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Friday, 11 May 2012 12:15

Venice, a Tradition of Bucking Tradition

Venice is a neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles, but that doesn't stop a lot of people from mistaking it for its own city. Some would go as far as calling Venice its own planet. From the chaos of Ocean Front Walk to the fashion consciousness of Abbot Kinney Boulevard to the dozens of narrow streets lined with a mix of century-old homes and modern architectural statements, Venice is a singular destination in a city known for its individualism. The brainchild of New Jersey-born entrepreneur Abbot Kinney, Venice opened as a beach resort modeled after the world-famous Italian destination in 1905, complete with 16 miles of canals. While most of the canals were filled in by the 1930s, about a mile and a half of canals — complete with arched bridges — still wind their way through the enclave, providing a great way for people to explore the district and a great place for ducks to hang out. And, while about 40,000 people live in the three-square-mile district, a lot more flock there during the warmer months of the year to experience the urban-beachy-artsy vibe that can be found in few other places.

No Explanation Possible: Ocean Front Walk

A walk along Ocean Front Walk, aka the Venice Boardwalk, which stretches about a mile and a half from Santa MonicaMuscle Beach Two SMALLPumping iron at Muscle Beach. to Marina del Rey, can stun even the most jaded traveler or local. Buskers, hippies, body builders, chainsaw jugglers and even turban-wearing, roller-skating guitar player Harry Perry don't even begin to tell the whole story of the Venice Beach Boardwalk on a sunny weekend day. Pickup basketball players battle for supremacy on the Boardwalk-adjacent courts, which were featured in White Men Can't Jump; handball and paddle-tennis players take each other on nearby; surfers battle for position off the Venice jetty; and hundreds of vendors compete for your attention by selling everything imaginable. And if you want a view of the madness from above and don't want to leave the area, the Cadillac Hotel, which was built in 1914 and once served as Charlie Chaplin's summer residence, has been upgraded with art-deco touches. The Inn at Venice Beach is a mere four blocks from the southern end of Ocean Front Walk.

Slanted and Enchanted: Abbot Kinney Boulevard

Leave it to Venice to have its primary shopping thoroughfare named after its founder to cut perfectly diagonally through the district. Everything from furniture shops to home décor stores to vintage clothing boutiques and perfumeries line the street. Ananda features scented candles, Indian-inspired clothing, mini-Buddha figures and more. Surfing Cowboys hawks vintage skateboards, Navajo rugs and — yes — the occasional surfboard. Pamela Barish attracts a high-end clientele looking to mix in the funky with the finery. Modern, eclectic housewares abound at Firefly, while Heist's designer clothing bespeaks an urban sensibility. And Minnie T's has attracted trend-seeking folks since 2001. Meanwhile, shops like Milkmade and Guild give guys a chance to get stylish, while Waraku supplies hard-to-find imported shoes for men and women. And if all that shopping's making you hungry, Hans Rockenwagner's 3 Square Café + Bakery combines high-end ingredients with an informal atmosphere; Gjelina brings a modern approach to new-American cuisine; Glencrest represents old-school Abbot Kinney with serious barbeque; Primitivo combines Spanish-style tapas with an outstanding wine list; and Brig is a casual eatery complete with pool tables and music. For a good old-fashioned caffeine fix amid modern, architecture, there's Intelligentsia Venice Coffee Bar. And when all else fails, there are always the Abbot Kinney standbys: Joe's for classic American brunch or dinner, Hal's for a traditional  bar and grill experience, and Abbot's Pizza for piping hot, bagel-crust pies. Also, the Abbot Kinney Festival has been sending off the summer every year since 1984 with a party that includes live music, artisan crafts and other events that attract more than 150,000 people. And if you can't hit the Festival, no worries, as Abbot Kinney 1st Fridays brings the community together and welcomes all others on the first Friday evening of every month.

Non-Traditional Traditional

When Venice was first built more than a century ago, its heart was a group of Venetian-styled buildings and a colonnade at the corner of Pacific and Windward Avenues, which are still there today. Nearby, Hotel Erwin has 119 rooms, as well as a rooftop lounge and the well-regarded Barlo Kitchen & Cocktails, and the property is undergoing a $1 million upgrade in time for summer 2012. Meanwhile, two blocks east on Main and Windward (formerly the site of Venice's Grand Canal), Hama Sushi has been serving regulars and visitors since 1979. No less a Venice institution is Chaya Venice, which has been serving its French-Japanese cuisine about a mile north on Main Street near the Santa Monica border since 1990. Finally, no local trip is complete without a photo op in front of the Clown Ballerina building at Main Street and Rose Avenue. Yes, only in Venice.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Los Angeles area lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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