An Insider’s Guide to Venice Beach, California

An Insider's Guide To Venice Beach California

The city of Venice Beach, California conjures up images of surf, skateboards and a funky boardwalk scene. But locals know that there are even more treasures and surprises to be found just a few feet beyond the sand, where artists, surfers and technology titans all mingle together to create a unique vibe that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s such an alluring place that many celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. and Tim Robbins have homes here.

VENICE ON FILM

Venice Beach has played and continues to play a central character in many movies and television shows. In preparation for your visit, download a few gems from iTunes or stream them off Netflix. Whether it is the birth of skate culture in Lords of Dogtown, the high school experience of Grease or Glee filmed at Venice High, tortured artists trying to find their way in The Doors and Californication or fitness junkies trying to prove themselves on American Ninja Warrior, Venice provides a textured backdrop that often steals the show. 

GETTING AROUND

Avoid a car at all costs. The best way to explore Venice is on a bicycle. The city is relatively flat, bike lanes are plentiful and many merchants provide bike valet parking service. This means that most locals, if not on their skateboard, prefer the freedom provided by two wheels. To blend in with the locals, bike rentals are available at several places along the boardwalk and most hotels have a fleet of beach cruisers you can take out for a spin. Just make sure to lock it up when parked.

Venice Beach Abbot Kinney Bike Ride

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

The Boardwalk:

You cannot come to Venice without experiencing the visual and odiferous spectacle of the boardwalk, where people-watching has become a sport. On any given day you will see performers, vendors hawking artwork, henna and permanent tattoo artists, medical marijuana dispensaries and merchants selling cheap sunglasses and beach chairs. You may also be able to participate in a drum circle or topless parade. Be sure to stop by the skate park with its ocean views, boasting a huge sunken pool with ledges and rails, it offers challenge and fun for all levels of skaters and fabulous viewing for bystanders. You never know what you will get on the boardwalk, but whatever it is, you will have a colorful memory. If you carry a smartphone, download the free Venice Boardwalk App (iOS) to create and map your own itinerary, guiding you to shops, restaurants, art and other points of interest.

Venice Beach Boardwalk Street Performer

Venice Beach Boardwalk Shops

Venice Beach Boardwalk Tourists

Venice Beach Skate Park

Venice Beach Skate Park Skater

The Beach:

Venice Beach with its wide swath of pale yellow sand, palm trees and blue huts housing lifeguards in red swimsuits is the quintessential California beach scene. Get into the water and play among the crashing Pacific Ocean waves or walk along the beach while enjoying a crimson sunset. 

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The Surf:

Venice Beach has an epic variety of surf breaks that satisfy both experts and newbies to the surf scene. Walk the Venice Pier and watch the surfers from above as they catch the break along both sides. Or rent a board, wriggle into a wetsuit and try it out for yourself. If you’ve never surfed before it’s best to take a lesson. The instruction is invaluable and they provide you with a wetsuit and board. Be prepared for sore shoulders and abs the next day.

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Venice Beach Surf School
818-277-4652

Surf Lessons With Katie
310-962-7873

The Canals:  

Back in 1905, tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney wanted to create “The Venice of America” and cut canals into the marshland adjacent to the beach. These were linked by walking bridges and gondoliers floated tourists along the banks. Over time several canals were filled to make way for development, but today the remaining canals are offer a peaceful retreat from the boardwalk. The flower-lined walking paths allow you to gawk at multi-million dollar homes in every architectural style imaginable. Large modern structures sitting beside small beach bungalows make for a delightful mix. Early morning is the best time to enjoy the quiet and often you will happen upon egrets, ducks and pelicans enjoying the tiny docks and boats that line the banks.

Venice Beach Venice Canals

The Art:

Venice has been hotbed of artistic activity since its inception, attracting actors, musicians, painters and writers. The city hosts an Art Walk every third Thursday of the month with the galleries opening their doors for curious visitors and patrons. Additionally, the city streets are filled with spectacular murals depicting everyday Venice life and some of the city’s famous residents. If you really love art, visit the Venice Art Crawl website to get detailed info on galleries and events.

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Venice Beach Building Mural

The Body:

Venice is home to muscle beach, an outdoor gym filled with muscle-bound bodies on display right off the boardwalk. Additionally, Venice is home to the original Golds Gym, made famous by Mr. Olympia, actor and former governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every July 4th heavily oiled, tanned and pumped up men and women complete for the Mr/Ms Venice Beach title. 

If all these muscles inspire you to pursue your own fitness, and pumping iron isn’t quite for you, Yoga, Spinning  and Barre studios abound. Here are a few of the best for a quick drop-in class.

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YAS
1101 Abbot Kinney Blvd
1-866-YAS-YOGA

The Daley Method
1327 ½ #B Abbot Kinney Blvd
310-396-1500

Pop Physique
1645 Abbot Kinney Blvd,
310-695-1157

The Shopping:

Venice Beach Abbot Kinney Shopping

Abbot Kinney has been named the coolest block in America by GQ magazine. Filled with high end boutiques, funky artisan shops, vintage furniture stores, art galleries and restaurants, you can find something in just about any price-point for you, your home or gifts for your friends. The first Friday night of each month the street is filled with food trucks and the merchants offer special discounts in honor of the occasion.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

Venice is filled with restaurants to meet the tastes and dietary restrictions of just about everyone. If you are into junk food – got it, if you are a gluten intolerant vegan – got it, locally sourced, farm to table – got it, celebrity sighting – of course.

Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Blvd Venice Beach

Here are some of the top picks for enjoying the Venice food scene…

$$$$ – Splurge:

Gjelina (pictured above)
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-450-1429
(Features locally sourced and creative menu, delicious desserts, frequent celebrity sightings. No substitutions allowed when ordering. Reservations are a must.)

Scopa Italian Roots
2905 Washington Blvd.
310-821-1100
(Features a rustic, seasonal Italian menu filled with small plates that are perfect for sharing.  Not for those watching their carbs or gluten intolerant.  Their homemade ricotta crostini is a must. The beautiful bar offers a great selection of fun cocktails.)

$$$ – Date night:

Oscar’s Cerveteca
523 Rose Ave.
310-310-8937
(Delicious California meets Mexico flavors. Lively and fun, with lots of organic and seasonal options. Try sitting outside in one of their sidewalk tables if possible.) 

$$ – I don’t want to cook, let’s grab a bite:

Southend
2805 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
424-228-4736
(Go here for the pizza. Delicious sourdough crust and fresh creative toppings make for a fabulous pie.  They have a great wine selection.  Space if small and can be noisy so arrive early or ask for take-way.)

Café Gratitude
512 Rose Ave.
424-231-8000
(Yummy vegan food with an extensive menu. Food is flavorful and staff are super friendly, even traditional meat eaters will leave full and happy.)

Kreation
1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-314-7778
(Delicious fresh juices and smoothies that are perfect after yoga. They also offer hearty organic breakfasts with quinoa bowls.)

Wurstküche
625 Lincoln Blvd.
213-687-4444 (ext. 2)
(For the sausage lover among us. Sausages from the mundane (bratwurst) to the exotic (rattlesnake and rabbit).  Perfect for lunch or pre-bar bite to eat.) 

$ – I am starving but I only have lunch money in my pocket:

Gjelina Take Away
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-392-7575
(A nice option if you’re unable to score a reservation at Gjelina restaurant. It’s located next door and you can enjoy a modified menu of pizzas and sandwiches. They also serve yummy breakfast items in the morning.)

Lemonade
1661 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-452-6200
(Nice selection of hot and cold food items if you want a quick bite or to pack a picnic for the beach. Don’t forget to try their Lemonade, of which they offer multiple flavors daily, each one more fabulous than the next.)

Salt and Straw
1357 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-310-8429
(Ice Cream only. Fabulous and creative ice cream made with the freshest seasonal ingredients. You can smell the deliciousness a block away. On weekends lines form out the door, so weekdays might be a better option. Enjoy a scoop or grab a pint to enjoy later.)

Intelligentcia
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-399-1233
(Best crafted coffee in Venice. Coffee machines look like something from a mad scientist lab. Lines can be long and coffee a little pricey, but the dark roasty flavor is amazing.)

Tom’s
1344 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-314-9700

(Nice option for coffee if the line at Intelligentcia is too long. Shop for shoes, buy some coffee and feel good that you just helped bring clean water to someone in need.)

Erewhon
585 Venice Blvd.
310-362-3062
(Ok, this is not a restaurant, but a high-end, all-organic grocery store. Grab some sushi, a freshly made juice or a yummy sandwich or salad. Who needs a fancy restaurant when your local market creates such gourmet delights!?)

The Drinks:

High Rooftop Lounge (at Hotel Erwin)
1697 Pacific Ave.
1-800-786-7789
(Cocktails are a little pricey but the ocean view at sunset make it all worth it.)

The Other Room
1201 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-396-6230
(Loud bar that is good for people watching. Excellent beer selection.)

The Brig
1515 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
310-399-7537
(A sometimes crowded, lively, casual bar.)

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel options in Venice are fairly limited and historically had trended toward hostels. There are now a couple of small brand boutique options. 

Hotel Erwin
1697 Pacific Ave.
(Hotel Erwin is only 300 feet from the boardwalk and its rooftop bar is one of the best places to enjoy a cocktail while enjoying the sunset.)

The Rose Hotel
15 Rose Ave.
(The Rose Hotel is a quirky boutique hotel that embraces all that is Venice. Super friendly and small with cozy rooms this is one of the best places to feel the history of Venice.)

If you prefer a more familiar hotel brand, just to the south of Venice Beach there are several large chain hotels in Marina Del Rey. These are an easy 5-minute bike ride from all of the Venice action. Some of the best options in Marina del Rey are…

Marriott – Marina del Rey 
4100 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton – Marina del Rey
4375 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey

Hilton Garden Inn – Marina Del Rey
4200 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey

TIP: If you are up for living like a local, there are many AirBnB properties available within Venice. Your best bet is to stay at a place that is west of Abbot Kinney and south of Rose Avenue. If you can find a place along one of the Venice Canals you have truly scored!


For pinners:

An Insider's Guide To Venice Beach California