I’m pretty sure my first exposure to Venice Beach was on TV and there were roller blades involved. Maybe some neon. It was the 90s, of that I can assure you (if the neon and rollerblades were not an indication already). Tattoo shops, piercings, skateboards, surfboards, and palm trees were everywhere, and my face basically looked like the emoji with heart eyes. I was completely intrigued by the colours, sounds, and people in this weird little beach town, and I knew that I wanted to visit it someday. Fortunately for me, that someday came in August of this year. Finally!
I’ve oscillated between understanding and questioning why people are not fond of Los Angeles. This last trip was my third time in L.A. and the first time I had the opportunity to explore Venice to my heart’s content. So I did – twice, actually.
Venice Beach & Boardwalk: Just Do You
Driving through Marina Del Rey to Venice Beach, you can see a marked difference in the neighbouring towns: sleek, beachside condos and docked sailboats transition into brightly coloured houses and a busy boardwalk in a matter of minutes. A few blocks on Ocean Drive past Washington Avenue, and I felt like we had passed through an invisible screen that saturated the colours around us. It was like someone turned the volume up all of a sudden. We’d arrived in Venice.
Venice is centered around Windward Avenue, where the iconic Venice banner spans the intersection with Pacific Avenue. If you’re a Californication fan like myself, you might recognize it from the opening credits. This was the point where we entered the famed boardwalk. The buildings flanking the East side of the boardwalk have some of the original Venetian details that founder Abbot Kinney wanted to emulate, painted bright colours and showing their age in a charming way. There are groups of tourists and locals gathered around some unseen street performers dotting the boardwalk’s west side. Past that, it’s all sandy beach, palm trees, the skatepark, and graffiti walls that we’ve come to associate with Venice Beach. Now tell me how it’s possible to not feel like a kid in a candy store when all these colourful, musical, and beautiful things are popping out at you? It’s like a carnival for the senses!
The shops along the boardwalk are a mix of vintage clothing stores, discount variety stores, stands selling pizza, churros, tacos (the L.A. staple), and medical marijuana dispensaries. The architecture of old stands adjacent to modern homes, what ultimately – in my eyes – is a characterization of the area. It’s a checkerboard of charm, looks to my outsider’s eyes like a peaceful coexistence of all different slices of life that call this place home.
Can you handle all this awesome? The sand is soft and the surf, excellent. The best part – the beating heart really – of Venice Beach are the people. Walking along the shore and down the boardwalk, you’ll notice people from all walks of life being openly, unabashedly true to themselves. If you ever wanted to just do you, this is the place the place to do it.
Abbot Kinney & the Venice Canals: Welcome to whimsical L.A.
Because one afternoon in Venice was just not enough, I headed back a couple of days later to explore a different part of Venice. Abbot Kinney Boulevard cuts diagonally through Venice, from Washington Boulevard to Pacific Avenue, and is the epicentre of recent gentrification. Say what you will about hipsters, they know how to see the untapped potential in a neighbourhood, and tap into it. Abbot Kinney is the place to be, lined with great restaurants and shops. We dropped in at Feed for some brunch and what was one of the best cups of coffee I had in L.A. After brunch, we strolled along Abbot Kinney and checked out the stores, the murals, and quirky details that popped up along the way. (There were plenty)
Let’s take a history break here. Venice founder Abbot Kinney (the boulevard’s namesake) was a millionaire who decided to develop the marshland south of Santa Monica as a model of the Italian namesake city. So of course, there were several canals going through Venice, of which, after Venice was annexed to L.A. in 1926 and several canals were paved over, only 6 remain today. Read more detail on the history of the development here.
Twisting and turning through the streets that are the defunct, paved-over canals of the old Venice, we leisurely made our way to the remaining canals while passing through houses of storybook proportions. Colourful craftsman and Spanish revival homes sit next to modern glass houses, and the landscaping is succulent-heaven. The unique heart of Venice can be found all over, on the sidewalks and in the front yards. When we got to the Dell Avenue bridge, standing between a sharp-looking modern home and whimsical giant-size Hobbit house, the canals forked ahead of us. Kayaks and dinghies are tied up behind some houses, which made me envious. Can you imagine stand-up paddleboarding over to a friend’s place a few canals over? I’m not gonna say I didn’t put that on my bucket list.
L.A. isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I can understand that. To those people I say, head to Venice Beach. Between the carnival atmosphere at the boardwalk, the historic canal district, the multitude of indie shops and yummy restaurants, and the beach itself, you are bound to find what you are looking for here. (And if not, there’s always Santa Monica).
Dear Venice of America,
I love your quirky, eccentric, colourful, loud, and all-around groovy heart. Never change.