How to do Los Angeles: The Beach Walk

Walk number three in our How to do Los Angeles series, this one at the beach! Venice and Santa Monica to be specific, two of the best beaches in Southern California, and less than two miles from each other. Here’s the walk that will take you there!

Start: S Venice Blvd and Pacific Avenue

End: Third Street Promenade

Headlining sites: Venice Canals, Venice Boardwalk and Athletic/Rec Center, two Muscle Beaches, Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, and, of course, the beach!

What to bring: Sunscreen, beach gear, cash (including lots of one dollar bills), street map

Total distance: ~4.5 mi, one third in Venice, one third in Santa Monica, and one third between the two

How to get there: This gets tricky. Because the walk is over four miles long, pretty much a straight line along the coast, when you are finished, you are more than four miles from where you started, ie more than four miles from your car. There are several ways to circumvent this:

1) Walk back. It’s not so bad if you spread it out over a whole day. And if you park in one of the lots between Venice and Santa Monica (I generally park in the $10-all-day lot off Barnard Ave), you can break your walk into four 2-mile chunks instead of two 4-mile chucks. This helps make the distance more manageable.
2) Park at one end, walk to the other, then use public transportation to get back. Metro 733 and Big Blue Bus (BBB) 1 connect Venice and Santa Monica along Main Street. FYI, BBB is not part of the Los Angeles Metro; therefore boarding is not included with your Metro pass (the fare is $1 per ride, except for BBB 10, which is $2).
3) Park at one end, walk to the other, then use private transportation to get back. Taxis, Uber/Lyft, or a bike carriage will do the trick, although I’m not sure the price.
4) Forget the car altogether. To get to the start of this walk, take Metro 733 from Downtown or the Expo Line in Culver City (Culver CityBus 1, $1 per ride, also connects Venice and the Expo Line). To get home from the end of the walk, take the Expo Line near Santa Monica Place/Third Street Promenade.

Estimated time: All day

Best time to go: Summer weekends during the day, although Santa Monica is also great at night

venice santa monica walk

Last note: This is easily the least structured of our walks. If you go to Hollywood without a game plan, you’ll most likely end up at a lame museum and going on an even lamer city tour, and if you go downtown without a plan, you’ll see some of the sights, but you’ll probably miss a whole bunch of good stuff. Venice and Santa Monica are different. Even without a plan, you’ll still have a great time, and you probably won’t miss much either. Although I wrote this walk the same as the others, here it is more a guide than a formal plan, designed to let you know what’s in the area and give some history too. But really, the Venice and Santa Monica experience is yours, so swim in the ocean, lie in the sun, explore the local culture, and just let your interests carry you wherever. No matter where you end up, you’ll have a blast.

The Walk: Our walk starts near the corner of S Venice Blvd and Pacific. A couple hundred feet east of this intersection (on Venice Blvd) are the Venice Canals, part of the * Venice Canal Historic District. The canals were built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney, a land developer who sought to recreate the look and feel of Venice, Italy in Southern California.

800px-Venice_Canal_District,_Los_Angeles,_2008_02
Photography by Los Angeles. Cropped and edited to enhance color. CC-SA 3.0

Originally, the Venice canals were about four times as expansive as they are today, covering the entire triangle formed by Pacific Ave, Venice Blvd, and Abbot Kinney Blvd. But in 1925, when the city of Venice could no longer afford the upkeep on its infrastructure, it was annexed by Los Angeles, who remade the city in its image. Most drastically, almost all of the canals were paved over, citing a preference for automobiles over gondolas. Today, six canals remain, plus the channel that connects them to the ocean near Marina del Ray.

If you want to explore the canals, you can follow the Venice Canals Walkway. We won’t head that way on our walk, but I definitely recommend taking a quick peak; the canals are beautiful (owed mostly to their 1992 renovation) and if you go to water level, you can get some great photos.

Leaving the canals, head west on S Venice Blvd. At Pacific Ave turn right, then turn left on N Venice Blvd. Two buildings from the intersection, on your right-hand side, you’ll find a five story Portrait of Abbot Kinney, one of many tributes to the man who created Venice Beach. Continuing west, pass the portrait and cross the Speedway, where you’ll arrive at Ocean Front Walk. Directly ahead is the beach and to your left is the Venice Fishing Pier; we will head right, to the *** Venice Beach Boardwalk.

