No visit to L.A. is complete until you’ve had a chance to stroll the bizarre boardwalk known as Venice Beach's Ocean Front Walk. Home to palm and tarot card readers, sand sculptors and collage artists, performance artists, street hustlers, buskers and bodybuilders, it’s one of the best places in Los Angeles for people watching.
The east side of the wide concrete boardwalk is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and residences. On the other side, colorful locals assemble daily in an orderly lineup of conspiracy theorists, freaky fortune-tellers and polished performance artists. It’s best to keep an open mind as you explore the boardwalk, and don’t be surprised to find yourself being hit up for tips. It's perfectly safe, and totally fun, but everyone's got an angle and an agenda, and many of them are just trying to make a quick buck.
Keep your eye out for the guy who “walks” on glass, the chainsaw juggler, the turban-wearing roller skater with an electric guitar and the guy who paints himself gold from head to toe (he does a perfect impression of a robot). Well-timed visits might even provide a glimpse of the local escape artist.
Once you’ve had your fill of fun along the boardwalk, take a break from walking and head into one of the area’s tattoo parlors, piercing shops or T-shirt vendors for an LA souvenir. Or you can join an impromptu drum circle, enjoy the SoCal vibe with the local disco roller skaters or just hang out on the beach. You’ll also see plenty of places to enjoy lunch al fresco with views of the surrounding scene.
If you’re looking for something to do that’s a little more active, the area is also a great place for surfing, swimming, basketball, bodybuilding and handball. Pick-up games of streetball take place year-round on the legendary basketball courts, and visitors can grab a seat in the bleachers to watch the action. The handball courts are located right next to the boardwalk, so you can check out the game as you walk by or stop for a while and enjoy the competition. Check out Skate Dancing Plaza for an eyeful of disco rollerskating. Gold’s Gym, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was discovered way back when, is a bodybuilding mecca.
There are several parking lots in the area. If you don't find a spot on the street, hit up the lots at the far west end of North Venice Boulevard or Rose Avenue. There’s also a lot at the west end of Washington Boulevard near the Venice Pier. The fees are usually between $5 and $7, but might be more on weekends.
The Ocean Front Walk is the most famous attraction in Venice, but the Venice canals are also famous in their own right. Winding through a neighborhood of picturesque (and very expensive) houses, the canals feature arched bridges and great LA photo-ops. The district is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Architecture buffs might want to swing by the Binoculars Building, formerly the Chiat/Day Building, one of Frank Gehry’s notable works. Built for what was originally the Chiat/Day advertising agency, the building distinguishes itself by its oversized sculpture of black binoculars, created with Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. It is currently occupied by Google.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a well-known shopping destination located between Main Street and North Venice Boulevard. Home décor shops, handmade furniture stores, vintage clothing sellers, surf shops, perfumeries and bookstores make this area as eclectic as any in Los Angeles. A former hangout for artist types and other hipsters, the area maintains its underground vibe while catering to a well-to-do clientele that’s also in the know.