It’s the picture many people have of Southern California: oiled-up muscle men flex on the sand while bikini-clad roller skaters zip by licking an ice cream cone. Almost anywhere in Los Angeles, locals will laugh at that image — except in Venice Beach. This slice of sun and beaches is where that LA stereotype got its start. Come for the people watching but stay to see a much richer piece of Southern California culture.
Start your visit with the iconic boardwalk that runs the length of Venice Beach. Extending from Santa Monica in the north all the way down to Marina Del Rey in the south, this mostly concrete path (you won’t see many boards along the way) takes you 2 miles through all the best Venice Beach has to offer. As you stroll, be on the lookout for skaters who have used this path as a cruising zone for decades. The walk is lined with funky shops selling everything you need for a day at the beach, from swimwear to surfboards. There are street vendors galore and countless places to get a tasty bite or a cool drink. Nearly every attraction in Venice Beach is steps away from the boardwalk, so it’s easy to make it the hub of your visit.
Pro Tip: Parking in Venice Beach can be tough. There’s a large public parking lot at the end of Venice Boulevard as it approaches the beach and another at the end of Rose Avenue. Car break-ins can happen here, so be sure to not leave valuables behind if you can and lock everything out of sight.
2. Muscle Beach
Arnold Schwarzenegger once called this collection of weightlifting equipment on the beach home. Now dozens of would-be Arnolds line up to take turns on the equipment and show off their sculpted physiques for the crowds who gather to watch. With a history that goes back to the 1950s, this iteration of Muscle Beach has been an important spot for bodybuilders and anyone who wants to watch them bulk up.
Located just north of the public parking at Venice Boulevard, the gym is set just off the boardwalk amidst tennis courts, sand volleyball courts and basketball courts, meaning you’ll be surrounded by athletic prowess wherever you turn. If you want to take your turn training where Arnold trained, you do have to pay to enter the gym facility. The city of Los Angeles maintains the site and visitors can buy single-day passes starting at $5 for seniors and $10 for everyone else.
Pro Tip: Look nearby for the giant portrait of young Arnold Schwarzenegger painted on the side of the building at the corner of Speedway Avenue and 18th Place. It’s just a block east of the Muscle Beach gym equipment.
3. Venice Skatepark
It’s hard to miss the massive, multi-million-dollar skatepark that lies between the beachfront park at East Market Street and the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. It was those waves — or a lack of them — that pushed surfers to climb on boards with wheels on the days the ocean wasn’t wild enough for them to use their surfboards. Venice Beach and nearby Santa Monica became the birthplace of skater culture, influencing what boards skaters around the world would use, what clothes they would wear, and what shoes they’d put on the boards.
The current skatepark is a relatively new feature in Venice Beach. Opened in 2009, this $3.4 million structure includes the ramps, bowls, and slides one would expect in any city skatepark. But its claim to fame are the two large depressions that resemble empty swimming pools — just like the empty pools of Southern California that served as home for generations of skaters.
Pro Tip: If you don’t plan to skate yourself, there’s plenty of room along the railing on the east side of the park for you to watch the action and snap a few action photos.
4. High Rooftop Lounge
Despite its oceanfront location, Venice Beach has only one rooftop bar to give patrons a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. Perched atop the Hotel Erwin, which faces Pacific Avenue, the High Rooftop Lounge runs the block-long length of the building, sitting about six stories above the beach. The food and drink runs a little on the pricey side, as you’re paying for the view rather than the food.
Pro Tip: The bar is understandably popular, with the biggest crowds gathering at sunset to watch the Sun sink beyond the Pacific waves. Be prepared to make reservations for the busiest times and pay a reservation fee for prime seating on the beach side of the deck.
5. Venice Fishing Pier
Running perpendicular to the Venice Beach Boardwalk at Washington Street, you’ll find the path to the Venice Fishing Pier. This concrete structure juts a quarter of a mile out into the Pacific Ocean, reaching some deeper water that’s a favorite for sport fishermen. Unlike the nearby Santa Monica Pier (which you can easily see from the Venice Fishing Pier), there are no attractions on this pier.
