Los Angeles

The Best of Venice, LA's Quintessential Beach Town

Peathegee Inc/Getty Images (edited)
Peathegee Inc/Getty Images (edited)
Peathegee Inc/Getty Images (edited)

“This neighborhood has so many creative people, so many interesting people bringing interesting things to the table,” says Venice resident Jason Neroni. He’s the current chef and co-owner of The Rose: a sprawling, all-day eatery that he and his partners reincarnated in early 2016 after more than 35 years as local mainstay Rose Cafe. “There may be billionaires or millionaires or movie stars around, but it doesn’t feel like this in Beverly Hills. There’s still that easy-breezy, Venice Beach kind of chill vibe.”

To wrap your head around this land of contradictions, all 3.1 square miles of it, you’ll need to go beyond the beach and explore its many different sides: the chic restaurants of Abbot Kinney, the quaint quietude of the canals, the larger-than-life murals along Rose Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard. And yes, this includes a walk along the biggest tourist trap in town.

Ingus Kruklitis/Shutterstock (edited)
Ingus Kruklitis/Shutterstock (edited)
Ingus Kruklitis/Shutterstock (edited)

Start by people-watching at the iconic Venice Boardwalk 

The Venice Boardwalk is LA’s number-one tourist destination. Most Angelenos avoid it like a $30 parking lot, so nothing is going to feel particularly “local” here. It’s loaded with dated souvenir and t-shirt shops, stands with ‘80s-era signs still offering sun lotion and batteries, and iffy medical marijuana outfits (yes, even after legalization). 

But you’ll also find a delightful cast of characters: artists and craftspeople of all types selling their wares, musicians and street performers with varying levels of talent. The opportunities for people-watching here are unmatched anywhere else in the city. In other words, you kind of have to walk the boardwalk at least once. 

To be clear, this isn’t the old-fashioned, wooden-plank kind of boardwalk you’d find in most American beach towns; officially known as Ocean Front Walk, it’s really a long stretch of concrete paths for bikes and pedestrians. 

A simple mile-and-a-half trek north from the Venice Fishing Pier takes you past the bustling basketball courts made extra famous by White Men Can’t Jump and American History X (complete with bleachers for spectating), as well as Muscle Beach, the iconic open-air gym filled with beefy bodybuilders (who you can join by purchasing a $10 day pass). You’ll also pass Venice Skatepark, where you can easily lose track of time watching riders of all ages pull off 360 kickflips and ollie impossibles with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.

Ken Wolter/Shutterstock (edited)
Ken Wolter/Shutterstock (edited)
Ken Wolter/Shutterstock (edited)

Scope Venice’s legendary street art

Street art abounds throughout Venice, but many of the most notable murals are in and around the beach — including the ever-changing Venice Art Walls. Standing on the sand between Windward and Market, the walls actually date back to the ‘60s (though painting them only became technically legal in the last 20 years), and you can watch artists add to the colorful history on weekends. That famous rendering of a shirtless Jim Morrison by legendary muralist Rip Cronk sits on the side of an apartment building at 1811 Ocean Front Walk, and you’ll find the Venice version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night-inspired at the corner of Wavecrest and Ocean Front Walk. 

Chase the surf and embrace the sand

Experts will tell you there are better places to catch waves (Malibu for one), but Venice remains a popular spot for surfers of all levels. You’ll spy plenty of wetsuit-clad boarders paddling out near the pier; Breakwater, located smack in the middle of the Boardwalk craziness, is probably the most popular (read: crowded) spot with typically shorter waves breaking in between jetties. If you’re a beginner who wants to give it a go, there are plenty of surf schools that will happily supply you with gear and a lesson, like Aloha Brothers and Kapowui.

Not quite ready for the whole hang-ten thing? You can rent a boogie board for about $10 an hour. No judgement if you just go for a beach chair / umbrella combo (usually $40 for the day) and chill out for the afternoon.

David Tonelson/Shutterstock (edited)
David Tonelson/Shutterstock (edited)
David Tonelson/Shutterstock (edited)

Some good places to eat near the Venice Boardwalk:

Most of Venice’s vaunted food scene is found away from the water (we’ve got a whole guide dedicated to Venice’s best restaurants). It’s rare, but not impossible, to get a good bite right on the boardwalk. Locals swear by window-service joint Poke-Poke (which has been kicking it long before the poke craze hit the mainland), while Schulzies — also a tiny takeout window — serves delicious homemade bread pudding in flavors from blueberry to Black Forest. 

