Let me preface this guide by saying that everything you've heard about Venice Beach is true. My first time visiting the boardwalk, I had doubts that it would be as profoundly strange as I had heard, but within two seconds of stepping onto the pavement, I saw fortune tellers, folk artists, people doing yoga in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, and two guys in full teddy bear costumes skateboarding really fast. It was incredible. It should definitely be at the top of any Los Angeles bucket list, and if you're worried about sorting through a full-on sensory assault of the strange and bizarre, here's a handy guide to some highlights of the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
The boardwalk was once lined with classic boardwalk attractions (rides, games, etc.) but the original burnt down as the neighborhood became difficult to govern. Today, you'll find shops, the fishing pier, basketball and volleyball courts, murals, and loads of fascinating and eccentric characters.
Venice Beach and roller skating go together like surf and sand. Rent a pair and explore the boardwalk on wheels... or check out the Venice Beach Skate Dancing Plaza to get a little inspiration. Built in the 2000's by the city of Venice Beach, the Skate Dancing Plaza is a place for the Venice Beach Skate Dancers to work on their moves and put on a show. You can usually find them grooving to disco music and showing off their awesome moves for the crowd.
The skatepark at Venice is not only in a totally rad setting (right on the sand, mere steps from the ocean), but some truly talented skaters frequent this park. Enjoy their displays of skill, and, if you think you have what it takes, jump in yourself.
Fun fact: the original Muscle Beach is near the Santa Monica Pier, and between the 1930's and the late 1950's it was the main hotspot for the fitness enthusiasts for gather. Eventually, the equipment in Santa Monica was taken down, and the bodybuilders and fitness freaks moved South to Venice, where another Muscle Beach facility was built. Of course, there was plenty of confusion and controversy over the fact that the Venice Beach Weight Pen was renamed "Muscle Beach Venice", but it still attracted plenty of celebs to train there, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Danny Trejo. If you want to try your hand at lifting something, go ahead... just try to not embarrass yourself too bad! Remember: no weenies allowed.
Okay, you may have seen these guys on TV... but don't pass up the chance to see a real-life, old-school freakshow in person! From the carnival barker out front to the animal oddities inside the Venice Beach Freakshow, it's the kind of thing you can only find in Venice Beach (okay, maybe at Coney Island, too.) They've got fire eaters, bearded ladies, two-headed turtles, and tons more inside...and for a mere $5, they'll blow your mind, and probably leave you more than a little shocked.
One of the best hidden gems in Venice is the Mosaic Tile House. Artists Gonzalo Duran and Cheri Pann purchased a house in Venice, and decided to decorate their bathroom with a mosaic, being artists and all. It wasn't long before the bathroom mosaic spread into the kitchen... and now, pretty much every square inch of the house is covered in colorful tiles. The effect is strikingly colorful and vibrant. If you're interested in visiting, you simply need to call and make an appointment, and Cheri and Gonzalo will gladly give you a tour of their home/masterpiece.
Why is Venice called "Venice"? The story is that real estate developer Abbot Kinney wanted to create an American version of Italy's ancient, canal-lined city, and chose this neighborhood outside LA to do it. The Venice of America had a pleasure pier, saltwater pools, an arcade with shops, a dance hall, and even a floating restaurant. It was all accessed by (what else?) a system of canals that Kinney dug.
Prohibition, fires, and a generally rough political climate kept Venice from really flourishing, and by the 1950s, it had become known as the "Slum by the Sea". The city of Los Angeles finally started to fix up the canals and the neighborhood began to attract businesses and residents. You can see the canals, check out the shops and restaurants on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and go to the local farmers' market.
Of course! You can't visit Venice Beach without at least dipping your toes in the ocean. Whether you're planning on going surfing or you just wanna sit on the sand and listen to a drum circle, fully appreciating the beach is a huge part of Venice! Pro tip: sunset at the beach is especially gorgeous, and it's usually less crowded.