Every morning at sunrise I ran along the boardwalk. Usually when I run, I need music to keep my mind occupied (meaning: distracted from the sounds of me wheezing and my internal monologue of PLEASE STOP THIS) but I kept one ear tuned into my surroundings and the other focused on the sounds of the waves crashing onto the beach.
Around 6:45 a.m. a familiar man would appear on my right. Dressed all in black save for a well-worn Santa hat, he sat casually draped across a patio chair, smiling at the world. “There she is!” he’d exclaim as I came along. I would be lying if I didn’t appreciate the chance to stop for a few minutes to catch my breath, and he’d chat about his plans for the day and how excited he was to be alive.
As anyone who knows me can verify (or even if you’ve read a few of these blog posts, such as this one), I travel to California quite a lot. I love the sound and sights of the ocean and mountains, the smell of eucalyptus trees and the copious amounts of vitamin D. But most of all, I really enjoy the warm nature of the people that I encounter, particularly in areas like Venice Beach. While it is gritty in spots (particularly along the boardwalk) and rather eccentric in general, I find residents to be quite friendly. I went just before Christmas for four days and encountered west coast charm at every opportunity – from shop owners on Abbot Kinney and baristas in the local coffee joint, to morning joggers and surfers getting their boards ready for a morning session. People just seem to be really content with life and that spirit is quite infectious – I recommend checking it out.
If a trip to Venice Beach tickles your fancy, here are some favourites of mine:
Exploring Venice Beach: Five Things
Dinner at Cafe Gratitude
One of two locations in Los Angeles, this all-organic and vegan restaurant promotes sustainability and consciousness for both ourselves and the planet. It’s a bit on the granola side (a man sitting next to me one evening was wearing what I suspected was Joseph’s coat of many colours) but man the staff are warm, friendly and the food is AMAZING. Absolutely my favourite vegan restaurant anywhere.
Morning Coffee from The Cow’s End
Friendly service and a wicked selection of smoothies and coffees – skip the ‘Bucks next door and support a local business. Plus prices are beyond reasonable – $3 for a soy latte? Score! – and the staff are really friendly. Once you’re armed with your coffee, take a stroll down to the Venice Pier and watch surfers navigating the waves and fishermen hoping to reel in a good catch. If you need a visual landmark to find it, the name is a pretty good tip-off – just look for a large cow’s behind.
Shopping Abbot Kinney
Sure, there’s some whining that it’s getting too commercial or hipster, but there are some fab stores on this street perfect for leisurely wandering. I needed a new pair of TOMS as mine had finally kicked the bucket, and lucked out as their flagship shop opened that very day. It opens at the obscene hour of 6 a.m. in case you’re in dire need of shoes…but they also have a nice coffee bar if you aren’t in the aforementioned cow’s neck of the woods. Hat tip to the friendly staff!
Along Abbot Kinney, you’ll find a great assortment of quirky gift shops, fashion and jewellery boutiques, restaurants and bars. And speaking of hipster, there are also food trucks on the first Friday of each month – conveniently, the event is called First Fridays – so plan your strolling accordingly.
One very important head’s up – traffic cops don’t mess around here. Make sure you’re parked in an appropriate spot (i.e. not one that says “drop off only”) and be mindful of the street cleaning days – you will get ticketed. Repeatedly. Or towed.
Fighting Back Envy at the Venice Canals
I love the canals, but I can’t help but feel slightly bitter that these people get to live in such a charming little neighbourhood so close to the ocean. It’s a bit unfair, really. I’d love to hop in a canoe and paddle over to a friend’s house for a coffee in the morning or a sip of wine at night. Plus everyone seems to have either a lemon tree or a golden retriever, and I would like both of those things. So essentially residents of the canals – I kind of hate you.
Just kidding. Please invite me in.
Haven’t seen enough chaos or kitsch during your stay in LA? The Boardwalk should take care of that for you. It’s weird, it’s wacky, and you’ll see and overhear some things you wish you hadn’t. In 2010 I witnessed a man in leopard print undies balancing on a ball while holding a snake. This year, “Santa” in what was clearly a prison jumpsuit, and a busker playing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song on repeat. Despite all the gentrification that’s happening elsewhere, Venice’s quirkiness remains alive and well along the Boardwalk. Rent a bike or better yet, take a stroll and soak it all in. If things just get too weird, head down to the beach and watch the surfers.
Have you been to Venice Beach? What did you check out?