Venice was created by Abbott Kinney at the turn of the 20th century in an attempt to recreate a new version of the Italian city. He ambitiously tried to build 16 miles of canals, gondolas, and European style buildings. Unfortunately, Kinney faced insurmountable engineering problems and the city fell into disrepair as a result. Today, there is only six miles of the original canals remaining, but Venice is still a funky, offbeat, pseudo-European, artistic community that has a certain underground arts and grubby bohemian charm to it.
Located on the western coast of Los Angeles County immediately south of Santa Monica, Venice is very similar to its northern neighbor. Like Santa Monica, Venice is a laidback unpretentious town, full of beachside blocks, lined with luxury condos and hotels, and basked in desirably warm by breezy climate year-round. Some have described this coastal city as a haven of junk emporia, dive bars, and fringe galleries. For sure, it does have many quality bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Perhaps the most admirable aspect of Venice is its ethnic diversity. Multiculturalism has long been a strength of Venice, as it was one of the few coastal cities in the county that did not enforce restrictive covenants to keep African Americans from living there. The cultural and socio-economic mix continues to be as varied today, much more so than Santa Monica.
Venice is very much an artistic city, as evidenced by the grotesque Ballerina Clown sculpture perched above the intersection of Main Street and Rose Avenue. Not only are there many artists’ studios and galleries everywhere, but there is also a strong alternative arts scene around the Beyond Baroque literary center in Venice’s old City Hall. You’ll find local artists, the city’s latest cultural trends, and regular book readings there.
Venice Beach is the chief attraction of Venice, drawing visitors from all over the Los Angeles County. The beach is among Southern California’s most popular, renowned for its smooth sands, great swimming, and a colorful street life – particularly along the Venice Boardwalk (or Ocean Front Walk). Venice Beach was also the spot in the 1960s that became a gathering place for local hippies. Be sure to check out the rental shacks along the beach where you can go and rent surfboards, bikes, skates, or otherwise buy sunglasses, tube tops, or sunscreen. Also, be advised that it is illegal to walk on the beach after dark. The area is also a dangerous place at night, full of thugs, psychos, and drug dealers.
The Venice Boardwalk, which is the northern section of the Ocean Front Walk, is the main beachside pedestrian thoroughfare of Venice that is lined with boutiques, cafes, and souvenir stalls. The boardwalk runs 2.5 kilometers, a popular wide pathway that is packed on sunny days with rollerbladers, skateboarders, bikers, rappers, folksingers, and strolling tourists. And on summer weekends, you’ll find jugglers, Hare Krishnas, guitar players, and fire-eaters as well. The vendors along this path sell everything from stereos, to sandals, T-shirts, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Muscle Beach is located south of Windward Avenue along the Venice Boardwalk and is a legendary outdoor weightlifting center where Schwarzenegger-types pump and lift weights while gymnasts swing on the bars and rings. The highlight of the year is the July Bench Press Championships held here.
Venice Pier stretches out into the ocean off of Washington Boulevard along the southern portion of Venice Beach. Its 1,300 foot concrete structure opened initially in 1964, but suffered damage from an El Niño storm in 1983 and again recently in 2005 by the weight of crashing ocean waves. Recently reopened again, the Venice Pier is very unlike the Santa Monica Pier; it does not offer much entertainment since it is used mostly for fishing.
Surfers should try out the Venice Breakwater, a popular surf spot north of the Venice Pier and south of the Santa Monica Pier. There are differing breaks with varying intensities and directions depending on the tide and time of day.
Windward Avenue and the area around it is the heart of Venice, running from Venice Beach to the Grand Circle whose west side is dominated by the 1987 Race Through the Clouds building, which projects a roller-coaster façade. This structure pays homage to the old theme park.
While there are shops, stores, and rental stands along Windward, for example at the intersection of Windward and Pacific Avenue, the area around Windward Avenue including the traffic circle is most notable for its architecture, the scene of small boutiques, far-out houses, old canals, quaint wooden structures, Tudor styles, modernist cubes, Colonial bungalow, old canals, and the original 1904 bridges built by Abbott Kinney.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Abbot Kinney Boulevard is Venice’s main shopping strip along which you’ll find funky clothing stores and boutique shops. This area, however, should be avoided at night, especially to its south where one of LA’s bleakest and most notorious ghettos, Oakwood, is located.
Baker, Christopher, Judy Wade, and Morten Strange. California. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671879065.
Dickey, Jeff. Los Angeles, 3rd Edition. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN: 1843530589.
Michelin Travel Publications. California. Greenville: Michelin Travel Publications, 2001. ISBN: 2060001315.
“Venice Beach.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice_beach>
“Venice, Los Angeles, California.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice%2C_Los_Angeles%2C_California>
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