Is Venice Beach losing its soul?

Tent City
Tent City at Venice Beach

Yesterday was my annual pilgrimage to Venice Beach with the kids for their end o’ summer/back to school field trip.  (I celebrate the latter).

It is so sad to see the changes going on in Venice right now.  Where the sidewalk was once lined with artists and musicians it is now packed with EZ-up tents selling mostly swap meet type crap.  To even get to the tent city one has to wade through a gauntlet of a dozen or so “independent musicians” hawking their latest CD in a very aggressive in your face manner.

I can count on my hand the number artists left on the sidewalk of Venice Beach.  It was sad to see so few of them left.  It was even sadder to see the number musicians has dwindled to less than a handful.  I miss them all, they were the heart and soul of the Venice Beach that I have come to love over my years here. Continue reading “Is Venice Beach losing its soul?”

L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks: Venice Beach

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.

Out-fitted for rollerblading

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.

"Lifeguard station" lookout pod by Frank Gehry

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.

Venice Carnevale 2009

(See the rest of the “L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks” series here)

At Venice Beach, Every Day is a Carnival, If Not a Carnevale

img_15311The Carnevale of Venice, Italy is a rich, ornate, historic pre-Lent celebration characterized by dramatic costumes and masks. The Carnevale of Venice, California? Not so much.  Yesterday’s California-style Carnevale on Venice Beach was a good excuse for a street festival, but the Carnevale connection was tenuous at best.

At Windward Avenue near Ocean Front Walk, the first thing we saw was a group of Hare Krishnas competing with — or maybe taking advantage of — the pulsing beat of techno music a few yards away.  The Carnevale DJ booth, an oversized wooden cat mask, held some thematic promise, visually if not aurally.  But the only costumed dancers were dressed more for a rave — or perhaps an advertising gig on the nearby walkway — than for a Carnevale. 

Venice does Venice – sort of – after the jump

Blizzard at Venice Beach

img_1426Today was probably the windiest, hat-blowingest (I lost my prized Zermatt Switzerland cap) day that I have experienced here.  I walked over to Venice Beach to check out our version of a blizzard.   Few people, far less than the usual Sunday throng, were out.  Sand was everywhere, including in my eyes.  Sand drifts were piling up.  The stinging sand gave my face a nice dermabrasion.  Visible sand clouds could be seen down towards Palos Verdes and up towards Point Dume.  The surf was extremely choppy. Birds flew sideways, if at all.

Today’s sand blizzard was another of Mother Nature’s somewhat regular reminders that, no matter how much we in the Los Angeles area may surround ourselves with homes, roads, cars, and other material objects, she is in charge.

Now, if you’re located in Manhattan Beach, or San Diego, or Maui, and you happen to see a black Zermatt Switzerland cap wash up on the shore, please contact me.

More photos after the jump