If you stray even a few yards off the beach, though, you’ll be rewarded by a growing number of neighborhood spots, like small-plate-centric Dudley Market and beachy vibes cafe Great White. The original location of the now-conquering-the-world Modern Mexican chain, Tocaya Organica, is here, as well as an outpost of cult-status breakfast sandwich counter Eggslut that has a line snaking out the door most mornings.

On the block running from the beach to Pacific Ave (which has branded itself Washington Square), the definitely-don’t-miss destination is Hinano Cafe: a real-deal dive circa 1969 with sawdust-covered floors, an aging popcorn machine, pool tables, and a cash-only policy. It’s got a massive beer selection along with one of the best burgers in the city — and yes, Jim Morrison really did carve his name in the wall here, but do yourself a favor and don’t be the 500,000th person to ask the bartender where it is. 

Love it or hate it, the boardwalk remains more independent, eclectic, and out-there than perhaps any other section of Venice. “Even now it’s a little sketchy to walk on the boardwalk past 12 o’clock at night,” says Neroni.

V_E/Shutterstock (edited)
V_E/Shutterstock (edited)
V_E/Shutterstock (edited)

Leave the beach behind to cruise the canals

If you venture eastward down Washington Boulevard, away from the Venice Pier, you’ll stumble on another local icon: the Venice Canal Historic District. This tight grid of waterways, arched wooden bridges, and walking paths was once part of a much larger network built back in 1905 to emulate the city’s Italian namesake. 

Lined with drool-worthy homes, green plants, and colorful boats, the canals are a welcome respite from the chaos of the boardwalk. Visit in the spring for blooming flowers and swimming duck families; or if you come in December you’ll see the bridges and homes decked out in decorations, and an annual holiday boat parade that’s been going strong for 36 years. 

The canals are also a good way to get from Washington Boulevard to Venice Boulevard, which you can then follow away from the beach and on toward “the coolest block in America,” Abbot Kinney. Just don’t call it that to anyone’s face.

Gjelina (edited)
Gjelina (edited)
Gjelina (edited)

Hit up the bars and restaurants on Abbot Kinney 

No street has personified Venice’s transformation more than Abbot Kinney Boulevard: an ultra-walkable commercial stretch that runs east of the beach for a little over a mile. An infamously short-lived Pinkberry franchise that opened in 2007 is often cited as Abbot Kinney’s “there goes the neighborhood” moment that sped up the street’s corporatization, but everyone has their own theory. Tami Halton Pardee, local and founder/CEO of real estate firm Halton Pardee + Partners, points to a temporary Smartcar showroom that also popped up in ‘07: “I think they came in as more of an advertisement… for the cache. In retrospect, that’s what everyone else has decided to do.” 

While longtime neighborhood joints like Hal’s, Joe’s, and Abbot’s Habit have disappeared, the street continues to serve as a culinary anchor for the area, playing host to a few of the city’s most celebrated restaurants — like Evan Funke’s pasta palace Felix Trattoria (housed in the old Joe’s space), and Travis Lett’s modern-day Venice restaurant mascot Gjelina

These acclaimed restaurants aren’t exactly budget-friendly, and an influx of tech industry types moving into Venice has led to rising rents for fellow merchants and residents alike. Affordable housing has disappeared in communities like the historic African American neighborhood of Oakwood, nicknamed “Ghost Town.” Oakwood sits just east of Abbot Kinney, and adjacent to Google’s 100,000-square-foot Venice campus (in the Frank Gehry-designed Binoculars Building). These days, homes in Oakwood have a median listing price of nearly $1.5 million, and Venice now has the greatest concentration of homeless on the Westside. Multiple encampments line city blocks as activists, residents and officials debate what to do about the epidemic.

