Get to Know LA's Venice Beach

29 May 2017
Read Time: 3.3 mins

As much an icon of the buzzing Californian city as the Hollywood sign or the Walk of Fame, Los Angeles’ Venice Beach is known as an eclectic hangout for LA’s creative and artistic communities. It’s also where you’ll find skater bros and basketball pros. This is where Beat Generation artists, musicians and poets – including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg – hung out in the 60s, where Jim Morrison came up with The Doors in the 70s and where Arnold Schwarzenegger pumped iron in the 80s. Today, Venice is where you’ll find the perfect combination of raw and gritty, chic and hip, making Los Angeles a must-visit holiday destination on your next US west coast adventure.

boys ride their skateboards at Venice Beach, California, at sunset There's no shortage of great people-watching opportunities at Venice Beach. Image: Getty

Start your wanderings down by the beach on the sunbaked four-kilometre pedestrian boardwalk. On any given sunny afternoon you’ll find it lined with jugglers, acrobats, musicians, mystics and bikini-clad babes, an eclectic hive of activity with two- and three-storey psychedelic murals as the backdrop. Wander past shops selling everything from cheap sunglasses and T-shirts, to pizzas and Chinese massage, towards the palm tree-lined skate bowls, where locals hang out watching the skaters do their thing.

Just metres away you’ll find the famous Muscle Beach outdoor gym, where He-Men flex and twist their sweaty, overworked bodies. Next door, dudes shoot hoops at the basketball courts with the gently sloping beach as their backdrop.

Speaking of the beach, it should be your next stop. Take a walk along the skinny 400-metre Venice fishing pier that reaches out into the ocean, or simply flop on the wide expanse of sand for a couple of lazy hours of sun and saltwater healing.

Venice Beach fishing pier, Los Angeles, California The best way to capture the view of Venice Beach is from out on the Pier. Image: Getty

Once you’ve had your dose of raw and gritty, it’ll be time to experience the chic shops and hip organic cafes of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice’s boho-chic enclave. This strip has come an awfully long way in the past few decades. Until the early 90s it was virtually a slum with heavy gang activity, but now (thanks in part to the fact that both Google and Snapchat have offices in the area) it’s so LA – new age, mellow, bohemian and image conscious, all at the same time.

Wander through boutiques like Open the Kimono for handmade kimonos, Tortoise General Store design store for delicate Japanese homewares and tea ware, and Linus Bike for European vintage-inspired cruisers and 8-speeders with matching leather saddles and waxed cotton saddlebags.

Do as the locals do and grab some biodynamic, organic handcrafted chocolate from ZenBunni, a hole-in-the-wall styled to look like the inside of a tree. Oh, and try your best not to compare yourself to the perfectly tanned, perfectly thin locals wandering all around you.

Next up, the canal area, created at the turn of last century by tobacco magnate Abbot Kinney as part of his “Venice of the West” plan. A ten-minute walk from Abbot Kinney Boulevard, it’s an oasis of calm where ducks and little wooden boats bob in the calm waters outside posh period bungalows. Take your time weaving your way along each palm tree-lined canal, connected by cute white wooden bridges. And don’t forget your camera – this area is Instagram heaven.

man-made canals of venice beach, california Enjoy the scents of lavender, rosemary and incense as you wander the canals and pass the many landscaped gardens. Image: Getty

Finish off your day by strolling 20 minutes to Rose Avenue – word about town is that it’s the “new Abbot Kinney”. Grab a raw, vegan bite at the light-filled Cafe Gratitude, then polish it off with a sangria or fresh lemon lime margarita on the lively patio at Oscar’s Cerveteca.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Los Angeles.

Nina Karnikowski

Nina Karnikowski is an freelance Australian travel writer, who has written for newspapers, websites, and magazines around the world.