Venice Beach, one of the few spots in car-choked Los Angeles with a vibrant street life, has been a cultural melting pot for more than half a century, welcoming everyone from hippies and homeless wanderers to the latest generation of tech executives. The neighborhood known for its palm trees and cool Pacific breezes has been on a winning streak in recent years, transforming from the ‘Slum by the Sea’ into ‘Silicon Beach’, thanks to the digital giants who have set up shop. It was founded in 1905 by tobacco magnate Abbot Kinney as a tourist attraction and absorbed into Los Angeles in 1926.
But it has kept its distinct identity, and championed a live and let-live attitude that was enjoyed by the Beats in the 1950s. Experimental artists, architects and Baby Boomer bohemians all call it home.
Venice is crossed by three particularly bustling thoroughfares- Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Rose Avenue and the beachside Ocean Front Walk, home to street vendors, skateboarders, cyclists and sunbathers soaking up southern California’s endless summer.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Venice:
Surf in style
Hang 10 at sunrise with scores of Venetians in Santa Monica Bay. Although lacking the reputation for high-class surf of nearby Malibu or Manhattan Beach, Venice is a low-key spot to learn California’s quintessential sport. Aloha Brothers Surf Lessons offers classes starting at US$ 85. The area’s other favorite pastime is yoga. Brad Keimach, a music conductor by trade, starts beach yoga sessions, at US$ 10 a go, from 10:30am. You can also try YAS, a yoga and spin studio that promises a ‘no om zone’ sans chanting, granola or Sanskrit.
Join the young professionals and their designer-dressed toddlers on Abbot Kinney at Intelligentsia, a West Coast outpost of the boutique Chicago coffee shop, for a single-origin espresso. Be sure to stroll along the canals where a century ago gondoliers gave Angelenos a taste of faraway Italy.
Search out the Venice ‘look’ in the stores of Abbot Kinney. Aviator Nation sells the classic sun-drenched ‘dude’ surfer T-shirts and shorts. You could also don a gauzy top from Velvet and a handmade hat from Nick Fouquet.
Finish it off with a bike from Linus, which makes the French-inspired vintage cruisers that have become de rigueur for Venice’s boho chic set.
Eat, Bike, Eat
If it’s the first Friday of the month, spend an evening eating your way through the food trucks that line Abbot Kinney. The longest line will be for Kogi, the Korean-Mexican fusion truck that put celebrity chef Roy Choi and his short rib tacos on the culinary map.
Gjelina and the Tasting Kitchen on Abbot Kinney have also won fame. Chef Jesse Barber’s Barnyard (1715 Pacific Avenue) near the beach is one of the city’s hidden gastronomical gems.
Venice’s main tourist attraction, Ocean Front Walk, is packed with tourists, snake charmers and salesmen hawking medical marijuana prescriptions.
Rent a bike or skateboard at Venice Boardwalk Bike Rental (US$20 per day, 517 Ocean Front Walk) and navigate the Marvin Braude Bike Trail along the beach, taking in views of the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu and Catalina Island.
For a glimpse of up-and-coming Venice, head to Rose Avenue, where you can share plates of homemade chanterelle tortellini and duck liver mousse at the laid-back Superba Snack Bar.
Top it off with a view of old and new Venice with Frank Gehry’s experimental Binoculars Building (340 Main Street). Completed in 1991, its latest tenant is Google.