Benny Marty/Shutterstock (edited)
Benny Marty/Shutterstock (edited)
Benny Marty/Shutterstock (edited)

Some things haven’t changed, though. Abbot’s Pizza is one of the oldest eateries on the block, a sort of last-man-standing where people still show up for big, foldable slices with toppings like wild mushroom and olive pesto or tequila lime chicken and jalapeno. Richie Schiffer’s owned the place since 1995; according to him, the arrival of Google down the street doesn’t seem to have impacted business much. “When they came here they said, ‘We’re going to be a part of the neighborhood and help out a lot of businesses,” Schiffer recounts. “The truth is they have their own gym, their own kitchen, chefs, and everything else. As far as them using a lot of the businesses, it doesn’t happen.” 

If you’re thirsty, check out the longstanding bar The Brig, with its melting pot of frat bros, hipsters, serious pool players, and product engineers. And Roosterfish, once one of the Westside’s only bona fide gay bars, closed back in 2016 only to reemerge from the ashes two years later. Now the bartenders mix craft cocktails for a mixed crowd in an admittedly stylish space, but a trip to the restroom will give you a peek at its past via the porn that’s still plastered to the ceiling.

Chris Goldberg/Flickr (edited)
Chris Goldberg/Flickr (edited)
Chris Goldberg/Flickr (edited)

Or go for something a little different on Rose Avenue

Rose Avenue, between Lincoln and Pacific, also has an impressive range of restaurants for an evening of eating – like modern Indonesian Wallflower; spacious vegan venue Cafe Gratitude; itty bitty vino bar Venice Beach Wines; and airy mezcal and gourmet taco newcomer Chulita. Rose Avenue as a popular after-dark destination is a fairly new concept, according to Neroni. He opened his first Venice restaurant – the now-shuttered Superba – just up the street in 2011. “Rose still feels neighborhoody, but now at night we get regulars from all around, and a younger crowd. I don’t think dinner would have worked here 10 years ago.” 
 
The sidewalks might have more foot traffic than the old days, but it still feels worlds away from elsewhere in Venice. “I guess Rose is still pretty independent,” he adds. “Venice reminds me of New York. Rose is still kind of like Avenue C, and Abbot Kinney is like Avenue A.” 

Shop the art-and-design shops on Lincoln

Abbot Kinney was Venice’s only real shopping street for years, but independent retailers slowly began rolling the dice elsewhere; Rose Avenue has been home to a bevy of boutiques for a while now, and the scene is spilling east. Though Lincoln Boulevard is still a long way from feeling strollable with its cell phone retailers, car washes, and liquor stores, there’s a growing row of independent, oft-sustainability-focused shops taking over the semi-dilapidated storefronts along Lincoln.
 
At Amiga Wild — semi-hidden next to an auto repair shop — you can peruse apothecary, jewelry, and home decor. Sadie Gilliam, a jewelry maker who opened Amiga Wild in late 2017, says the area is still home to an art-loving community. She and co-owner Alisun Franson are trying to help modern-day Venice stay true to its artistic roots even as it develops, supporting artisans and hosting community programming like a monthly “Last Fridays” art show. “Our goal is to find a happy medium,” says Gilliam, “and to create something that’s never going to lose the heart of Venice.”

Walk a few doors down and you’ll hit Late Sunday Afternoon, dotted with sewing machines used to fashion scarves, hats, bandanas, and ascots (we know, we know) with locally sourced fabrics. The scraps are used to make dog beds that get donated to shelters. Nearby, model-turned-designer Christy Dawn uses upcycled, surplus fabrics procured from other labels to make a curated collection of vintage-inspired dresses. 
 
And it’s impossible to miss Venice Beach Land: a corner lot that looks like a sliver of Burning Man, housing an artists’ studio and gallery filled with bean bag chairs, hula hoops, paintings, clothing, and vintage goods — much of it sold out of RVs and old buses.

Brandon J Hale/Shutterstock (edited)
Brandon J Hale/Shutterstock (edited)
Brandon J Hale/Shutterstock (edited)

What Venice will look like in another five years is up for debate, but one thing that isn’t is just how much people love this community — whether they’ve been calling it home for decades or are just unloading their luggage from a Lyft. And even if that’s the only thing they have in common, it’s still something. 
 
“We all have to get out of our boxes and start talking to people as people and being a community and embracing all of it,” says Pardee. “That’s the whole thing about Venice — it’s supposed to be colorful. Well, you can’t just have the older people here or the younger people here. It’s all of us.”Sign up here for our daily LA email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Los Angeles has to offer.

Lizbeth Scordo is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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