The Many Faces of Venice, California
Welcome to Funky Town, USA—so-called by Mark Cramer in the book that brings to light the most “eclectic, irreverent and visionary” locales in the country. It’s little wonder that the daily circus that is Venice was rated third most Funky Town in the country. A visit instantly reveals why.
Located just south of Santa Monica, Venice shares with its Italian namesake picturesque canals and a carnival-like atmosphere, but possesses a decidedly southern California flair. This vibrant city has become known for its progressive social attitudes—Venice Family Clinic is the largest free clinic in the country—and innovative mentality—modern skateboarding was invented here and the first surfing demonstration in California took place off Venice Beach. Venice is also a pedestrian-friendly bastion in auto-centric Los Angeles, so day-trippers can easily take in the local sights by foot.
To join the circus or just observe it for a little while, stroll along the pedestrian Ocean Front Walk. Be ready for sensory overload as you pass pizza shops and burrito stands, street performers demonstrating amazing feats and sidewalk vendors peddling African jewelry, original art, fake tattoos and tarot readings. In this sea of humanity, a colorful cross-section of the world coexists. Everyone from Rastafarians and Hari Krishnas to teenagers on skateboards and European tourists mingle in the sun and become part of the scenery. To observe one of the most celebratory displays of diversity in the country from a seated position, grab a table at The Sidewalk Café and let the world pass by.
If you tire of the spectacle, head a few blocks inland to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, named for the founder of Venice. A haven of unstudied hip, this mile-long diagonal stretch of sidewalk is lined with antique shops, eclectic boutiques, home design stores, galleries and cafes—all independently owned and individualistic in nature. Abbot Kinney Festival is an annual celebration of the area featuring live music and performances, but the street’s charm can be enjoyed any time of year.
For the crème de la crème of Venice experiences, take a walking tour of the canals. Most of the original 16 miles of canals were filled in to accommodate roads in the 1920s, but what remain are in four square blocks forming a quaint, upscale neighborhood. Home to members of the Beat Generation in the 50s and Jim Morrison of the band The Doors in the 60s, the area is now fairly genteel. But the neighborhood maintains an artistic feel, and during the holiday boat parade in December, when the serenity is temporarily disrupted, remnants of the way things were become more tangible. This is still Venice, after all.
Events, Dining and Resources
Abbot Kinney Festival, 310 396-3772, www.abbotkinney.org.
Secret Gardens of Venice, 310821-1857, www.venicegardentour.org.
Venice Farmers Market, Fridays 7–11 a.m., www.venicefarmersmarket.com.
Axe, pronounced “ash-ay,” is the newest hot spot on the block. California-fusion cuisine with an emphasis on organic ingredients in a modernist space with industrial and natural elements. 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd; 310/664-9787.
James’ Beach. A local institution for more than 20 years. Expect modern interpretations of American comfort food at reasonable prices in a comfortable atmosphere. 60 N. Venice Blvd., 310/823-5396; www.jamesbeach.com.
Jin Patisserie. A secluded tea garden and divine, artistic homemade pastries make this a relaxing and decadent rest stop. 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310/ 399-8801, www.jinpatisserie.com.
The Sidewalk Café 1401 Ocean Front Walk, 310/ 399-5547; www.thesidewalkcafe.com.
The Venice Chamber of Commerce, 310/822-5425, www.venicechamber.net.