Venice Beach Guide: Insider Tips, Where to Go and What to Avoid
'Stranger Things' star Matthew Modine, Robert Downey Jr., John Slattery and Fiona Apple are among those drawn to the neighborhood, which this summer saw the debut of the area's first on-demand beach concierge service.
Venice is cool because it's Venice — a small village built from a dream by visionary Abbot Kinney," says Matthew Modine, star of Netflix's Stranger Things, of the tobacco millionaire who conceived of the now-hip area (oceanfront property prices at $2,400 a square foot) as a tribute to Venice, Italy — canals and all. Adds The Agency partner David Solomon of the neighborhood sandwiched between Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey: "Venice was a rough place, but now it's bringing in creative types open to a less cookie-cutter neighborhood." They include Robert Downey Jr., John Slattery, Tim Robbins, Maria Bello and Fiona Apple.
HISTORY In 1905, Kinney's seaside resort vision with its seven canals came to be, and just five years later, Mary Pickford and Billy Quirk filmed Short Shot, which set off a swell of movie production that led to local businesses threatening to ban the industry because of interference. By 1929, the original canals were all paved over, but the neighborhood had become popular with stars who purchased summer cottages and threw parties: Carole Lombard hosted one at the pier's Fun House, with Cary Grant among the guests. After World War II, it was the backdrop for Grease, American Gigolo and Speed. Post-gentrification, Silicon Beach startups began moving in with the opening of Google's massive Venice headquarters, then migrated inland and south as rents skyrocketed (though larger companies like Snapchat stayed put). In September 2012, Joel Silver dropped $7.6 million on the dilapidated former U.S. post office on Windward Circle; legal issues, taxes and liens have kept the project tied up for years. Last year, a woman inspired by the #freethenipple campaign attempted to end the ban on female toplessness at the beach. The neighborhood council passed a motion to allow it, but the city of Los Angeles hasn't yet made a legal ruling.
DO CHECK OUT This summer saw the debut of Beach Now, the area's first on-demand beach concierge service, which offers packages consisting of umbrellas with lounge chairs, towels, bluetooth speakers and Wi-Fi hotspots (booked through the service's app or VeniceBeachNow.com; cabanas will be available in the fall). Concierges assist with parking, reservations and rentals, and a picnic basket offers organic and vegan options from gastropub Bank of Venice. Do-it-yourselfers can go to the recently reopened Rose Cafe — where patrons include the Edge, Tea Leoni and Robbins — for a summer-special Rose beach tote, which includes a canvas bag and beachball alongside choices of salads, sandwiches or entrees, crudite and cheese and desserts (220 Rose Ave.).
INSIDER TIPS Gjelina's GTA is where E! and Esquire Network president Adam Stotsky orders chopped kale salad with a blackened fish sandwich (1427 Abbot Kinney Blvd.). "That and a cold beer make for a perfect picnic basket," he says, also recommending "the rooftop bar, High, at Hotel Erwin for killer spicy margaritas and an epic sunset" (1697 Pacific Ave.). Pressed Juicery's Hayden Slater brings fresh poké from the Venice Whaler's inconspicuous takeout window (10 Washington Blvd.) or sandwiches from Flake (513 Rose Ave.) to "a grassy area right off Ocean Avenue, where I find myself hanging out by the basketball courts." Modine's lunch pick is Cafe Gratitude — where Anne Hathaway and Pink have also eaten the popular vegan fare — since it "has just the right amount of hippie" (512 Rose Ave.) The actor adds that "the best way to experience Venice is by skateboard. On a skateboard, cruising down the walk streets, the colonnades along the beach walk, you're going just slow enough to see the decades-old details of Kinney's vision of importing Venice, Italy, to the Santa Monica Bay." There's no need for a fitness membership — though Gold's Gym is an iconic choice in Venice (think Arnold Schwarzenegger). Surfers ride the waves at Breakwater or, says Slater, when it's empty in the early morning, "I'll take advantage of the monkey bars or rings and try to get in a little workout, but I only go when it's quiet because the people who go frequently are so good it's intimidating." When it is busy, Muscle Beach is a bodybuilding sight to behold.
AVOID Storm drains, which release sewage into the ocean, should be given wide berth; the waves near the Windward Avenue drain score a C in the summer with Heal the Bay. When it rains, the drain gets an F, as do those by Rose Avenue, the pier and nearly all of Venice Beach.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.