Venice Beach, Los Angeles Travel Guide
Beaches - Santa Monica and Venice Summary
- The cleanest air in smoggy Los Angeles
- On average five to 10 degrees cooler than inland, which is a godsend during killer summer heat waves
- Los Angeles International Airport is just 15 to 20 minutes on surface roads when there is little to zero traffic (though it can take 45 minutes with traffic).
- Beverly Hills and Hollywood are, when there's little traffic, just 15 to 20 minutes away by car.
- The beaches have a wide variety of hotel options from luxury to budget roadside hotels.
- Lots of restaurants, with many ethnic options from British pub food to sushi
- A great place for a family-friendly stay in L.A. with plenty to keep kids busy: swimming, surfing, skateboarding , bicycling, fishing, and amusements at the Santa Monica Pier
- The Strand is one of the best bicycle rides anywhere -- a 22-mile paved trail that runs along the beach from Temescal Canyon just above Santa Monica to Torrance County Beach in South Redondo Beach.
- The daily parade of twisted humanity on Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach is a must see; don't miss Harry Perry, the turban-wearing, electric-guitar-playing rollerblader, who's been singing and skating the walk for over 20 years.
- Though it looks like open ocean, Santa Monica Bay is just that, a bay -- it's sheltered, the surf is relatively calm, and breaks are small, clean, and ideal for beginning surfers.
- Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice has emerged as the latest hip L.A. neighborhood with an exclusive selection of bars and chic restaurants.
- No need for a rental car in downtown Santa Monica; one of the only parts of L.A. where it's easy to get around on foot
- Smoking cigarettes forbidden in Santa Monica, including outdoors in Palisades Park
- Smoking marijuana tolerated thanks to Measure Y passed in 2006; citations for smoking weed are now officially at the bottom of the cops' priority list.
- Santa Monica and Venice are a mecca for homeless people and young runaways, who sleep on the beach.
- Though Santa Monica Bay's water quality has improved thanks to the Clean Water Act, during rainy winters trash runoff from the streets and algal bloom force periodic beach closures.
- When there's traffic on the major highways, a 15 minute ride to Hollywood can take two hours.
- As for Universal Studios -- it's a long way on mostly traffic congested arteries.
- Overcast foggy skies or "June gloom" common during summer, even while the rest of L.A. is sunny
- Hip, celebrity-sighting nightlife, other than a few spots on Abbot Kinney, is virtually nonexistent.
What It's Like
Besides Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice are Los Angeles' key beach destinations. For visitors who want to tour L.A. but prefer to be near the water, they are relatively close to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other prime tourist destinations. Neighboring beach communities such as Pacific Palisades and Marina del Rey (and pretty much everything else all the way south to Manhattan Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes) are primarily residential and don't have as large a selection of hotels or amenities for leisure travelers.
During the '70s and '80s, both Santa Monica and Venice were sketchy neighborhoods, especially Venice east of Ocean and the Ocean Park area of Santa Monica, an area dubbed Dogtown by local surfers and skateboarders because rents were cheap and drugs were plentiful. Revitalization began in the '90s as companies like ad agency Chiat Day and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and actors like Dennis Hopper began moving in. Restaurants and stores started opening, first on Main Street in Santa Monica; later the town developed three blocks of Third Street in downtown Santa Monica and made it into a pedestrian shopping mall. The Santa Monica Pier also was brought back from near death, and many historic hotels that had been turned into retirement homes (The Georgian) and health clinics (Casa del Mar) were restored to their former glory. Now the area boasts more than 37 hotel properties with more than 3,500 rooms combined.
Originally planned in 1905 by the developer and conservationist Abbot Kinney as a theme resort with canals mimicking its Italian namesake, Venice has evolved into a bohemian Shangri-la. A few canals remain and are worth visiting to see the period bungalows lining them, but the main draw today is Ocean Front Walk, aka the boardwalk, a stretch of sunbaked T-shirt shops, hot dog stands, and pizza joints along the beach. All summer and during winter weekends the walk is a circus. If you're into street performers, musicians, bodybuilders, skateboarders, and assorted burnouts, this is a must-see.
Where To Stay
Santa Monica has a wide range of hotel options. For travelers who want to be near the sea but not on the sand, and close to downtown Santa Monica, the pier and the restaurants, shops and bars on the Third Street Promenade, and Fred Segal Couture, the luxury hotels on the bluffs of Palisades Park are the way to go -- The Fairmont Miramar,Oceana and the Georgian. Just beware: To visit the beach from these properties, guests must cross Ocean Avenue, pass through the park (and the homeless who loiter there), and take one of four footbridges that span the Pacific Coast Highway. Not recommended at night.
If getting sand between your toes is paramount, as well as quick access to the Strand for running and biking, it's the Casa del Mar, Shutters on the Beach, Loews, or the Merigot that you want. The Ambrose is a unique property more than 20 blocks from the beach but close to the upscale boutiques on Montana Avenue, the art galleries on Colorado Avenue, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and the Bergamot Station Art Center.
Resisting almost all attempts at rehabilitation, Ocean Front Walk on Venice Beach remains a sketchy place. The Hotel Erwin, right in the vortex of the insanity, is a civilized retreat from the freakshow but with a clear view of it from a rooftop lounge (appropriately called "High"). Top drawer restaurants and bars are a few blocks inland on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The three towns of South Bay -- Manhattan Beach, Redondo and Hermosa -- are a good choice if you're looking for a more solitary stay on the water, or more serious surfing. The swells are excellent here in the winter and the volleyball scene for participants and fans, particularly in Manhattan Beach, is intense. Redondo has a small amusement pier that's cleaner and more wholesome than (though not as large as) the Santa Monica Pier. It's not easy to find a luxury hotel in the South Bay, but there are a few, including the Belamar in Manhattan Beach and the Ayres Hotel, which is right off the congested 405 highway.