While on a recent trip to Los Angeles, I decided to flee the hustle, bustle, and traffic of LA for an overnight escape to the beach. I headed to a charming little beach town that engulfed me with sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences. The diversity and energy there is so palpable that anyone and everyone can find a “happy place” in Venice Beach, California.
After checking in at my hip and chic boutique hotel, The Hotel Erwin, I was directed by a most helpful concierge to the expansive 2 ½ mile cement Venice Beach boardwalk just one block away that runs parallel to a wide and beautiful beach on the Pacific Ocean. It was there I sipped a mimosa garnished with a California orange slice at The Sidewalk Café and watched the greatest show on earth unfold before my eyes… PEOPLE. I saw the rich and the famous, the poor and the homeless, moms pushing strollers, seniors with canes, surfers in wet suits, skateboarders, bikers, joggers and tourists, musicians and artists, and me all co-mingling on the sun-bathed boardwalk of Venice Beach. It was totally energizing and entertaining.
After breakfast, I started my stroll along the boardwalk to Muscle Beach, the famous oceanfront gym just oozing testosterone. Here suntanned bodybuilders lifted weights while onlookers observed with both amusement and admiration. Nearby were basketball courts, tennis and pickleball courts, a skateboard course, and bike rental stands. The temperate California climate and active lifestyle are the perfect combination for outdoor activity, and Venice Beach is no exception.
The colorful Boardwalk shops cried out to me with their showy souvenir displays ranging from the traditional to the outrageous. Alongside the touristy t-shirt shops were high-end leather goods and fine jewelry stores. The most intriguing storefront was The Green Doctors, offering “medical marijuana evaluations” for $40. The “doctors” were out on the sidewalk busking for business in bright green scrubs. If you walked a little further, you could get your fortune told, tarot cards read, and astrology chart plotted. You could have your name tattooed on your arm, airbrushed on a shirt, or written on a grain of rice, all while listening to diverse local street musicians serenade you.
While strolling along the Venice Beach Boardwalk, you could literally eat yourself around the world. There were gyros, churros, wontons, sushi, curry, and hotdogs. It was a fried food heaven with fried Oreos, fish nuggets, French fries, and corndogs. Want healthier choices? There were fresh pressed organic juices, fresh caught organic fish or fresh steeped organic green tea, fresh picked organic fruit, and of course, when all else seemed exhausted, there was a creative cocktail offering almost every ten feet. The place exudes the feeling that happy hour is every hour.
But, once I took an easterly turn and left the beach area, another persona of Venice Beach emerged as a sleepy little residential beach town. I walked to the Venice Canal Historic District, which is on the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places. It is here that real estate developer Albert Kinney built the canals in 1905 to create his plan for a “Venice of the West.” The canals encompass just a few square blocks and are truly beautiful with wooden bridges and sidewalks lining them. The homes along the canals are an eclectic collection of real estate, ranging from tiny vintage cottages to modern multi-million-dollar, multi-level abodes.
Curious about Albert Kinney, I headed to Albert Kinney Blvd., the mecca of upscale dining and shopping in Venice Beach. This busy street is lined with interesting and varied boutiques selling antiques, designer clothing, consignment wares, fine arts and crafts and one-of-a-kind items for the home. One of my favorite little shops was the Happy Socks store filled with the most diverse and colorful collection of high-quality socks made in Sweden. After much deliberation, I decided on a pair covered in hot air balloons as my perfect souvenir!
Amidst the shops on Albert Kinney Blvd. are a variety of unique bars and eateries offering delicious treats. I sampled a blueberry bourbon basil donut at Blue Star Donuts and Coffee. Made from a classic French recipe, the donut dough takes 18 hours to prepare and is made by hand daily. These are truly “donuts for grownups.” What better way to follow a gourmet donut than with a scoop of sea salt with caramel ribbons gourmet ice cream at the popular Straw and Salt Ice Cream Shop? This charming ice cream store uses all local organic ingredients to make their unique small batch varieties. While walking back to my hotel, Eggslut caught my attention as I needed a little protein. This eggs-only cafe makes eggs appetizing all day, every day. They offer cage-free organic egg sandwiches on homemade brioche rolls and ample glasses of fresh-squeezed California orange juice.
As the afternoon waned, I knew I did not want to miss the sunset. Sunset is an event in Venice Beach. People line the boardwalk and sit on the sand daily to watch the free show as Mother Nature paints the sky with light and color. I opted to watch the sunset from the posh High Rooftop Lounge. This beautiful cocktail lounge on the roof of the Hotel Erwin was packed with people on comfy pillowed sofas. There are multiple space heaters and cozy blankets upon request. There is NO getting cold while watching the sun go down at High, and the view is spectacular! Be sure to make a reservation so you’re not disappointed, as the bar has a strict occupancy limit. With Los Angeles and its twinkling lights to the east and the Pacific Ocean and the sinking sun to the west, I was surrounded in sensory delight. I slowly sipped my expensive glass of wine and savored every moment.
As my day came to an end, I tried to think of how I would describe my travel experience in Venice Beach. But truly, my day in Venice Beach cannot be labeled, for it was not a stereotypical “beach” day in any sense of the word. On the contrary, its diversity and energy so pleasantly surprised me. There is no doubt in my mind that the “multiple personalities” of this charming beach town will embrace everyone who visits… they certainly did me.