437px-Venice_Beach_from_above
Photography by mscaprikell. Cropped and edited to enhance color. CC-SA 2.0

How to describe the Boardwalk? It is Los Angeles’s capital of eccentricity: art, entertainment, freedom, activism, liberalism, consumerism, and so much more. It is the best cultural spot in the city, filled with artists, craftsmen, entertainers, some incredibly talented and all undeniably interesting. You’ll find sand sculptures next to musicians next to political activists next to tattoo artists; and you’ll walk amongst rollerblading guitar players, interactive gag artists, speedo wearing cobra wielding crazy men, and whoever else happens to be out that day. You can shop for clothes, art, souvenirs, body piercings, drug paraphernalia, and so much more. Everyday it is different, and everyday it is awesome.

The Boardwalk was built in the early 20th century, by the same Abbot Kinney who built the Venice canals. Originally attempting to attract high class culture, the area was overwhelmed by beach-goers and vacationers, and the developers responded in kind. In 1916, Pleasure Pier was built in Santa Monica, and Venice Beach already had its own Kinney Pier, which was considered the finest amusement pier on the west coast. The Boardwalk was built to connect these sites (and the canals) to the Pacific Electric Railway stop in Santa Monica. Today, the Pleasure Pier has become the Santa Monica Pier, the Kinney Pier no longer exists, and the Boardwalk is where we are now.

Entering the Boardwalk, the our first stop (on the left) is the * Venice Beach Recreational Center, a large sporting and recreational center directly on the boardwalk. The Rec Center, containing paddle tennis, handball, beach volleyball, and basketball courts, a skate park, * Muscle Beach, workout pits, and play areas, is the premiere street athletic venue in Los Angeles, and for being a no-restrictions, anyone can play environment, it attracts some very skilled athletes.

Venice_Beach_Basketball_(8589516335)
Photography by Thomas Sorenes. CC-SA 2.0

First up are the paddle tennis courts. Paddle tennis is similar to tennis, except the courts are smaller, the ball is deflated, the rackets are wood, and serves are underhand. When playing, the sport actually feels more like racquetball than tennis, but it might be just me who feels that way. Once a year these courts host the Paddle Tennis National Singles and Doubles Championship, won perennially by Venice Beach local Scott Freedman.

Past the paddle tennis courts is the most famous gym in the world, * Muscle Beach. The flagship location of the world’s largest co-ed gym (Gold’s Gym), Muscle Beach was built in the 1960s and it took its name from a previous Muscle Beach located in Santa Monica. The fame of Venice’s Muscle Beach is primarily due to its clientele, which have included Lou ‘The Hulk’ Ferrigno, Mr. Olympia winner Franco Columbu, and most notably, Mr. Olympia winner turned actor turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The gym is known for its overly muscular patrons, many of whom I suspect work out here for two reasons: (1) to show off to the Venice Beach crowd and (2) because it’s Muscle Beach! If you are interested in lifting weights next to these ripped men and women, day, week, and yearly passes are available.

Muscle Beach

Passing Muscle Beach, turn left, where we’ll temporarily leave the boardwalk and enter the Athletic/Recreation Center. Behind the Muscle Beach gym is the Muscle Beach performance venue, home to numerous bodybuilding competitions, and behind that are workout sand pits. Opposite these areas are the Venice Beach basketball courts, where we will head next.

Venice Beach boasts four basketball courts, with competition that is very high compared to most streetball venues. If league games aren’t in session then anyone can play, but be sure you bring your A-game, as skill, physicality, and smack-talking all run high here. According to their website, more than thirty Venice Beach streetballers have made it to the NBA, including Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant.

Turning right after the basketball courts (just before the handball courts), to your right is the fourth basketball court and to your left is a jungle gym. Straight ahead, past the totem pole artwork, is the Recreation Office. Behind the office (go around the east side of the building, where poetry from famous Venice poets is engraved into the wall) is a large pointy I-beam sculpture named Declaration (or Declaration 2000, or Voxal 2000, I’ve seen it named all three).

