An Insider’s Guide To Venice Beach
A haven where the classic 90s spirit of California lives on.
Bronzed bodies pumping iron in the midday sun, rollerbladers gliding along the boardwalk in bikinis and shorts, eccentric street performers vying for attention, and flamboyant stall holders selling few things you need and everything you don’t; Venice Beach is a haven where the classic 90s spirit of California lives on, and Australian travellers just can’t get enough.
Just 30 minutes drive from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Venice Beach is a hip, artistic neighbourhood where fab foodie hangouts and stylish boutiques sit side-by-side with eclectic art galleries, colourful tattoo parlours, and medicinal marijuana retailers.
Sam Trude, an Australian restauranteur who made his home in the U.S. eight years ago, believes much of Venice’s Aussie appeal lies in its similarity to Australia.
“Venice has a very beachy, laid back, and creative vibe – similar to that of where I grew up in Sydney,” he says.
Together with business partner Sam Cooper, Trude saw an opening for an all-day eatery with a well-rounded menu, a contrast to the local trend for specialised cuisine. A few blocks from the beach, the duo opened Great White in September 2017 – and it’s become an instant hit.
“We didn’t want it to be an ‘Aussie café’ per se, which can be limiting and conjure up some kitsch themes, but there is definitely some obvious influence there from our background. Locals love it. It’s new and something that was previously not provided for here.”
“The all-day nature is most definitely Australian, with the focus on great quality coffee and the no frills, laid back, casual ‘sandy feet welcome’ attitude, but all based around great produce and a well-rounded menu that is produce driven.”
“Some of our favourite dishes are definitely the Corn Fritters with avocado salsa and poached egg (add halloumi for a little extra bonus) and our burger available with the ‘full stack’ that is egg, bacon, avocado and beetroot.”
Trude says two of his favourite local venues include Gjusta, a café and bakery just a few blocks from the beachfront; and The Butchers Daughter, which is a plant-based restaurant, cafe, juice bar and self-proclaimed “vegetable slaughterhouse”.
Beyond the dining scene, Trude says Venice has plenty to see and do.
One of his must-do activities is renting a ‘Bird’ electric scooter and experiencing the magic of the Venice beach boardwalk, the area’s star attraction. Stretching for around two and a half kilometres, this scenic pathway is crowded at any time of the day or night, resulting in plenty of opportunities for people watching. Unlocked via an app and rented on a per minute basis, Bird scooters can be found in handy locations along the boardwalk.
The beachfront boardwalk, with its hundreds of colourful market stalls, ubiquitous live street entertainers, energetic skate park and beachfront gym, is an essential port of call for any first-time visitor, yet the vibrant street art scene and canals – part of a failed idea to create a ‘Venice of America’ more than 100 years ago – offer more repeat delights.
Throughout Venice, local and international artists have transformed the streets into their gallery; a bold, imaginative feast of creativity and design. Set just back from the boardwalk near Hotel Erwin, the two-storey mural of Jim Morrison is one of the most easily discovered. The key is to get out and explore; you never know where a hidden mural might be.
If shopping is more your thing, Trude says Abbot Kinney Boulevard needs to be on your radar. Called ‘the coolest block in America’ by GQ, this stylish thoroughfare is home to some of the city’s best boutiques, art galleries, cocktail bars, and restaurants.
A local success story on Abbot Kinney, TOMS is a conscious shoe-maker, café and juice bar created in Venice with the goal of providing shoes to children in need. Since opening, they have donated more than 60 million new pairs of shoes to children through its ‘One for One’ program.
If it’s the classic Venice Beach experience you seek, Hotel Erwin needs to be on your radar. Set overlooking the beachfront promenade, this classic hotel has been the window into the wonderfully weird world of Venice for five decades. After a day exploring, the rooftop bar and lounge ‘High’ is the ultimate place to relax over a few sunset drinks.
Venice is a seaside resort which, at first glance, is easy to dismiss as having as much depth as the canals scattered throughout it. Yet, when you go beyond the well-worn tourist trail, the real Venice – a quirky, colourful, inspiring and inviting artistic hub – soon reveals itself.
Published 28 February, 2018