Its current design, dating back to 1965 with a major overhaul after storm damage in 1983, is aimed at allowing fishing from its railings. But even if you don’t consider yourself an angler, the walk to the end will take less than 5 minutes and open the way to an expansive view up and down the California Coast. You’ll easily see Santa Monica to the north and Marina Del Rey to the southeast. On clear days, Malibu will be visible in the distance to the north and west, while Rancho Palos Verdes and even Catalina Island show themselves to the south.
Pro Tip: There are no facilities on the pier whatsoever, meaning any comfort breaks should be taken before venturing out to the end.
6. Bike Ride
Walking miles in the Southern California sun can be more than some want to experience. If you want to cover a lot of Venice Beach in a short amount of time, an organized bike tour might be the thing for you. A number of companies operate bike tours of the area with knowledgeable guides who can show you the highlights of Venice Beach, Santa Monica, and Marina Del Rey.
Among the best is the Venice Vibrations Bike Tour from Venice Bike Tours. The 3-hour tour will get you to all the major spots in Venice Beach, riding in style on a beach cruiser that can handle streets, sidewalks, and sand. The Santa Monica & Venice Beach Bike Adventure runs 2–3 hours and takes you to Venice Beach and Santa Monica, covering the major attractions in each locale. If you want to go it on your own and skip the tour guide, multiple bike shops along the boardwalk rent bikes by the hour or the day. A popular spot is Jay’s Rentals, which can get you a bike for around $8 per hour or $28 for the entire day.
Pro Tip: If you’re not a regular bike rider, a few hours pedaling under the Sun might seem more than you can take. If that’s the case, consider an e-bike rental. E-bikes do some of the pedaling for you, making a multi-mile trip as easy as a trip to the corner and back. Boneshaker Electric Bikes in the center of the boardwalk is a popular spot. But be prepared to pay a lot more to rent an electric bike than you’ll pay for the old-fashioned kind.
7. Street Art
Though you’ll see some of it from the boardwalk, be sure to stroll away from the beach and into the city to see the street art adorning the buildings of Venice Beach. There are a number of self-guided walking tours to see the best of the art, usually only stretching a mile or two. Among the best works of art to see is the famous Touch of Venice mural just down the street from the lighted Venice sign at Windward and Pacific Avenue. Also notable is the salute to the Dogtown skater days on a building on Aragon Court just off Abbott Kinney Boulevard.
Pro Tip: Think about the time of day you’ll see the murals and whether they’ll get full sunshine to bring out their colors.
8. Venice Canals Walkway
As you work your way off the beach and into the center of the city, don’t miss the feature that gives Venice its name. Just east of the beach area, you’ll find the canals of Venice, a 10-square-block area of houses lined up on shallow waterways that connect to the sea through Marina Del Rey.
The canals are what’s left of a much larger system dug in 1905 to attract people to what was then a separate city from Los Angeles. Originally featuring arched bridges as found in Venice, Italy — and even gondoliers plying the waters — developers and the city eventually filled in many of the canals to add buildings and roads. The Venice Canals Association maintains a calendar of events on the canals each month, but feel free to wander the paths and bridges anytime to explore this beautiful neighborhood on your own.
9. Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Travel a bit further from the beach and you’ll find one of the west side’s most interesting and eclectic shopping and dining areas — Abbot Kinney. Running along the boulevard that bears the same name, the neighborhood has dozens of small, quirky shops interspersed with bigger retail names. Stop along the way at cafés and hole-in-the-wall restaurants to find any type of cuisine that interests you. If you stop by on the first Friday of the month, you can sample the fare at one of LA’s biggest food truck gatherings. More than two dozen trucks park along the boulevard from 5–9:30 p.m.