Venice Beach is unlike any other beach town I’ve ever seen.
This isn’t the place to come if you’re looking to relax on white sand while the palm trees sway gently in the breeze. Instead, this is the place for funky shops, non-stop action and people-watching at it’s best.
Venice Beach is quintessential Los Angeles--full of music, movement and color. It’s founder, Abbot Kinney, modeled this section of LA on Venice, Italy, but today, the two cities have little in common. Now home to some of the region’s best restaurants, shops and street performances, Venice Beach is an unrelenting series of surprises.
Venice Los Angeles was founded in 1905 by millionaire Abbot Kinney as a beach resort. The land was dredged and a system of canals were built, complete with gondoliers. A nearby street was designed with buildings reminiscent of Venetian architecture. For many years this was a popular destination, but that began to fade after Kinney’s death.
Over the decades the area faced many challenges including oil drilling, gang activity and general neglect. But in recent years Venice has attracted tech money, and the result has been an influx of luxury condos, hip restaurants and trendy shops. There’s an uneasy balance between old and new here, but that makes for a really interesting place to visit.
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Practical Tips For Visiting Venice Beach
Most people will visit Venice by car since public transportation in the area is limited. But be prepared for traffic congestion since this part of Los Angeles is popular and crowded.
Venice Beach parking can be confusing, so here are a few options. Street parking is available, but will fill-up quickly since it’s less expensive than private lots. Keep track of the time your meter will expire and return accordingly since tickets are given out frequently in the area. Another option is private lots, where prices vary depending on the time of day, day of the week, and season. Parking adjacent to the beach or Venice Pier is reasonably priced and a great option outside of the summer season--in the summer and on weekends these lots fill-up quickly.
Once you’ve parked, it’s pretty easy to walk anywhere you want to go in Venice. But another option is to rent electric scooters or bicycles. There are several providers in the area including the most common throughout LA, Bird.
Venice Beach hotels are limited, so if you’d like to stay in the area, you’ll find more options in nearby Marina del Rey. However, the Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach is both well reviewed and close to the sand. It’s also been rated as one of the ten best hotels in Los angeles.
Eat Plenty of Venice Beach Food
Ask an Angeleno where to eat in their home city and they might recommend places in downtown, Koreatown, and Santa Monica. It’s taken a while for Venice Beach to get some love in the restaurant category, but finally, a large number of dining spots here are getting noticed.
When an area of town gets its own food tour, you know it’s finally arrived. So I couldn’t wait to check-out LA newcomer, Secret Food Tours. They wisely sought out a part of town still under the radar when it comes to food, and put together a terrific tour that combines the history of Venice Beach with several stops at excellent, local restaurants.
Our tour started at the Venice Pier and continued along the boardwalk and canals. Along the way our guide, Rey, shared the history of Venice and its stories, and ultimately made sure we all had enough to eat. I appreciated the balance between small, family owned restaurants with larger, trendier establishments. We sampled delicious tacos, enchiladas, sliders, poke, sausage and even donuts. I can’t recommend this tour enough!
Book your Secret Food Tour of Venice Beach today!
Our tour ended on Abbot Kinney Blvd. which has become a magnet for trendy Venice restaurants and eateries. My favorite lunch spot here is Greenleaf Chopshop, which offers an impressive selection of salads. Among my all time favorite ice cream joints is Salt & Straw--founded in Portland, Oregon, but thankfully expanding into Southern California. And recently my daughter, Jessica, introduced me to the cafe, Cha Cha Matcha, which sells tasty and healthy beverages with unusual ingredients like rose hips, reishi mushrooms, and bee pollen.
Stroll Venice Beach Boardwalk
Even if you’ve never stepped onto the Venice Beach Boardwalk, you’ll recognize it from movies and television shows. As a fan of the show, NCIS: Los Angeles, I’ve watched several chase scenes that took place here. This is definitely among LA’s most fabled spots.
