Artists, surfers, beat poets and a certain type of celebrity make their home in Venice Beach, arguably L.A.’s coolest neighbourhood.
The committed center of L.A. subculture has something for everyone; golden beaches, a wonderfully weird boardwalk, destination restaurants, glam rooftop cocktail bars, and a killer indie boutique scene are all must-do’s.
If you crave more action, there’s surfing, strolling the Venice canals, and stalking Californication landmarks. With so much on offer in this hip beachfront hood, there’s no need to sit in the parking lot of a freeway and venture into smoggy downtown La-La-Land.
Here are 5 cool things to do in Venice Beach, L.A. now.
People-watching at Venice Beach boardwalk, also known as Ocean Front Walk, is the stuff of legend. The bustling path runs along the beach between laid back Marina del Rey and swanky Santa Monica.
Along the way you’ll see fitness nuts pumping iron at Muscle Beach, roller bladers in retro gear, slouchy skateboarders, beach bunnies, jugglers, stilt-walkers, musicians, palm-readers and the bizarre cast of the AMC series Freakshow. If the circus vibe is a tad overwhelming, rent some wheels (bicycles are $18/day from Venice Bikes & Skates) and cruise along the calmer (also beachfront) Venice Bike Path.
Start by filling your belly at Gjelina, situated in the throbbing heart of Venice on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The small-plates menu by immensely talented (and movie-star-hot) chef Travis Lett lives up to the well-broadcasted hype.
Lett intended the spot to be a relaxed hangout for Venice Beach creatives. He’s achieved that and you’ll also find, on any given night, celebrities like Victoria Beckham, John Favreau and neighborhood resident Tim Robbins, partaking of the California-meets-Mediterranean pasta, pizzas and innovative vegetable dishes.
Luckily, Gjelina recently opened GTA, (Gjelina Take Away) which serves a nice representation of their signature menu items. Think wood-fired pizza made unforgettable with with wild nettle and raclette, or delicately grilled apricots with creamy burrata and country ham.
Next join the pretty folk at the High Lounge at Hotel Erwin, Venice Beach’s only rooftop bar, for cocktails such as blood orange juleps and potent lifeguard lemonade (note: you shouldn’t attempt to swim after downing these). The panoramic views and fun snack menu (coca cola pulled pork; duck currywurst) will keep you going into the wee hours.
Get inspired by the intrepid Dogtown and Z-boys of Venice and take part in the intense local surf/skate culture. Venice Beach is not L.A.’s gnarliest surf beach for seasoned wave riders, but the action here offers mellow rides that are perfect for beginners.
The spots to hit: Venice Breakwater, located north of the Venice Pier and Lifeguard Headquarters, and south of the Santa Monica Pier. Local surf schools, like Surf Lessons with Katie, are the best way to break into the sport.
Recently called the hippest block in America by GQ magazine, Abbot Kinney is the go-to street for good design. Start by getting inspired at the well-edited at A + R Store, where you’ll find good-looking odds and sods (Muuto vases; pixellated pillows; DIY molecular gastronomy kits) that can transform your day and living space from boring to super fab.
Once you’ve mastered the L.A. aesthetic, head over to Huset, a Scandinavian-themed home and fashion emporium, where you’ll find a mix of pretty Swedish goods ranging from textiles and clothes, to statement jewelry, toys and home decor. Designers include Asplund, Iittala, Malene Birger and Marimekko.
Secreted away from the bustling boardwalk is the Venice Beach of yesteryear. Before Venice merged with Los Angeles in the 1920s, the resort town, known as Venice of America, was a leisure community built on a series of canals.
The set up was designed by cigarette baron Abbot Kinney to mimic the charms of Venice, Italy. Residents got around in boats or by walking the canal paths and bridges. Although the city filled in the major canals (against residents’ wishes) to allow for car traffic, there are still a few hidden gems left.
The last remaining Venice Canals are located off 25th Street in Venice Beach. If you didn’t know they were there you would easily miss them. But don’t. Strolling the historic myriad of waterside trails and lovely bridges is a dreamy way to while away a sunny afternoon.
Getting there: It’s a three hour direct flight from YVR to LAX. Multiple carriers including Air Canada and WestJet make the run. You can also check a local rideshare board to find a like-minded adventurer heading south for summer.
Where to stay: Live like the locals with an airbnb flat or test a loft apartment at the funky, beachfront Inn at Venice Beach. As a slightly swankier but still affordable pick, opt for the historic, nearly beachfront art deco Cadillac Hotel, which turns 100 this year. Often used for filming movies, the design savvy suites and attentive staff make this better than your average boutique hotel experience. Fun fact: it was once the home of Charlie Chaplin.
Lead image: Flickr user Majunznk