrift Store….There are also chase scenes within the city limits on Ocean Park Blvd. Santa Monica Bank sign is visible at Pico and 33rd in opening credits scene. Go to (Mother Jugs and Speed.). 1976

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