Los Angeles Tour: Venice
From people-watching to shopping, this colorful neighborhood has more to offer than its bridges and famous beach boardwalk.
Venice began in 1905 as a beach resort modeled after Venice, Italy, but today there's nothing “copycat” about it. Its mash-up of offbeat hippie characters, hardcore skateboarders, avant-garde artists and filmmakers, and fashion-conscious hipsters makes it one of a kind. While its famous beachfront boardwalk is a carnival of street performers and sidewalk vendors, things are much more refined on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where you'll find gourmet restaurants, of-the-moment fashion boutiques, and quirky design and gift stores. Amid the hipster hustle and boardwalk bustle, the beach and the canals provide a serene backdrop.
Venice Beach Boardwalk
Jaded types insist that there’s nothing all that special about this ever-bohemian boardwalk, with its collection of eccentrics hawking their wares and letting their freak flags fly. But the gentrification of the surrounding community has given many a renewed sense of fondness for this decades-old promenade. Some very respectable artists sell their paintings and handcrafted jewelry here, alongside purveyors of incense, sunglasses, and henna tattoos; myriad street performers, and wannabe Mr. Universes at adjacent Muscle Beach (where the Governator himself once pumped iron), add to the human-carnival vibe. The funky cafés, boutiques, and tattoo parlors lining the boardwalk have a throwback, land-that-time-forgot quality.
Tip: Grab a snack at the original Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom (2011 Ocean Front Walk; 310-822-5639).
At home amidst the boho-chic atmosphere of Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard, this perfume boutique combines the romance of old-world fragrances with a modernist design featuring sleek white counters, mirrored walls, and simple, vibrant displays. On the counters, miniature marble busts sit beside small wooden trays lined with scents, while dark wood shelves house more bottles interspersed with bright flower vases. Owner Alexandra Balahoutis is a perfume purist, shunning synthetic components for fragrances comprised of organic botanicals, such as tuberose, ginger, and cedar. Her fragrances feature names like Fair Verona and Narcotic and are artfully displayed in understated glass bottles.
At Kristy Choo's Jin Patisserie, Asian ingredients are used in unexpected ways–it was the first shop to make a green tea cake with red bean paste filling. Choo also displays her hand-painted chocolates, macarons, and cookies in a curved glass case just inside the front door of the cottage. Savory choices include salads and sandwiches, such as duck prosciutto on ciabatta, or shrimp salad with lemon dressing on seven-grain bread. Afternoon tea is popular, and comes with a choice of tea or other beverage, finger sandwiches, scones, butter cake, praline, and a selection of mini-sweets. A private patio is outfitted with bamboo, banquette benches, and standalone tables.
You'll typically find chef Travis Lett at the farmer's market when he's not behind the stoves at his restaurant, the bright new light on ever-trendy Abbot Kinney. His surfer-boy looks—perhaps you caught him in Vogue—belie his talent for the earthy, assertive, locavore cooking that makes even vegetarian dishes (wood-roasted Tahitian squash with rosemary and unfiltered olive oil; braised chickpeas with harissa) taste as hearty as the short ribs. Lett’s intensely flavorful, flame-kissed plates find an ideal setting in the dark, candlelit dining room.
Venice Canal Historic District
Developer Abbot Kinney modeled the canals and bridges in this historic district on those in Venice, Italy. Though they were a sensation when they were built in 1905 (gondolas and all), the canals fell out of fashion and into disrepair by 1940—many of the original ones were paved over—but a major spruce-up in the early 1990’s restored the remaining canals to their former glory. The peaceful district is ideal for a stroll to take in the lovely homes lining the waterways and for photo-ops on the charming pedestrian bridges.
This atmospheric bar at the edge of the Venice Beach Boardwalk is one of the city’s oldest—it began as Menotti’s saloon in 1915 and wound up decades later as a dive bar catering to the likes of Jim Morrison. Today, under new ownership, Townhouse is reviving its vintage Prohibition-era allure. Low lights, pin-tucked leather booths, and classic cocktails set the mood, while the basement room has been resurrected as the Del Monte Speakeasy (a bona fide speakeasy during Prohibition), hosting live jazz and burlesque acts.
Housed in a converted Craftsman bungalow, the flagship store of casual-cool clothier Alternative Apparel fits perfectly with the Venice lifestyle. The eco-conscious store stocks the ultra-soft cotton tees and hooded sweatshirts that are the label’s signature along with beachy-chic fashions and accessories for both men and women. If you need a shopping break, chill out on the back deck and enjoy the beautifully landscaped garden.
This literary arts center housed in Venice’s Old Town Hall has played a strong role in shaping the literary culture of Los Angeles since 1968. Its famed reading series has brought authors such as Allen Ginsburg, Raymond Carver, and Amiri Baraka over the years, and it continues to be a place to discover established and emerging authors, poets, and musicians. Pop in for a free workshop or reading, or peruse the onsite bookstore, which stocks titles from the Center’s own publishing imprint dedicated to experimental and alternative writing.