L.A.’s iconic beach town has an eclectic vibe and distinctly “SoCal” food, sun and fun
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Venice, California is a vibrant beach town in a big city. It offers colorful mural art, gorgeous cuisine and unexpected canals in a neighborhood of charming houses and gardens. And it’s set next to miles of golden sand and ocean. Venice encapsulates much of what is appealing about Southern California while having a character all its own.
My son Charles is at college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, just a few minutes from Venice (technically a suburb in west L.A.) so I’ve had the chance to get to know this area in the last few years. One of the things I love is that in a city known for nightmarish traffic, there is so much to do within a walk or a bike ride. No car required.
I just returned from my latest visit so thought it was time to share all that I love about this popular part of Los Angeles.
Venice Beach Map
This Venice Beach Map & Guide is designed to give you an overview, and specific ideas for several fun-filled and delicious days.
Broader Los Angeles offers endless options which I am not covering here. I do highly recommend a visit to the Getty Museum. The art is wonderful and the building and hilltop setting are stunning. I also like the Griffith Observatory, and if you are with kids or teens, Universal Studios is great fun.
Dining in Venice, California
I’m going to start with food because I love to eat and the fresh food in California makes dining such a pleasure. Venice has enough exceptional dining options to keep you happy for weeks. It’s creative, fresh and represents many cultures.
Gjelina's (California cuisine)
Gjelina’s is one of my favourite restaurants – anywhere. I love the menu; the vegetable and grain dishes are original and exciting. I loved the romanesco, an edible flower related to broccoli, and the pizza will transport you to a piazza in Naples. Meat is available but is not the star of the show. This fabulous dining experience is made even better if it’s warm enough to sit in the charming back garden.
If you have room for desert order the chocolate pistachio tart. I tried it on my visit last week. Otherwise, go to Salt and Straw down the street for exceptional ice cream. Note: If you can’t get a reservation at Gjelina, you can go to Gjelina’s Takeaway (GTA) next door and get their delish pizza to go.
Zinqué (French small plates)
The best way I can describe Zinqué is French bistro food with a California twist with a small plate concept. The Tartines are made with Poilâne bread flown in from Paris. It’s also a nice place to go for a cocktail because they have a nice selection of smaller bites. The California influence is in a nice array of lighter fare such as salads and bowls, so there’s something for everyone. Also open for brunch and lunch. Zinqué now has five locations in L.A., so you can try it regardless of where you are staying.
For Italian - Felix & Piccolo
“Felix” is Latin for lucky which is ironic as I’ve been unlucky thus far as far as getting a reservation. To be fair, I’ve tried at the last minute. I hope to try Felix on my next trip to L.A. and am already dreaming of the carb splurge that will ensue. Pasta or Pizza? I may have to try both.
We had an exceptional dinner at Piccolo Ristoranti, also on Abbott Kinney. The space is charming and there’s lots of pretty outdoor dining space as well. The food was excellent and the prices very reasonable. I loved my pasta but it was the Antipasti that were the highlights for me. The Carpaccio d’Oro (golden beet carpaccio) and the Crostini with Burrata, pancetta and dates were both exceptional.
The Butcher’s Daughter (plant-based /vegetarian)
The Butcher’s Daughter is a celeb favourite – you just may spot Jessica Alba or Gwyneth Paltrow. The surfer’s burrito was just what I needed after a morning of… walking around the Venice canals and taking photos of the pretty gardens. The juices are wonderful as well.
Gjusta Grocer (picnic food)
Gjusta is am upscale grocery/cafe – perfect for creating a beach picnic. It began as a bakery supplying bread and baked goods to its restauarants, Gjelina (mentioned above) and GTA. And the bread and pastries are French-level delish.
Gjusta sources most of its food locally. Fresh produce comes from mostly from SoCal farmers and meat and seafood from local fishermen, ranchers, and co-ops. Daily deliveries mean this is a true taste of the the bounty of California.
I was debating what to get at Eggslut, the cult favorite breakfast spot. Luckily a woman waiting in line set me straight. All first timers should try the slut she said, a coddled egg on top of potato purée, poached in a glass jar and topped with chives. I ate my breakfast at the beach and watched the surfers; those 30 minutes were pretty close to perfect. If you want something more hearty, the Fairfax sandwich is popular.
Erewhon Grocer and Café
Erewhon is a fancy grocery chain in L.A. with an emphasis on nutritious grocery items sourced locally from small producers, and gourmet prepared foods. If your ideal breakfast is an organic cold-pressed juice or fancy smoothie bowl, you will like Erewhon. It has a cute patio so you can people watch while you eat. Keep your eyes peeled for Jessica Biel.
So. Much. Great. Coffee. Just a block from the beach is Menetti’s – very nice coffee and great pastries. A couple of blocks apart on Abbott Kinney Boulevard are two of the avant-garde of premium coffee: Intelligentsia (Chicago) and Blue Bottle (L.A.)
Matcha Tea - Cha Cha Matcha
Matcha, a caffeinated Japanese green tea powder is supposed to provide hours of clear-headed energy with a dose of antioxidants. Who doesn’t need more of that in their life? I visited Cha Cha Matcha and tried the turmeric and ginger with coconut milk. Yes, I loved it so matcha. There are several non-dairy milk options here, so dream up any combination and they are happy to oblige. Beyond Matcha they have other drinks such as fresh-squeezed lemonade. Whatever you choose, you can enjoy it while you walk around Venice to see all the neat street art and murals.