K

I have no idea what this sculpture is meant to represent. I do know that the sculpture can look like either an A, K, or V depending on your viewing angle, which I like to think it stands for Abbot Kinney Venice. I doubt this is true, as every one of this artist’s works tend to look like As, Ks, and Vs, but I like the thought nonetheless.

Continuing past Declaration, cross the bike path and enter the Venice Art Walls. These walls were formerly part of the Venice Pavilion, and even though graffiti was illegal, the artists here were supported by the community and tolerated by the police. When the Pavilion was torn down in 1999, these walls were left standing as a tribute to public graffiti art in Los Angeles. Today, you must have a permit to paint here, but not to worry, permits are free and can be applied for on site (weekends only, photo identification required, click here for the rest of the rules).

Graffiti and Trees

Passing through the Art Walls, on the other side is the Venice Skate Park. This park opened in 2009 and is a mecca for skateboarders and skate-watchers alike. Some of the riders are very good.

After finishing at the skate park, head east, across the bike path, up Market Street, and back to Ocean Front Walk. Take a look to your right and if there are any artists/entertainers/crowds that look interesting, head down and check them out. Otherwise, we’ll head left (north), through the heart of the Boardwalk.

IMPORTANT: In this area (and everywhere else that street performers perform), if you stop to watch a performer, or if you take a picture, or if you think someone is talented or awesome or whatever, you need to tip them. One dollar will do, although you can give more if you’d like. If you don’t want to tip, that’s fine, simply don’t stop to watch performers and definitely don’t take pictures of anybody’s work.

Continuing north on the Boardwalk, it is now time to mention one of Venice Beach’s greatest artists, Rip Cronk, the mural artist who painted eight of Venice Beach’s most striking murals, most of which are in this area. From south to north, Cronk’s murals are:

  • Portrait of Abbot Kinney, previously visited on this walk (Pacific Ave and N Venice Blvd, NW corner, two buildings in)
  • Morning Shot, of Jim Morrison, a famous musician who also was a Muscle Beach bodybuilder (18th Pl and the Speedway, W corner, N side of building)
  • Lost Art (Winward Ave and the Speedway, NE corner, S side of building)
  • his most famous piece: Venice Reconstituted, a parody of Botticelli (Winward Ave and the Speedway, NE corner, W side of building)
  • Venice Beach Chorus Line (Clubhouse Ave and Ocean Front Walk, NE corner)
  • Ocean Swell (Clubhouse Ave and the Speedway, NW corner)
  • Venice Beach (Wave Crest and Ocean Front Walk, SE corner, S side of building)
  • and my favorite: Homage to a Starry Night (Wave Crest and Ocean Front Walk, SE corner, N side of building)

Van Gogh Building

Van Gogh Building close

Around here, the Boardwalk is all about the artists and vendors and street performers, so if you haven’t been doing so, take your time, browse around, leave tips and buy souvenirs, and enjoy the talent and creativity that is Venice Beach.

Before finishing though, there are a couple more items worth noting. On Ocean Front Walk and Breeze Ave is the Venice Beach Freakshow, a museum/circus side show that I’ve never entered, as it’s not something that appeals to me. On the south side of Park Ave is Endangered Species, one of Venice Beach’s finest non-Rip Cronk murals. And off Dudley Ave is the Titanic clothing store, notable for its two human size Transformer statues that you can take pictures with (tipping rules apply).

Three blocks past Dudley Ave is Navy St, where the bike path rejoins with Ocean Front Walk, thus marking the end of the Venice Beach Boardwalk.

Just past the Boardwalk, at the border of Venice and Santa Monica, is the former site of Pacific Ocean Park (POP, pronounced pee-oh-pee). POP, a 29-acre pleasure pier amusement park, was built in 1958 and intended to compete with Disneyland. Initially it was a success, but changes in neighborhood design and demographics, fiscal mismanagement, and high maintenance costs drove the park into crisis. It closed and was dismantled in 1967, and the ruins of the pier were demolished in 1975. Today all that remains are a few submerged pilings and signs warning swimmers of their presence.

POP takes us to the end of Venice, but that doesn’t mean we’re at the end of our walk! Santa Monica is less than 1.5 miles away, and it’s a beautiful walk to get there. To continue on our beach adventure, head to Part 2.

Featured image photography by mscaprikell. Edited to enhance color. CC-SA 2.0

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