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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrGritty, colorful, and eccentric, Venice Beach is an icon of Southern California’s beach culture and a fascinating cross section of people—from street performers and art vendors, to weightlifters and bikini-clad girls on rollerblades. The funky shop-lined promenade is juxtaposed against sandy beaches and pounding surf, making Venice Beach much more than just another day at the beach.
HistoryVenice itself got its name from Abbot Kinney ’s vision to create a Renaissance community inspired by the canals of Venice, Italy. Nearly two miles of canals were dredged out of former saltwater marshlands, and when the project was completed in 1905, Venice had seven separate canals that encircled four islands. These canals were part of Kinney’s transportation plan, where visitors could travel by gondolas through the canals or walk by footpath through a series of bridges.
With the advent of the automobile, the main canals were filled in and turned into roads, much to the dismay of the residents who owned cottages along the canals. However, a series of canals that were built just south of central Venice were spared and can still be visited today.
During the first half of the 20th century, Venice was considered the “Coney Island of the Pacific” and was one of the West Coast’s most popular amusement resorts. In addition to his famous canals, Kinney constructed an amusement pier that had roller coasters, games and fun houses. The now-famous oceanfront promenade (Ocean Front Walk) had numerous shops and restaurants, built in Venetian Renaissance style.
After World War II, Venice lost much of its glitz and glamour, eventually falling into severe decay and very nearly being entirely demolished by the city of Los Angeles. During the “Beat” generation of the 1960s, the area became a hub of artists, writers, and musicians, where tolerance of different lifestyles and a celebration of art flourished; the Beat population later gave way to hippies of the late 1960s. When a bicycle path was constructed along the beach from Santa Monica to Torrance in 1972, more visitors to Venice and Ocean Front Walk breathed new life into the struggling town.
Today, Venice Beach has a uniqueness that attracts tourists from around the world, drawn to the quirky, circus-like atmosphere, the prevalent murals and graffiti art, and the truly exciting culture of this beachside microcosm.
A Pop Culture IconVenice has been featured in an astounding number of movies and TV shows that have starred actors like Charlton Heston, Natalie Wood; Robert Redford, Charlie Chaplin; Buster Keaton, Mickey Rooney; Kris Kristofferson, and Laurel and Hardy. Just to name a few, Venice has been featured in: “The Big Lebowski”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”; “Charlie’s Angels”, “American Pie”; “American History X”, “Million Dollar Baby”; “Lords of Dogtown”, “Role Models”; “I Love You, Man”, “Californication”; “Starsky and Hutch”, and “Gilmore Girls”, as well as countless classic films. While visiting, be on the lookout for the camera crews that frequently film at Venice Beach, and you might even see some celebrities.
Venice is also the birthplace of some of music’s most legendary bands. The Doors, founded by Venice residents, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, began their career in this bohemian haven of the Pacific. Jane’s Addiction also started in Venice.
The PromenadeOcean Front Walk (also called “the boardwalk”), the two-and-a-half-mile-long pedestrian promenade that runs adjacent to the shore, is the heart and soul of Venice Beach, a buffet of bizarre sights and activities. Here you will find — in addition to jugglers, acrobats, magicians, mimes, living statues, comics, and peddlers selling their art and handicrafts — many souvenir shops, clothing kiosks, bicycle rentals, henna tattoo parlors, fortunetellers, and food vendors. This is, without a doubt, one of the best places in California to people watch; in fact, people watching is one of the best activities to do at Venice Beach.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Venice Beach is the outdoor gym, Muscle Beach, which was once the home of bodybuilders like Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can stand along the promenade and watch the weightlifters pump some iron, or if you want to fully experience this world-famous sports landmark, you can purchase a day membership for $ 10 USD .
The BeachVenice Beach is one of the only Californian beaches where the sparkling Pacific Ocean is upstaged by the neighboring boardwalk. However, this doesn't mean that the beach itself is anything short of spectacular. The Venice Breakwater (originally built by Abbot Kinney to protect the pier) is a great surf spot, and there are many surf schools that offer beginner and intermediate lessons.
The 8.5-mile bike path, the very thing that helped to revive Venice just several decades ago, cuts through the sand between the promenade and the waves. A ride along this bike path is a must when visiting Venice Beach. Rent a bike at one of the many rental shops along Ocean Front Boardwalk and then just follow the path as far as it will go in either direction. This is the quintessential California beach experience and should not be missed. Be sure to ride slowly to avoid people or pets crossing the bike path.
Of course, at Venice Beach you will also find people sunbathing, dogs playing in the waves, and children building sandcastles. While you can certainly do plenty of “normal” beach activities here, Venice Beach offers so much more and is a great way to spend a full day while in Southern California.
ParkingThe area around Ocean Front Walk becomes quite busy on the weekends, and parking can be tough if you don’t know where to go. If you can’t find an open parking spot on the street, there are some parking lots at the west end of North Venice Boulevard or Rose Avenue. There’s also a lot near Venice Pier at the west end of Washington Boulevard. The lots usually cost at least $ 5.00 USD to park.
SafetyVenice Beach is very unsafe at night, so only visit during the day. Be aware of potential pickpockets, and do not leave valuables in your car as break-ins are common.
Abbot-Kinney RoadTrendy Abbot-Kinney Road is a popular stretch of boutiques, bookstores, art galleries, cafés, and surf shops near Venice Beach. Hipsters and artists walk this vibrant road alongside wealthy socialites from nearby Santa Monica, all drawn to Abbot-Kinney’s bars and restaurants. Abbot-Kinney is so trendy, in fact, that GQ Magazine named the street “The Coolest Block in America.” After spending some time at Venice Beach, a good option would be to drive over to Abbot-Kinney for lunch and window shopping.
CanalsThe Venice canals that were not covered by pavement are located in a very picturesque neighborhood of expensive homes, cottages, and mansions. Complete with arched bridges reminiscent of its Italian namesake, these canals have received lots of screen time since the dawn of Hollywood filmmaking. Today, the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can walk around this area located at South Venice Blvd., Pacific, Ocean Ave., and Washington Blvd.
The Original Gold’s GymThis gym is known throughout the fitness community as the “Mecca of bodybuilding.” This was the first Gold’s Gym to open in 1965 and was featured in the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron,” which chronicles the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions and focuses on the competition between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. The Venice Beach location has reached cult status among weightlifters and athletes. Even if you aren't interested in working out, you can purchase t-shirts and other merchandise at the retail shop.
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Author: SBoston. Last updated: Sep 25, 2014