Known for its bohemian spirit, Venice is a buzzing beach town with upscale commercial and residential pockets. Free-spirited Venice Boardwalk is the site of funky shops, street performers and colorful murals. There’s also a skate park and Muscle Beach outdoor gym. Abbot Kinney Boulevard features foodie hot spots, stylish boutiques and coffee bars. A picturesque enclave of canals is surrounded by modernist homes.
Abutting Santa Monica’s south side on the Pacific Coast Highway, Venice Beach—or simply Venice—was developed as a Los Angeles beach resort that paid homage to its Italian namesake with canals, piazzas, pedestrian bridges, a lagoon, and a colonnaded business district. Designed by eccentric millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905, Venice’s original waterways and charming beach cottages can still be seen on Dell Avenue in the Venice Canal Historic District.
Today’s Venice, though, is more famous for quirky happenings on its iconic beachfront boardwalk, where mimes, jugglers, musicians, and street performers of all kinds inhabit an ever-changing and unforgettable bohemian subculture. You may also see some of the country’s best pickup basketball games on local outdoor courts. Watch it all from the loud and lively waterfront skate park, or sit near the daily drum circle on the beach. Feel free to grab a can and a stick—or anything that makes noise—and join in. Stop by the outdoor weight room at Muscle Beach Gym, once the home turf of bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later went on to become California’s governor. For a dive into Venice’s film history, sign up for a stroll with Venice Beach Walking Tours. You’ll learn about the city’s role in Orson Welles’ film Touch of Evil (1958) and other locally shot movies. To really go mobile, rent beach cruiser bikes to follow Venice’s stretch of the 22-mile Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail, linking Santa Monica to Torrance.
On Venice’s south side, boho-chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard contains a mile-long stretch of high-end restaurants, posh galleries, and edgy boutiques selling furnishings and fashions. On the First Friday of each month, food trucks and live music line the boulevard, but any day is perfect for stopping by Strange Invisible Perfumes to procure hydro-distilled eaux de toilette. Shop for comfy-cute loungewear at All Things Fabulous, or browse custom stationery and writing utensils at Urbanic Paper Boutique. Cafés and food trucks make sure you don’t go hungry while you shop—Doors fans can drop by Jim Morrison’s favorite Venice hangout, Hinano Café, which has been in business since 1962, and order up a burger and beer. Cap off a day in one of L.A.’s best shopping districts at the boutique Hotel Erwin, where you can get a bird’s-eye view of the area (and perhaps a blood-orange julep) at the High Rooftop Lounge.