Santa Monica’s Playland in the Age of COVID

A Pandemic Photo Essay

Aimee Liu
5 min readOct 11, 2020


All photographs by Aimee Liu

The Santa Monica Pier under lockdown seems like a ghost land. You can visit, but you may not play. You can imagine the roller coaster’s rumble and the squeals of excited children rising up, up, up in the Ferris wheel, but the sounds live only in your own head.

This Saturday my husband and I visited the Pier for the first time since the pandemic shut it down. It’s open for strolling, and a couple of restaurants offer outdoor dining, but the fun has gone out of the fun park. Early in the morning, it’s a sobering reminder of the many ways that COVID has suspended our lives.

Approaching on the beach path, you can sense even from a distance that something is not right. The flag flies, but nothing moves on the roller coaster. The lights of the Ferris wheel gamely blink through their programmed patterns, but the wheel never spins. No kids play hide and seek in the shadows. Only out at the very end, does the bank of fishing lines offer a stubborn glimmer of normalcy.

Despite the pandemic, the Pier has been maintained. Its metal palm trees look freshly painted. The yellow barricade tape has been removed from the stairs leading up to the boardwalk. Still, the utility warnings seem to carry an extra charge in the age of COVID.

One sign of the times is the view from the Pier. People with nowhere else to go have always gravitated to the beach, and with Covid undermining the economy, the problem of homelessness across Los Angeles is up 16% this year. A mile to the south, in Venice, Ocean Front Walk has become a tent city for the unsheltered.

The numbers in the separately incorporated city of Santa Monica, however, tell a better story. Homelessness actually



Aimee Liu

Author, Asian-American novels (Glorious Boy), nonfiction on eating disorders (Gaining), writing, wellness. Published @Hachette. MFA & more@