This is my little guide to how you could (should) spend 5 off-season days in Venice Beach. Upfront caveat. I am not a “foodie”. I eat basically to survive and honestly cannot wait until the world goes full “jetsons” and creates a pill that we can pop once a day to give us the energy we need to do all of the things we want to do. I am also the lightest weight drinker on the entire planet. So … if you are interested in eating and drinking your way through Venice … this is not your blog. There are thousands of others out there that will tell you where to eat and where to drink. LA definitely has more than its share of incredible restaurants and clubs so my feelings won’t be hurt if you stop reading here. I get it. For those of you who are going to Venice because your body, brain, heart, and soul are craving a blissy energetic ocean vibe … please read. I think I can help. I go there when I want to stretch out. Stretch out summer, stretch out my bones and muscles, and stretch out the invisible walls that sometimes press down on me in daily life. I go there when I want to write and breathe and think and move. Having said that … I have discovered that I am capable of surviving on nothing but coffee + juice + tacos for days so I’ll throw in a few places you can go to fuel up.
DAY 1 – Let your feet hit the ground. I recommend spending your entire first day wandering around soaking it all in. The obvious starting place is the infamous ocean front walk that starts in Marina Del Rey and extends north to Santa Monica. The wide paved path runs parallel to the beach and gives you a solid 10 km stretch of awesomeness with options … golden sandy beach on one side and shops / restaurants on the other. The path takes you through the Venice Boardwalk and extends beyond Santa Monica Pier all the way to Palisades Park. The Venice stretch is lined with patio restaurants, souvenir shops, and “entrepreneurs” who set up elaborate booths every single day to offer you art, henna tattoos, tarot readings, and words of advice (sometimes set to music). You will want to stop for a while at Muscle Beach Venice – an impressive outdoor gym and fitness hub where locals lift and lay-up their little LA hearts out. It was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fave spots to work out in the old school days. You will also want to stop at the beautiful Venice skatepark which attracts some of the most famous skaters in the world and where locals get their start. The last time I was there, I watched a 9-year-old girl shred the park. Walking another 3 km or so will bring you into Santa Monica. It’s definitely worth doing a lap around the 100-year-old pier with its iconic entrance and ferris wheel. Unless you love super generic touristy stuff or you’re planning to sign up for trapeze school (which is totally cool), you can probably get in and out of there pretty quick. Grab snacks and head back to Muscle Beach Santa Monica. This outdoor gym has an entirely different focus and vibe than its Venice counterpart. This is all about acrobatics, aerials, and slack lining. It’s where American Ninja Warrior Nicholas Coolridge (and various teammates) often practices. Throughout the day, you will definitely want to stop along the way to beach it out. I like sitting just north of the Venice pier (because that’s where the most experienced surfers tend to hang out) and lifeguard tower #28 (which is an entirely random fave). Find any spot and settle in. The ocean in that slice of SoCal heaven makes a sound so powerfully beautiful that your will feel the rhythm of your heart reset. If you sit for a while, you will see dolphins cruising the shoreline. There is a pod that swims back and forth all day long. I recommend finishing the day at Venice Ale House. Wait for a spot on the patio. Order the flight (it comes served on a skateboard … make sure to include the organic amber by Eel River Brewing Co.) and the nachos. Watch the sunset.
DAY 2 – Honestly you could just repeat my day 1 recommendations for 5 days straight but if you wanna shake it up here’s what I’d suggest. Get up early. Grab a coffee from Groundworks (whichever location you’re closest to) and hit the beach. Sit, breathe, watch surfers, get your feet in the ocean, wait for dolphins. Head back to Groundworks for another coffee. 🙂 Make your way to Washington Boulevard. This provides you with easy (obvious) access to the famous canals. Wander. Take pictures. Talk to locals who live in the pretty little neighbourhood. Head back to Washington Boulevard. Grab a juice (and food if you must) at The Cow’s End Cafe. Then rent something with wheels. There are spots all along the beach and along the various main drags where you can rent bikes (of all shapes / sizes), rollerblades, rollerskates, skateboards, scooters, etc. Pretty much all of them come with blood + sweat + tears options or electric options. I vote for the sweatier version. Cruise the boardwalk again as you’ll be able to cover more ground than you did on the first day. Weave through the neighbourhoods. Get lost. Eventually make your way back to Washington to return your rental and watch the sunset from the second floor of Cabo Cantina. Order margaritas and nachos. Venice empties out pretty early in the evening. Unless you’ve had LOTS of margaritas and LOTS of nachos … you might still have enough time to hit a hot yoga class at the beautiful Moda Yoga studio that’s at the corner of Washington and Lincoln. I promise your body will thank you.
DAY 3 – Rent a car and roadtrip south (ideally on a Saturday or Sunday so the traffic is a little lighter than it is on weekdays). Stop at every little beach town you can find. Watch volleyball in Manhattan Beach, walk to the pier in Hermosa Beach, grab pain-au-chocolat in Redondo Beach, and then just keep following the #1 Pacific Coast Highway until you feel like you’ve driven far enough. Put your feet in the ocean at every stop along the way – Long Beach, Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach. Plan to spend a bit of extra time in Laguna Beach because it’s absolutely beautiful and a little different than the other beaches you’re going to hit along the way. Drive through the main (touristy) part of town and stop at Wahoo’s. Have burritos with the locals. Carry on to Dana Point and San Clemente. This is where I’d recommend turning around (unless you are planning on overnighting somewhere). Stop at whatever beach you’re closest to for sunset. Hit Huntington Beach for dinner / drinks on the way back. Wander the little town for a bit before hitting the road. You’ll definitely need that break to mentally prepare for what’s coming next – navigating the traffic and INSANE multi-lane high-speed highway conditions of the I-5 that will take you to back to the beginning and to the Griffith Observatory for an incredible nighttime view of the sprawl that is Los Angeles.
DAY 4 – Back to the beach to start the day. If you surf, morning is the best time to get out there. You can rent boards / wetsuits at several spots close to the beach. If you’re experienced … head to the north side of the Venice pier. If you’re learning … head to the south side of the Santa Monica pier. If you’re like me … repeat day 2. Grab a coffee, find a spot on the beach, and watch the surfers. When you’ve had enough of all that beautiful scenery … hit the streets. Walk up Rose Avenue. Head north on Main Street. Wander in and out of the shops. Grab a greens #3 at Pressed Juicery or just about anything at Cafe Gratitude on Rose and 5th. Wander some more. Make sure you’re on Main Street near Crescent Bay Park as the sun sets. You’ll get the most incredible view and will be super close to Yoga Works. Trust me. You NEED to experience LA yoga. It’s a whole other world. Try to catch one of of Vytas Baskauskas’ power classes. Leave the studio … wrung out, sweaty, and happy. Grab take-out pad thai from Thai Vegan or samosas from the Samosa Hut. If you happen to be in the neighbourhood on a Tuesday evening … hit the Food Truck Lot. Then go home and SLEEP.
DAY 5 – Morning at the beach. Add coffee. Hit the Venice Boardwalk. Get a tarot reading, buy some art from a street vendor, get a tattoo from House of Ink. Or … skip that and head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard for higher end shopping / dining. Everyone recommends Tom’s for caffeination but, I prefer the LA-ness of Intelligentsia Coffee. Check it out. Walk some more. Take a picture of the historic Venice Sign that spans Windward Avenue at Pacific. By then … you’ll probably be winding down and getting ready to hit the road. By then … you’ll probably have your own fave spots. So freestyle it out. Know that you WILL BE BACK. As for me? I always end with one last visit to the beach to step into that beautiful ocean.