Stroll the boardwalk and you'll see impromptu street performances and Muscle Beach, or check out the upscale boutiques and galleries on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Abbot Kinney had a dream. A vision, some might say. Where others saw a flat sweep of swampland, the Los Angeles developer pictured a seaside resort graced with all the culture, beauty, and dolce vita of Italy. "The Venice of America," he called it, and he set about dredging a network of canals, hiring gondoliers, and building an amusement pier. In 1905, thousands flocked to Venice's oceanfront boardwalk, ushering in its heyday as "the Coney Island of the Pacific"—a reign that lasted until the Great Depression.
Today Venice is flourishing again. Stroll the boardwalk on a sunny day and you'll find lots of free spirits and stands offering everything from henna tattoos to qi gong massage. Catch impromptu street performances or explore the original Venetian colonnade, which now houses vintage clothing stores and shaved-ice stands.
But this is Southern California, where you haven't lived until you've roller discoed in a bikini. Several boardwalk stands rent skates, bikes, and boogie boards. At Muscle Beach, gawk at the preening Terminators-in-training. (For $5, you too can lift weights before a live audience, a small price for public humiliation.) Then wander east to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, home to upscale boutiques and art galleries. Or investigate the mystery of a four-story pair of binoculars—part of a Frank Gehry-designed building. Be sure to visit the canals, six of which remain.
Where it is: Venice Boardwalk runs for two miles along the Pacific Ocean, about 12 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Who will like it: Kids and teenagers, nostalgic hippies, people-watchers, and sun worshipers.
When to go: The parade of street performers reaches its zenith on weekends; weekday mornings offer a more peaceful experience. Avoid the boardwalk and side streets after dark, when safety is a concern.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in July 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.