Ice Cream - Salt & Straw
Salt & Straw, possibly the best ice cream in L.A. originated in Portland, Oregon. It’s worth the wait in a line which sometimes extends out onto Abbott Kinney. Don’t let that scare you away. It moves quickly and you’ll need the time to decide, anyway. Salted malted chocolate chip cookie cough is a fan favourite. I loved the honey lavender.
What to See & Do in Venice, California
Historic Venice Canals
If you didn’t know the Venice Canals were here, it would be easy to miss them. The grid of six canals are tucked away a few blocks from the beach: four run east-west and two larger canals run north-south. These man-made wetland canals were created by Abbot Kinney in 1905 when he was developing this area. he even brought gondolas in from Venice, Italy, apparently. With the advent of cars, travel by boat lost its luster and by 1940 the canals had fallen into disrepair. It wasn’t until 1992 that they were rebuilt, and sidewalks added. The addition of sidewalks enables anyone to walk amongst the canals and admire the eclectic houses and gardens. It’s one of my favourite things to do here.
Ride the 22-mile Strand Bike Path
The Strand Bike Path extends 22 miles along the coast, between Will Rogers State Beach in the north and Torrance State Beach in the south – Venice Beach is about halfway in between. (Note that the path winds inland around Marina del Rey, a few miles from Venice). I haven’t made it all the way to either end but really enjoyed the shorter rides I’ve taken. Some hotels have free bikes and helmets available, including the Hotel Erwin. Otherwise bike rentals are everywhere. Segways are another option and available to rent.
Venice Beach Boardwalk
You’ll see it all along the mile-and-a-half-mile pedestrian promenade that runs parallel with the beach: fortune-tellers, street performers, souvenir and tattoo shops and interesting restaurants. It’s fascinating people watching and there’s street art to see as well.
Mural & Street Art Tour
The epic Venice Street Art deserves a guide who can tell you all about it and the talented artists who created it. Venice Street Art Tours operates 2-hour tours most days of the year. If you post photos of the art on social media, remember to tag the artists when they’ve left their social on their work.
Venice Recreation Park & Beach
Surfing, volleyball, basketball, paddle tennis, roller blading, windsurfing & sailing: it’s all available at Venice Beach. Many of these activities are found at the Venice Beach Recreation area with its paddle tennis courts, volleyball and basketball courts. Some hotels have equipment to borrow. Otherwise rentals are available. Find out more at the L.A. Parks website. I think they rent the paddle tennis racquets for example.
Stop by the 27,000 square foot outdoor skate park for incredible entertainment by the skateboarders who perform impressive tricks. You can also workout at the famous Muscle Beach, a stretch of sand with an outdoor gym. Get a day pass for $10.
For water activities such as surfing and sailing there are many outfitters. Ask your hotel for a suggestion or check out Tripadvisor for reviews.
Where to Stay - Hotels in Venice
There are actually surprisingly few hotels right in Venice Beach so I am including hotel options in nearby Marina del Ray. In the other direction, there are many wonderful hotels in Santa Monica. I would love to splurge on a stay at The Viceroy sometime.
Hotel Erwin (a classic beach hotel)
The Hotel Erwin is a beach hotel from the 1970’s that’s been given a significant update, The rooms are lovely, it has a fun vibe and some very nice amenities. There’s no pool but it’s next to the Venice boardwalk, with the beach just beyond. Many rooms have ocean views, and a rooftop patio is a perfect place to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun set over the Pacific. (Guests are prioritized for rooftop reservations).
I stayed here on my most recent trip and booked an Epic View King Room which has a balcony with a table and chairs and an ocean view. There are less expensive city view rooms and spacious suites with kitchens and living areas. They offer complimentary cruiser bicycles and helmets. If you are happy to spend time at the beach, rather than a pool, this is perfect.
Marina del Rey Marriott (family friendly)
I stayed at Marina del Rey Marriott with my kids and my in-laws. It’s comfortable and has a nice bar and a small pool. It’s not fancy, but nice enough and does the job. You can easily walk to the canals from here, while the Venice Beach boardwalk and Abbot Kinney restaurants are each about a mile away.
If you want luxurious accommodations with lots of amenities the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey may be ideal. Waterfront dining next to the sprawling marina, a spa and a pretty saltwater pool. There’s also basketball and tennis – enough to keep everyone happy. I haven’t stayed here but I’ve stayed at other Ritz locations. They are consistently lovely with great service.
Shopping in Venice
Abbot Kinney Boulevard is pleasantly absent the big name retailers, although there is an Adidas store. Instead you’ll find charming boutiques with a coastal vibe and an assortment of curated items. The Piece Collective and Urbanic are worth a visit.
You’ll also find many brands with a mission to do good such as Cuyana, Toms and AllBirds, my new favorite shoes for travel days. And in case your sunglasses need an adjustment there’s also a Warby Parker on Abbot Kinney. (If you haven’t been to Warby Parker, check it out. I had no idea glasses and prescription sunglasses could be so affordable.) Gorjana is popular for pretty and affordable jewelry and Saje Wellness sells natural remedies and skin care. Burro is the spot for a last-minute gift. It has wonderfully creative cards and fabulous candles.
There are also art galleries scattered around the neighborhood.