Living by Venice Beach is like living by Mount Everest — it’s a world-famous landmark, yet I can’t recommend that everyone go there. I love playing travel guide to visiting friends, and most of them have Venice Beach high on their list, but if they have young children, and especially if they’re from a small town or have small-town sensibilities, I warn the parents about the seediness and strange sights to which their kids may be exposed.
Geologists (or at least travel PR people) say that the Himalayan Mountains, including Everest, were created some 80 million years ago when “[t]he landmass which is now India separated from Gondwanaland and collided with Asia and thus created the highest mountain range in the world.” In the same sense (hey, I made this absurd analogy, now I have to carry it through to its illogical conclusion), Venice Beach is where many cultures of Los Angeles come crashing together to make for one of the most colorful spots outside of those Tibetan prayer flag strings at Everest Base Camp (okay, enough already). Some of these cultures include:
–stoners and (until now) medical marijuana dispensers, neighborhood locals, locals slumming from fancy L.A. neighborhoods, locals from not-so-fancy L.A. neighborhoods, people on meth, tourists from Middle America (id’d by their girth and 90s Eminem hip-hop clothes), tourists from Northern Europe (id’d by their formerly pale, now painfully sunburned skin, and clothes which, on Americans, would be totally gay), panhandlers, artists and craftspeople, in-your-face musicians, street performers, in-your-face wannabe rappers who stop Ocean Front Walk passers-by, Muscle Beach muscle men (id’d by their cartoonishly large muscles and cartoonishly small Speedos), surfers & skateboarders, and homeless people, who look the most at home of anyone on Venice Beach.
There are plenty of things I enjoy about Venice Beach. I walk there regularly, in part to be among this colorful collection of people. It’s a great place to see some of the latest and greatest Los Angeles architecture, especially the concrete/glass/steel box. Art, music, and other events are held there. Scenes from some of your favorite movies were likely shot there. If you want to buy cheap sunglasses, you’ll be in heaven.
A variety of food is available, from higher-end and healthy at Figtree’s Cafe to good sandwich-and-fries grub at the popular Sidewalk Cafe, to decent enough pizza, ice cream, smoothies, etc. at several vendors. It has tons of t-shirts, inexpensive jewelry, and “smoking accessories” for sale. It has a state-of-the art skateboard park, typically filled with talented locals perfecting their moves. You can rent different types of bicycles, and brave the hazardous bike path traffic that, on weekends and summer days, rivals the maddest of the 405.
So, I tell visitors, it all depends on what you’re in the mood for. If you want to see where L.A.’s cultures collide like a certain mountain range, in an often sunny, warm beach setting, then Venice Beach needs to be on your short list. If you want to see beautiful, peaceful SoCal beaches, and if you have blinders and earplugs, metaphorical or otherwise, then you certainly can walk out to the shore at Venice Beach and feel that squishy sand and see that dark blue Pacific Ocean. But, like climbing Mount Everest, expect to be challenged.
(See the rest of the “L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks” series here)