Reasons to Visit (or Skip) LA’s Venice Beach

Horizontal collage of varied scenes from Venice Beach, California

Venice is a weird beachfront neighborhood of Los Angeles. Whether it’s good-weird or bad-weird, and whether or not Venice Beach is worth visiting, is entirely subjective. For some visitors, the beachfront neighborhood with its famous boardwalk is an absolute must-see highlight of Southern California. For others, there are probably quite a few more appealing destinations to prioritize over Venice in a Los Angeles itinerary, especially if your visit is a shorter one. 

The neighborhood of Venice, as well as the broad, sandy Venice Beach, are often described with words like quirky, artsy, funky, eclectic or bohemian. In real-world Venice, this means virtually every wall is emblazoned with some form of art ranging from mindless graffiti to masterpiece murals. It means lots of local characters trying to catch your attention, whether it’s with a truly impressive display of performance art or the sorriest-looking panhandling you ever did see. It’s forking out double-digit sums for a vegan smoothie, then a couple of bucks for a new pair of sunglasses. The trendiest and hippest pretty young things are hanging out in Venice alongside meth-head sword-swallowers and average Angelenos going about their day. 

Does this sound like your scene? If so, put a day trip to Venice Beach on your LA travel list. Here are the top attractions to see while you’re there. 

Street performers surrounded by a crowd at the Venice Beach Boardwalk aka Ocean Front Walk in Los Angeles, California
Street performers entertain the crowds along the Venice Beach Boardwalk (Photo by Leonardo Malè on Unsplash)

Venice Beach and Boardwalk

The broad sands of Venice Beach and the adjacent Venice Beach Boardwalk, also known as Ocean Front Walk, are the busiest hub of activity in Venice. Every beach trip and stroll along the boardwalk is accompanied by the opportunity for some world-class people-watching. Street vendors and performers line the boardwalk, which spans more than 2 miles and is one of the most-visited spots in all of Southern California. You can stroll along the boardwalk or rent bikes, rollerblades or skateboards to explore on the adjacent bike path. 

Typical vendors along the boardwalk include casual eateries with beachside seating and souvenir shops specializing in cheap sunglasses, T-shirts and beach gear. Imparting a touch of the carnivalesque are plentiful tattoo shops, marijuana dispensaries and new age sellers of crystals and incense. Want to get your palm read and pick up a new cell phone case? You’re in the right place. Venice’s street performers mingle among the bricks-and-mortar and folding-table-under-awning businesses. Some are truly talented, and appreciate your tips if you choose to stop and watch.  

A lifeguard station on the sand at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California
The broad sands of Venice Beach (Photo by John Forson on Unsplash)

There’s more than one way to put on a show, and Venice Beach’s famous body-building, skateboarding, surfing, roller skating and street basketball scenes are also de facto spectator sports. When Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028, skateboarding and 3×3 basketball events will be held in Venice. Head to one of these beachfront landmarks to watch the locals at play. 

Muscle Beach

Muscle Beach is a city-run recreational facility next to the sand at Venice Beach, where typically super-buff gym-goers fully expect to be watched as they work out. The bare-bones concrete and steel equipment has a brutalist edge that adds to the hardcore vibe. Muscle Beach first opened in 1963 and gained fame alongside high-profile gym members like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. 

If you want to pump some iron yourself at Muscle Beach, day passes are available for a small fee. You can also work out at other Venice Beach Recreation Center facilities including basketball, handball and volleyball areas. 

Venice Fishing Pier and Breakwater

The 1,300-foot Venice Fishing Pier was built in 1963, came close to being demolished, but was restored and reopened 1997. It’s the only surviving one of a series of piers in Venice, and lacks the tourist-drawing amusements of its predecessors. Walk to the end for fantastic views, as well as the option for fishing. 

Just north of the pier, Venice Breakwater is a popular surf spot. Rent a board if you have the skills to handle it, or just watch the experts ride the waves from the sand or pier. 

Skaters and onlookers at Venice State Park at sunset in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
Skaters and onlookers at Venice Beach Skatepark (Photo by Christopher Stark on Unsplash)

Venice Beach Skatepark

Venice claims a key role in the development of skateboarding as a sport. Along with neighboring Santa Monica, its streets, parks and empty swimming pools were the playgrounds where the legendary Z-Boys translated their surfing prowess into never-before-seen skateboarding skills. Today’s skaters follow in their wake at Venice Beach Skatepark, a 16,000-square-foot concrete facility adjacent to the boardwalk. With a backdrop of palm trees and beach scenery, it has become an iconic spot. Many visitors enjoy watching from the sidelines.

Venice also has a history as a roller skating hub, at its peak in the 1970s but experiencing a resurgence. Venice Beach Skate Dance Plaza, an outdoor roller rink along the boardwalk, is a worthy stage for today’s skilled skaters.

View down a cottage-lined canal at Venice Canal Historic District, a tourist attraction of Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
The Venice Canal Historic District (Photo by Sydney Turturro on Unsplash)

Venice Canal Historic District

Second only to the beach and boardwalk, a top tourist attraction in Venice is the Venice Canal Historic District. The district is on the National Register of Historic Places and represents the enduring legacy of Venice’s founder and first weirdo of note, Abbot Kinney. With millions in tobacco wealth and a can-do attitude, the eccentric Kinney came up with the idea to recreate the canals of Venice, Italy, on marshlands at the edge of Los Angeles. Further, he thought it would be really fun to make it a resort community and amusement park akin to Coney Island. So he did.

In 1905, Kinney’s “Venice of America” came to life via 6 miles of canals that created islands between them. He imported gondolas and singing gondoliers, landscaped the waterways and added arching foot bridges. Kinney’s original development was gone by the 1920s, but those left over from a second wave of canal construction were restored in the 1990s. Today, the charming bungalows and cottages around the canals form a highly coveted residential area and tourist attraction. You can explore along three blocks of Dell, admire the quirky neighborhood and see an abundance of bird life. 

A city street at sunset, strung with a "VENICE" banner in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
Venice at sunset (Photo by Juliana Malta on Unsplash)

Abbot Kinney Boulevard

For shopping and dining in Venice, you can’t beat the mile-long Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Its bars, restaurants, independent boutiques, stores and galleries lean toward higher-end markets, but anyone can enjoy window shopping and maybe a leisurely drink. If your budget allows, shop for clothing, home goods and all kinds of wares that blend boho-chic and beach casual with high-fashion luxury. Stroll Abbot Kinney Boulevard during one of its monthly “First Friday” events to enjoy live music and food trucks. 

Planning a Los Angeles vacation? Read all about the best things to see and do in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Malibu.

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