This oceanfront corner of L.A. has reinvented itself so many times that its funky cafés, street performers, and bodybuilders now coexist with designer boutiques and celebrity chefs. Venice—with its famous canals, built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney to emulate the romantic Italian city, and its robust art scene of street murals, fine art galleries, and installations like sculptor Jonathan Borofsky’s Ballerina Clown—is a joyful celebration of human expression.
Enjoy an inventive meal
Gjelina helped propel Abbot Kinney Boulevard’s transformation into a hot dining scene, and the restaurant is still going strong. Its inventive pizzas have garnered a cult following, and its breakfasts—consider lemon-ricotta buckwheat pancakes or egg-topped duck hash—provide energy for exploring Venice.
Get a workout in
Since 1963, bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno have congregated at Muscle Beach, the outdoor gym that forged an enduring image of Venice and remains unaltered by the gentrification that has swept much of the community. On the same stretch of sand is Venice Beach Skate Park, ensuring that a vestige of the neighborhood’s old Dogtown skate scene endures.
Explore the boardwalk
The Venice Beach Boardwalk, where open-air commerce and free expression create a carnival-style scene, has earned the community the nickname “Coney Island of the Pacific.” Locals and visitors alike take in street entertainers and vendors hawking everything from posters to toe rings.
Do some light reading
Take a break from people-watching to browse Small World Books on the boardwalk, an unexpected piece of tranquility with store cats lounging in the aisles and a wide-ranging selection of titles. The miracle of this independent bookstore surviving 50-plus years will warm your heart.
Grab a meal at Belles Beach House
Between the beach and the famous VENICE sign spanning Windward Avenue (it’s a replica of the original installed in 1905) is Belles Beach House, where the tiki-themed decor is more cool than kitschy. The indoor-outdoor setting is ideal for sipping exotic cocktails or brunching or lunching on cleverly conceived sushi rolls, addictive Japanese-inspired fried chicken nuggets, or Kobe beef teriyaki burgers.
Explore Abbot Kinney Boulevard
While the boardwalk represents Venice’s bohemian vibe, Abbot Kinney Boulevard—once named the “Coolest Block in America” by GQ magazine—showcases the latest fashion and food. Trendy-but-not-spendy Burro (pictured), part of the mile-long strip’s “new Venice,” offers home goods, jewelry, and imaginative gifts for kids.
When you make a purchase at Sand Cloud across the street (items include sustainably produced ocean wildlife–themed beach towels), its Shark Tank–funded owners donate 10% of profits to marine conservation causes. Also available at this inviting shop are bathrobes, kitchen towels, and aprons.
Take in some art
Venice has always been a major arts colony, and L.A. Louver has been promoting that heritage to the world since the 1970s. The modern gallery exhibits SoCal artists, including icons like David Hockney, as well as other international talent. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Sit down for drinks
Drop by De Buena Planta’s relaxed patio (a festively converted parking lot) for a live DJ set (Saturday afternoons); a spicy cucumber margarita; and Mexican-inspired, plant-forward snacks. Closed Mondays—Thursdays. Additional vegetarian-friendly cuisine on Abbot Kinney can be expected a block west at acclaimed Mexican chef Enrique Olvera’s new restaurant Atla, slated at press time to open in July.
Enjoy a meal cooked over an open flame
Chef Josiah Citrin’s Mélisse in Santa Monica earned 2 Michelin stars, but his Charcoal Venice is more laid-back. Almost everything on the extensive menu—including USDA Prime or Wagyu steaks, aged duck, and Maine lobster—is prepared over an open flame. The char and caramelization impart extra flavor to cabbage baked in embers or coal-roasted carrots with ricotta and honey.
Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.
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