A funky little stretch of beach in Venice, a borough of Los Angeles. Venice is known less for its beach (which is pretty standard, as California beaches go) than for its boardwalk, which is really more of a concrete path than something made out of boards.

On the land side of the path, you find regular storefronts and , selling sarongs, incense, sunglasses, laser pointers, knockoff perfume, knockoff clothing, bikinis and novelty T-shirts. And a lot of stores sell big slices of pizza for 99 cents. There's also a lot of good ethnic take-out along the walk, from german sausages to indian curry to mexican food.

On the sea side of the path, you'll find makeshift stands and blankets upon which people try to get you to buy incense, stoner art, stoner sculpture, african art, photo opportunities with exotic animals, theraputic massage, psychic assistance, and henna tattoos. There are also street artists and people promoting weird religions. One man is a chess genius (I don't know his rating), and will play up to six people at one time, for $5 a game.

Space on both sides is in great demand, and there is somewhat of a rivalry between the two. The stores feel that the street peddlers attract a criminal element. The street peddlers argue that they provide the spirit of Venice Beach. Both sides are correct, to a certain extent.

Parking can be done in one of three ways:

  1. You can park in the beach parking lots, which will set you back about $10. These are run by the city, and they are the way to go if you have a big cooler or a lot of gear that you need to offload to the beach. You will usually have to wait in a long line of other cars in order to do this.
  2. You can drive along speedway road, which is the closest road that runs parallel to the beach. Be warned, it only runs north to south, but you can find independant lots that will charge you from $6 to $8.50 for parking.
  3. You can do what I do and park for free along venice boulevard, about 1/4 mile away from the beach. I go down to the beach to go biking, so I don't really care about the distance. True, there are 'no parking' signs set up everywhere, but if you read the fine print, you'll see that it's just talking about parking on wednesday morning, when the street cleaning is done. I usually find an open spot just next to Samy's Camera. I was even successful with this strategy today, on Memorial Day Weekend.

Venice beach turns into Santa Monica beach if you go north enough, and Marina del Rey if you go south enough. Neither place is as much fun.

In recent years many tourist types have shied away from Venice due to its somewhat violent and dirty reputation. The lovely LAPD stepped in at the request of local business and severely cracked down on gang activity in the area, making it plenty safe for the Johnson family of Bumbfuck, America. As of 2002, it is a rather clean and certainly a very eclectic destination.

As bitter engineer alluded to, one of the most dominant aspects of Venice Beach is the stoner culture. There is a higher concentration of bong shops on the boardwalk than any other place in Los Angeles. Usually the glass in these places is quite cheap compared to elsewhere (as well as the acrylic and metal for that matter) but quality varies widely.

The restaurants on the boardwalk also enjoy this wide range of price and quality. Mixed together with the pizza and ethnic take-out are such gems as: Figtree's Cafe which serves a robust range of healthy dishes (and is a personal favorite for breakfast), Sidewalk Cafe with an extensive menu (using celebrity names) and the best people watching around, and the incomparable 5 Dudley with a quirky staff, tiny space, spoken word menu and rather large prices.

Needless to say, Venice can be a good time for those with an open mind who would like to see some of the vast diversity that LA has to offer. And best of all, the people watching during crowded summer weekends is worth any effort you may expend in getting there. I hope this is helpful, be safe and have fun.

Additional free parking tips: Approach Venice by taking the 10 West freeway and using the 4th/5th street exit. Take a left (a right leads to Santa Monica and drops your near the 3rd Street Promenade) and head straight down 4th street for about 2 miles. Take a right when you hit Sunset Ave. (no, not the famous one) and you are now facing the Pacific. You can park for free pretty much anywhere in this vicinity and you will be about 2 or 3 blocks from the boardwalk.

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