Venice Beach, California – “Here we are again!” I slammed the car door and turned towards my sister. Her one request on our trip to LA – “Let’s not go to Venice Beach again.” Every time I visit Los Angeles, I somehow end up back in Venice, and I always drag her along. A restaurant, an event, or a particular site seem to bring me back to this bohemian seaside community.
I like Venice. It abandons the attitude that can be found in so many other areas of Los Angeles County. Everyone can be themselves in Venice, and nowhere is this more evident than on the boardwalk. The diversity of people here is staggering. In my first five minutes, I saw the following:
- Two people in full green jumpsuits handing out coupons for free marijuana
- A man on rollerblades playing the electric guitar with an amp on his back
- A really tan and really buff man who had to be at least 70
- A four year old skateboarder dropping into the bowls at the skate park on a skateboard almost as big as he was
- A tuxedo-clad high school student playing classical music on his violin asking for college tuition money
And hundreds of visitors like me who came to take in the whole scene.
Venice Beach is a place for characters. While Matador beach in Malibu was isolated and devoid of other guests, Venice was jam packed with them. But this isn’t a beach you visit for relaxation. In fact, the beach itself almost seems like an afterthought in Venice. This is a beach for people watching.
There are plenty of diversions to be found along the boardwalk. Independent vendors and craftsmen set up across from shops selling tacky t-shirts and
tchotchkes. After a few blocks they all began to blend in with one another.
Off of the boardwalk, graffiti artists, weightlifters, skateboarders, and street ballers all commingle with one another amongst the surf and the sand. One of the most colorful areas of Venice Beach is dedicated to the artists who have transformed otherwise empty surfaces into works of art across Los Angeles.. Much like 5 Pointz in New York City, the displays are constantly changing. When I visited, artists were working on new pieces over old artwork on the wall.
But it isn’t just the walls they’re painting on – the palm trees in the area are covered too, reminding visitors that though this is urban artwork, it still has a very decidedly LA feel to it.
Perhaps the image that most people associate with Venice Beach is that of Muscle Beach, the outdoor gym located on the famous stretch of sand. Bodybuilders, gymnasts, and boxers work on their form under the sunshine and the watchful gaze of passersby. Not one to pick up massive barbells in front of crowds of people, I was content just watching the spectacle.
Other curious tourists gawked around, and the regulars working out at Muscle Beach were all too happy to engage them by posing for photos, flexing their muscles, and showing off their athletic prowess.
Not far from the Muscle Beach are more public sporting facilities, all with more crowds gathering to watch the action. A boxing ring attracted a group of spectators as two young sparrers traded blows, while an intense game of pickup basketball escalated as hecklers from the sideline called out a supposed foul.
But what captured my attention most in Venice Beach was the skate park. With my clumsy balance, riding a skateboard seems like a surefire way to put myself in the back of an ambulance. So naturally I am fascinated by these high-flying masters of balance. I sat watching the skaters take turns dropping into the bowls, flipping their boards over ledges, and grinding along the rails.
I was amazed the order and accuracy with which the skaters danced around one another, narrowly missing high speed collisions in the middle of the bowls or along the lips, as if it had all been choreographed earlier in the day when I wasn’t watching.
Near the skatepark, I encountered a scene straight out of the 1970′s – roller skaters dancing to disco music. I didn’t even know this style of dance was still practiced, let alone displayed in public at Venice Beach. Roller skaters of all skill levels boogied down to the music. Some were content to shuffle back and forth with the occasional disco-point while others were seasoned professionals, showing off moves that required great skill. Since pictures alone cannot do this scene justice, I’ve included a video of the exhibition below.
I have to be honest, it was actually pretty cool. If they put this in the Summer Olympics, I guarantee I’d pay more attention than I do to the stuffy figure skating snore-fests aired during the Winter Olympics.
Final Thoughts on Venice Beach
Venice Beach is uniquely California, uniquely Los Angeles. While there are beaches all up and down the California coast and in Los Angeles county, none are quite like Venice. It is a place for anyone and everyone to do act and do as they please, so long as it’s within the law (mostly). Because of this, it has become one of the most popular beaches to visit in the California and attracts repeat visitors year after year. Some of the visitors even become mainstays, coming back everyday and eventually join the cast of characters along the beach, becoming a part of the fabric that is Venice.
While I don’t think I’ll ever become one of the ‘regulars’ at Venice Beach, I know I’ll one day find my way back, much as I already have.