The beauty of California is its diversity. There are not many places in America where you can find deserts and glaciers, farmland and cities and beaches and mountain ranges all in one state.
Venice is a beachfront district of Los Angeles in Southern California that certainly lives up to its Californian roots by being a diverse, unique and slightly crazy place to visit on the West Coast.
The history of Venice (also known as Venice Beach) is as interesting as its colourful boardwalk. It began as the vision of the tobacco millionaire Albert Kinney in 1905. He bought two miles of oceanfront property south of the city of Santa Monica with the intention of building a beach resort town similar to its Italian namesake. This began with a huge entertainment complex and, later, when Kinney started work on a residential area on marshland, several canals. These were used to drain the marshes and many are still there today, lined by architecturally unusual houses and buildings; overall, however, the canal system proved to be badly thought out and many were filled in by 1929 to make way for traditional road and street networks. Tourists and residents alike used to travel along these canals by gondola – another similarity between Kinney’s Californian dream and its Italian inspiration.
Like the northern city of San Francisco, Venice was another centre for the beat generation of the 1950s and 60s, with several poets, artists and writers emerging in the area. During the 60s it also became a centre of radical activism, with various protests and movements against urban renewal plans taking place there. It is well known as a culturally important part of the city of Los Angeles.
Things to do
Visiting Venice has to include a trip to its (in)famous beach. With Baywatch-style lifeguard huts and balmy year-round temperatures, this is one of the most popular beaches on the West Coast. While sunbathing you may catch a glimpse of body builders working out at the notorious Muscle Beach – an outdoor weightlifting and gym facility renowned for being a hangout for the local hunks. There are also a number of outdoor basketball courts, skate ramps and table tennis booths that create an active and sporty vibe by the beach.
Whilst in this area, you will be astounded at some of the things you can witness along the three-mile boardwalk. Every day is like a circus with a variety of weird and wonderful vendors, shops and street entertainers. From dancers, jugglers, fortune tellers and freak shows, you will never get bored of people-watching along the promenade. No wonder Venice is known as a haven for creative and artistic types.
Albert Kinney Blvd is also a great place to visit for a range of independent shops, boutiques and night clubs. This short boulevard is considered one of the trendiest shopping areas for non-conventional shopping, and is also the home of the annual Albert Kinney Festival each September.
As mentioned, the canals are a huge part of Venice’s heritage and a great place to see some of the differing forms of architecture that the area has to offer. From the canals you are literally inches away from these houses and can get a good peek into them if the curtains are open. From quaint cottages to modern penthouses, the diversity of the buildings in the area is fitting representation of the nature of this varied district.
Location and transportation
Venice is approximately 14 miles west of the city of Los Angeles and approximately two miles from the nearest freeway. Like most of Los Angeles, traffic congestion is rife in the area with much of the district being made up of small, narrow streets. Although Venice is accessible by car or Metro bus lines, many tourists once there prefer to make their way around on foot (including roller skates) or by bike. The Venice Beach Bike Path is a concreted area along the beach front that runs from Venice to the neighbouring city of Santa Monica and is a popular way of getting around.
Santa Monica is a neighbouring beach city that is slightly more traditional than off-the-wall Venice. With a high class shopping centre and famous pier (featuring its well-known funfair) it can be reached quickly and easily on the bike path.
Should you want to organise car hire and venture a little further afield, Hollywood is approximately 12 miles away from Venice and can be reached via the nearby freeway. The list of things to do in Hollywood is endless. Many tours are available to show you the sights of the entertainment capital of the world – including the Walk of Fame, the iconic Hollywood sign, and the various homes of the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.
Culver City neighbours Venice to the south-east and is the home of the famous Sony Studios. This city has been reenergised in recent years to include more shopping, eating and entertainment facilities.
First impressions of Venice may be a little intimidating with homelessness being an apparent issue in the area. There have also been high crime rates in the area due to years of neglect, though this is improving. But despite any misgivings you may have, Venice remains a vibrant hub of unique and creative activity and still one of the most popular and well-visited districts of Los Angeles.
Photo credit: Valdís Erlendsdóttir
Check out the Venice Chamber of Commerce site for more visitor information.