Along the boardwalk you never know what to expect. There may be muscular men working out at Muscle Beach, or a rousing street performance of dancers and acrobats, or an intense game of basketball being played on the same court where White Men Can’t Jump was filmed. Then there are the shops full of classic souvenirs like t-shirts alongside underwear printed with raunchy phrases. Needless to say, proceed cautiously if you are traveling with young children.
There are permanent shops on one side of the boardwalk while pop-up tents on the other side offer additional opportunities for browsing. No matter which way you look, there is plenty of action.
During one of our recent visits to Venice we enjoyed a street performance by a group of men that included dancing, acrobatics and even a daredevil stunt at the end. (Watch the 1 minute and 5 second video below.) At other spots along the boardwalk you may witness musicians, jugglers or even a skateboarding dog.
Shop Until You Drop
Venice Beach shopping is divided primarily into two options; souvenirs and beach related items on the boardwalk and boutiques on Abbot Kinney Blvd. For t-shirts, shot glasses, hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen check out all the offerings--mostly affordable--along the boardwalk.
But for boutique shopping--mostly upscale--the proper destination is Abbot Kinney. Whether you are looking for shoes from Tom’s, essential oils from Saje, stationery from Urbanic, or some now legal cannabis from Medmen, there are plenty of great stores to browse for an entire day along this street.
Every Saturday on the corner of Abbot Kinney and Westminster the Artists & Fleas market takes place. Over 50 vendors sell clothing, homegoods, art and jewelry. Food trucks also join the mix making the food options even greater.
Admire The Venice Beach Canals
While most of the Venice Beach canals no longer exist, the six remaining ones are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are definitely a highlight of any visit. Again, you’ve probably seen these in television shows, but seeing them in person is essential.
I love the creativity of the homeowners along the canals. Many of the homes are brightly colored with lovely gardens while others are excellent examples of modern architecture. No two homes are alike. In the water are colorful rafts, kayaks, and boats shaped like animals. Periodically a bridge appears for a nice photo opportunity or the chance to explore the other side of the canal.
From the boardwalk or the middle of Abbot Kinney Blvd., the canals can be reached by walking in about ten minutes, which means it won’t be necessary to move your car. Simply type Venice Canals into Google Maps to get directions.
Appreciate the Art
Art is everywhere in Venice, from the high-end gallery spaces to the constantly changing graffiti walls, this place offers a wide range of artwork.
Last year my brother, Erik, was eager to visit one of the best known galleries in the area, LA Louver, which specializes in contemporary art and has been around since 1975. Downstairs we enjoyed a show by sculpturist, Matt Wedel titled Everything Is Everything. Upstairs we found a large, outdoor mural that was perfect for some Instagram posing.
But you don’t have to look long to find street murals throughout Venice. Along Abbot Kinney Blvd. is one of jgoldcrown’s #lovewall murals. These colorful works can be found all over the world and are definitely an Instagram sensation.
A very recent addition to the Venice art scene is a rainbow crosswalk on Abbot Kinney honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
On the sand, near the boardwalk are the Venice Art Walls which are actually ruins of the Venice Pavilion. This outdoor concert venue is no more, but the few remaining concrete walls and pillars are well-decorated with colorful and constantly changing graffiti. In fact there was an artist at work while we were visiting.
Gawk at Venice Beach Skatepark
The Venice Skatepark is seriously big--16,000 square feet to be exact--and could provide anyone with hours of entertainment. There are some seriously talented skaters here!
Located just a few steps off the boardwalk, skaters of all ages gather here to practice and show-off their sport. And don’t assume it will be all men and boys. This skatepark is also home to a large number of female skaters.
It’s quite a large space, so be sure to move around and appreciate all the tricks being demonstrated. But do watch yourself since skaters are constantly coming and going.
What to do in Venice Beach
The issue with Venice Beach is not really what to do, but instead, trying to see all that if has to offer. This funky part of LA is chock-full of interesting people, colorful art, excellent restaurants and great shops.
If you want to make the most of your day, arrive early and have a plan. Consider starting on Abbot Kinney, walking through the canals and then strolling along the boardwalk for a while. Or the reverse will work as well. By the end of the day you’ll have walked a few miles and will go home with plenty of good stories.