Coastal Living and LIFE.com honor the iconic photographs from LIFE magazine that capture our longtime love affair with the sea.
1 of 11Photographer John Florea/LIFE magazine
Hermosa Beach, 1948
Photographer John Florea
Born in Ohio and longtime resident of Los Angeles, John Florea spent much of his career photographing Hollywood stars, including Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, and Doris Day. He was a staff photographer for LIFE and covered World War II for the magazine. (He was on board the USS battleship Missouri during the Japanese surrender.)
After LIFE, he adapted his talents to moving pictures, directing more than 200 episodes of TV series such as Bonanza, The Dukes of Hazzard, and MacGyver. But his stint at LIFE produced his fondest memories: “What I did for LIFE magazine is what I’ll be remembered for.” ―Sara Peterson
2 of 11Photographer John Loengard/LIFE magazine
Huntington Beach, 1962
Photographer John Loengard
LIFE magazine featured tandem surfing in 1964, describing it as a “sea-going version of an adagio dance [any slow-moving dance where the man supports the woman].” Because it was popular with non-surfers, competitions popped up on many coasts. However, the sport all but disappeared when short boards came back into style.
John Loengard began his career at LIFE while he was still in college and remained there in some capacity until 1987. He said that he covered all subjects―photographing his family or Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, and even a circus panda on a bike. Loengard believed that photography had magic powers: “You can catch the moment, and once it’s caught, you can see it forever.” ―Kristen Shelton
3 of 11Photographer William C. Shrout/LIFE magazine
Beach Days, 1942
Photographer William C. Shrout
In the 1940s, when the most important events revolved around World War II, Americans looked to the coast to provide more than a sun-dappled vacation. The shore became a place to escape from everyday worry―a sandy playground where families, kids, and couples could take time out to play games, frolic in the waves, and, when the moment was just right, tease and flirt―with a little help from a crab.
William C. Shrout photographed for LIFE magazine from 1940 to 1946, shooting many war images for the magazine. He also had a talent for capturing ordinary moments with exemplary emotion. He documented teenagers hanging out at a malt shop, a young mother ironing shirts in her apartment, and immigrants on Ellis Island gazing at the Statue of Liberty. ―Kristen Shelton
4 of 11Photographer Cornell Capa/LIFE magazine
Sitting Pretty, 1946
Photographer Cornell Capa
What is it about summer that jogs our sweetest memories? America’s days of innocence are easily remembered in these idyllic images of Cape Cod. They take us back to a time when boys in Chuck Taylors parked themselves on curbs outside shops with soda fountains. Young ones tiptoed off with best friends to secret hiding spots. And adults found peace on the pages of a sketchbook on a quiet stretch of shore. ―Kristen Shelton
5 of 11Photographer Cornell Capa/LIFE magazine
Cape Cod, 1946
Photographer Cornell Capa
Cornell Capa (1918–2008) was committed to preserving the legacy of what he called “the concerned photographer.” In 1974 he founded the International Center of Photography in New York, now a renowned museum with extensive educational and community programs. Originally hired to work in the darkroom at LIFE, Capa became a staff photographer in 1946. “LIFE was the eyewitness to the world,” he said. ”And it brought it all to your living room.” ―Kristen Shelton
6 of 11Photographer Allan Grant/LIFE magazine
Sunny Florida, 1947
Photographer Allan Grant
Performers take leaps of faith all the time―so why not off a pier? In this snapshot, comedian and Broadway actor Danny Kaye, best known for his movies White Christmas and Up in Arms, holds onto friend and fellow nightclub performer Juanita Hughey as they plunge into Florida waters.
Allan Grant had a knack for good timing. As a teenager, he captured the Hindenburg airship in flight just before it exploded. On assignments for LIFE, he was the last person to photograph Marilyn Monroe before her death and the first to get images of Marina Oswald after the assassination of President Kennedy. For Grant, photography was a way to “stop moments in time and have them forever.” ―Kristen Shelton
7 of 11Photographer Ralph Crane/LIFE magazine
Santa Monica, 1950
Photographer Ralph Crane
Sock hops, poodle skirts, and drive-ins may have been the thing for some in 1950, but these young lovers just wanted to be at the shore. With the cool breeze blowing, they could let the world pass them by and share a warm, quiet moment in the sand.
Born in Germany in 1913, Ralph Crane was expected to be a doctor like his father and grandfather. Instead, he pursued his dad’s hobby―photography. He began taking pictures at age 12 and was freelancing for The New York Times by the time he was 21. After many years of working as a contributor, he joined the LIFE staff in 1951. Crane created striking photo essays on a wide variety of subjects. He planned his images carefully, sometimes drawing out the compositions beforehand for difficult one-shot photographs. ―Anna Lee Gresham
8 of 11Photographer Loomis Dean/LIFE magazine
Wave Rider, 1950
Photographer Loomis Dean
Thanks to movies like Gidget and The Endless Summer,LIFE on a board is a romantic notion―all ukulele and no stress. Today’s surf culture wouldn’t be the same without pioneers like renowned surf and ski bums Warren Miller and Obert Rod, who put up tents and shacks around California beaches during the 1950s. Their passionate love of the coast is enviable―something to appreciate even if you don’t want to establish a semi-permanent residence on your nearest stretch of sand.―Kristen Shelton
9 of 11Photographer Loomis Dean/LIFE magazine
Beach Bums, 1950
Photographer Loomis Dean
Hollywood elite, European royalty, and the Barnum & Bailey elephants are just a few of Loomis Dean’s claims to fame. As a LIFE photographer, he captured unexpected moments, such as British playwright and composer Noel Coward in the Nevada desert. He provided cover images for 52 issues of LIFE, never tiring of the creative challenge. ―Kristen Shelton
10 of 11Photographer Loomis Dean/LIFE magazine
LIFE.com Exclusive Offer
Photographer Loomis Dean
Through 2009, Coastal Living readers get a one-time 15% discount off the purchase price of these framed prints and thousands more at LIFE.com (enter code LIFECL at checkout). Search “coastal LIFE” for some of our favorite images, and create your own gallery at home.
We’ve all heard the siren call of fashion in our lives, but oh, the lucky ones who could answer to the glam beach couture of the 1950s! Even though we love flip-flops and tank tops, sometimes we long for the days when your nails matched your lipstick, your lipstick matched your bathing suit, and it didn’t matter if the wind whipped your hair because it was cleverly tucked in a cute cap to show off your best gold earrings.
Gordon Parks was one of the most celebrated photographers at LIFE magazine, as well as an accomplished director and author. A recipient of numerous accolades―including induction into the International Photographer Hall of Fame―he completed more than 300 assignments for LIFE. His work capturing moments in fashion and civil rights remains some of the magazine’s most evocative images. ―Kristen Shelton