Dreaming of a warm sunshine-filled LA getaway? For boho-travellers searching for the quintessential SoCal vibe, there's no better place to stay than in Venice when visiting LA. Originally a haven for Beat Generation poets and artists, Venice continues to be a vibrant, cultural neighbourhood in LA. Famous for its circus-like boardwalk, graffiti art, surfing, skateboarding and bohemian lifestyle, Venice's quirkiness is what gives it an edge over its pristine looking neighbour, Santa Monica. With one-million Indian travellers set to visit the U.S. by 2015, beat the rush and discover LA beyond Hollywood Boulevard and Universal Studios.
If you're looking for a beach city full of character, a creative vibe with a dose of alternative culture, and access to local, independent shops and cafes, Venice certainly delivers. As first-time travellers to LA, my husband and I were teetering between staying in Hollywood or one of LA's beach cities. For a short weekend getaway to de-stress, staying in Venice was exactly what we needed and the city's eccentric charm fed our curiosity and love for exploring at the same time.
Here are my top 8 reasons to visit Venice, quirks and all:
1) Street Art
Venice is full of vibrant street murals along the Boardwalk, alleyways, sidewalks and sides of shops. You can even catch live graffiti artists spray painting the ever changing Venice Art Walls along the beach. The colourful murals pay homage to the creative rebellion encouraged in Venice.
2) Sunset Gazing from High Lounge, Hotel Erwin | 1697 Pacific Avenue
Sunset views, ocean breeze, 360-degree city vista. One of LA's hottest bars. What better way to celebrate the relaxed SoCal lifestyle then to kick back with cocktails at High Lounge, located on the seventh floor rooftop of Hotel Erwin, Venice's best boutique hotel (read my full review here). Saturdays are busy with a hip 20-something crowd and a DJ spinning sexy beats. Make sure to reserve early, even Glee's Matthew Morrison calls it magical.
3) Indie Shopping & Vegan Noshing at Abbot Kinney Blvd
Sprinkled with art studios, independent designers, local cafes and vegan bites, Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a hipster shopper's paradise. No wonder it's been dubbed "The Coolest Block in America" by GQ magazine and home to several Venice Art Crawl locations. Step into Ananda to feed your wanderlust and try on cozy knits, then head over to Kreation Kafe for healthy, organic bites and organic teas/espresso.
4) Venice Canals
I'm usually not a fan of replicas, but the Venice Canals were surprisingly very scenic and perfect for a peaceful walk along the water away from the busy Boardwalk. Built originally in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney, these canals were originally built to replicate the ones in Italy as part of his "Venice in America" plan. Visitors can walk along the canals within South Venice Blvd., Pacific, Ocean Ave. and Washington Blvd. These Venice Canals certainly beat the ones in Vegas.
5) Enjoy Summer Activities Year Round
With easy, onsite access to pedestrian pathways, miles of sandy beaches and rental equipment, travellers can try their favourite activity within minutes. The Venice Beach Recreation Centre provides access to outdoor basketball courts, paddle tennis courts and then of course there's Muscle Beach. Surfing, skateboarding, rollerblading and biking are also very common and fun to try during vacation.
6) Lively Atmosphere on the Boardwalk
With a carnival-like feel, Venice is fun, lively and full of energy. Street vendors getting shoppers' attention, buskers performing, music blaring, skateboards and bikes whizzing by as you're surrounded by colourful, strange characters (I swear there was one man dressed only in Tarzan underwear). You may ponder or stare quizzically for a moment, then shrug your shoulders and move on. In Venice, just give in and let your senses guide you.
7) Close to Santa Monica & the rest of LA
Venice is central and accessible to the rest of LA, yet right at the heart of the beach cities. Biking over to Santa Monica is easy. Visit the famous Santa Monica pier, grab some lobster tacos at Blue Plate Taco (one of my favourites), or shop at Third Street Promenade, all accessible by bike or rental car. Driving from LA's famous Korea Town only took us 15 minutes and a mere 45 minutes in traffic from Hollywood.
8) Variety of Local Food Choices
Craving a mango lassi before hitting the surf? Check out the Bombay street shack serving up delicious Indian snacks and drinks located just off the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Looking for farm fresh delights? Check out Barlo at Hotel Erwin serving farm to table fare. Try the Barlo Burger paired with the Garden of Venice cocktail. Simply delish.
Venice is no cookie-cutter beach vacation. Step out of your comfort zone and join in the revelry and embrace the lifestyle. To me, it's this alternative edginess set against the paradise of palm trees, sand and ocean that make it so appealing.