Small turbidite systems offshore from southern California provide an opportunity to track sediment from river source through the turbidity-current initiation process to ultimate deposition, and to evaluate the impact of changing sea level and tectonics. The Santa Monica Basin is almost a closed system for terrigenous sediment input, and is supplied principally from the Santa Clara River. The Hueneme fan is supplied directly by the river, whereas the smaller Mugu and Dume fans are nourished by southward longshore drift. This study of the Late Quaternary turbidite fill of the Santa Monica Basin uses a dense grid of high-resolution seismic-reflection profiles tied to new radiocarbon ages for Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 1015 back to 32 ka. Over the last glacial cycle, sedimentation rates in the distal part of Santa Monica Basin averaged 2–3 mm yr−1, with increases at times of extreme relative sea-level lowstand. Coarser-grained mid-fan lobes prograded into the basin from the Hueneme, Mugu and Dume fans at times of rapid sea-level fall. These pulses of coarse-grained sediment resulted from river channel incision and delta cannibalization. During the extreme lowstand of the last glacial maximum, sediment delivery was concentrated on the Hueneme Fan, with mean depositional rates of up to 13 mm yr−1 on the mid- and upper fan. During the marine isotope stage (MIS) 2 transgression, enhanced rates of sedimentation of > 4 mm yr−1 occurred on the Mugu and Dume fans, as a result of distributary switching and southward littoral drift providing nourishment to these fan systems. Longer-term sediment delivery to Santa Monica Basin was controlled by tectonics. Prior to MIS 10, the Anacapa ridge blocked the southward discharge of the Santa Clara River into the Santa Monica Basin. The pattern and distribution of turbidite sedimentation was strongly controlled by sea level through the rate of supply of coarse sediment and the style of initiation of turbidity currents. These two factors appear to have been more important than the absolute position of sea level.