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Destination - Venice Beach, CA: Surf, Shop & Dine in Style

Oct. 31, 2014
9 min read
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Destination - Venice Beach, CA: Surf, Shop & Dine in Style
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Need a little travel inspiration for your points and miles habit? We’re proud to reintroduce the Destination of the Week series as a regular Friday column here at TPG. Think of it as DOTW 2.0, highlighting exciting destinations from all over the world and great things to do in them. To kick things off, Lifestyle Editor and California native Shayne Benowitz takes us out for a day in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

Welcome to Venice. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

From Jim Morrison and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1960s to the Z-Boys skater subculture of the 1970s, Venice Beach draws on its eclectic, bohemian past, emerging today as a desirable—even chic—Los Angeles beach town with a healthy dose of free spirited energy. With buildings covered in assaulting mural art, an Ocean Front Walk with a cacophony of characters and an ocean brimming with surfers, you’ll find tacky tattoo parlors situated next to independent bookshops and celeb sightings amidst laidback locals fashioned in various iterations of California cool.

Get the Lay of the Land

View of the Santa Monica Mountains from the Venice Beach Breakwater. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

How can you not start an exploration of Venice at the beach? With soft golden sand, warm sunshine, sailboats and the Santa Monica Mountains on the horizon, the beach may just draw you like a magnet. Head towards the Venice Breakwater where surfers gather in the lineup from dawn til dusk. Snag a spot on the sand, luxuriate in the sun on your shoulders and take in the sights around you.

Kiosks along the Ocean Front Walk. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

Lined with funky kiosks shilling t-shirts, souvenirs and bike rentals, the Ocean Front Walk runs the length of Venice Beach. The breakwater is a good central landmark to orient you. Walk north and you’ll find various shops and cafes, as well as buskers and street merchants, blaring music of every genre. Eventually, you’ll pass the literal Venice Beach Freak Show, a carnival of sorts with a bearded lady and midget on the front steps luring passersby to come inside.

Yes, that's a bearded lady at the Venice Beach Freak Show. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

What’s remarkable is that amidst all the chaos, you’ll still find organic food stands selling vegan fare or fresh tuna poke, minimalist surf shops and the impressive Small World Bookstore tucked behind The Sidewalk Café, a bibliophile’s quiet haven with an appropriately bookish cat purring between the shelves.

Pump some iron at Muscle Beach. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Walk South towards the Venice Fishing Pier and you’ll encounter a residential mish mash of oceanfront condos and Muscle Beach where the Governator himself once pumped iron at the tender age of 21 with Joe Weider, the original bodybuilder extraordinaire.

Trendy Aust. boutique on Abbot Kinney. Photo courtesy Aust.

Veer off the Ocean Front Walk onto Abbot Kinney (just north of the Venice Beach Freak Show) and you’ll soon encounter a whole other world of rarefied boutiques, organic outdoor eateries, art galleries and upscale restaurants. The cool factor here is palpable. Spend the afternoon window shopping and people watching. Duck into Firefly for unique gifts and accessories, Alternative Apparel for sustainable clothing and Heist for high-end women's fashion.

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A little Dogtown action at the Venice Skate Park. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.
Another Skater at the Venice Skate Park. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

Make your way back down to the beach and don’t miss the chance to gawk at the talent at the Venice Skate Park. A throwback to the days when parts of Venice were dubbed Dogtown and the Z-Boys made a habit of breaking into neighborhood backyards to skate in drained swimming pools, today’s skate park recreates the curves of those early makeshift surfaces, some resembling round swimming pools and others as cavernous as the Grand Canyon.


Nicely behind the counter at Menotti's. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

If you’re a bit of a coffee snob or simply appreciate the artistry of an award-winning barista, head to Menotti’s near the beach where Nicely will whip up whatever gets you going in the morning. The shop has an old timey, cozy feel and you can pair your almond milk latte with a freshly baked croissant or organic yogurt with homemade granola.


Crispy shrimp and carne asada tacos at Casa Linda. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

For a taste of SoCal’s signature Tex-Mex, swing by Casa Linda on Abbot Kinney for burritos, tortas or tamales stuffed with fresh, healthy ingredients or La Isla Bonita food truck on Rose Ave. for the best tacos and ceviche tostada in town.

For a laidback beach bar, try Nikki’s, serving up tasty veggie quesadillas, ahi tuna salads or grilled chicken sandwiches and burgers on brioche buns. It’s a great post-beach spot to share a pitcher and watch the game.

Dinner & Drinks

Sunset views from High Rooftop Lounge. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

For the best views of L.A.’s sunset, make your way to High Rooftop Lounge at the Hotel Erwin for a pre-dinner cocktail in a buzzy setting. If you want a seat, make a reservation. Otherwise, there’s plenty of bar space for perching while the sun sinks into the ocean.

Incredible pasta dishes at The Tasting Kitchen. Photo courtesy of The Tasting Kitchen.

Make a reservation at Venice’s hottest eatery, The Tasting Kitchen helmed by Food & Wine magazine Chef Superstar Casey Lane. With an ever-changing, farm-to-table menu of plates meant to be shared, including cheeses and charcuteries, fresh pastas and inventive entrees, like scallops with tangerine essenza, basil and almond, you'll do best to order one of everything.

Gjelina is another foodie hotspot on Abbot Kinney with a fresh approach and a hip scene, serving thin crust pizza (think, lamb sausage, tomato confit, rapini, asiago, pecorino and mint) and other shareable entrees. In the mood for gourmet to go? Hit up their adjacent Gjelina Take Away (GTA) for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the run.

Not quite ready to call it a night? Then hit The Brig, a laidback sports bar with style that plays host to DJs, live music or simply a loud jukebox late night.

If You Have More Than A Day

Hit the waves with Nick Fowler of Aloha Brothers, like I did!

Take a Surf Lesson. Venice and surfing go hand in hand and if you’re a newbie, consider surf lessons with Nick Fowler at Aloha Brothers Surf Lessons. You’ll be on your feet riding a wave in no time. You can also rent boards near the beach at Mollusk Surf Shop or Jay’s Rentals.

The picturesque canals of Venice. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Cruise the canals. Venice actually got it's name from Venice, Italy because of its small network of canals. Take a stroll across picturesque bridges and waterways, and imagine you're in Europe--Europe with palm trees, that is.

Rent bikes. Head back to Jay’s and rent a beach cruiser that you can take along the oceanfront bike path as far south as Redondo Beach and north to the Santa Monica Pier.

Where To Stay

King room with partial ocean views at Hotel Erwin. Photo by Shayne Benowitz.

For the perfect beachfront location in the center of it all, check into the Hotel Erwin. While it’s not exactly lux, it’s got plenty of character with funky rooms in bright colors, balconies and modern amenities. Book on for the lowest room rates (starting at about $200 per night) and earn Welcome Reward nights for your stay. While Venice itself doesn’t have points hotels, nearby Marina del Rey has a Hilton Garden Inn ($269 per night or 50,000 Hilton HHonors points) and a Marriott ($239 per night or 35,000 Marriott Rewards points), both convenient to the heart of Venice.

TPG Tip: When it comes to travel, you can't go wrong with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card earning you 2x the points on dining and travel.

Where do you like to hang in Venice or L.A.? What other destinations would you like to see in this column?

Featured image by Welcome to Venice