There’s more to Venice, California, than Muscle Beach and tattoo parlours – although if you’ve got a yen, there are certainly enough beachside bodybuilders and ink-artists to satisfy that. But a stroll, skate or bike ride along the beachfront promenade is a fine way to soak up the scene, indulge in a little architectural appreciation – is that a chandelier-lit treehouse? – and admire the sartorial choices of runners clad in everything from neon spandex to superhero capes.
Pop into Clabe Hartley’s Cow’s End Cafe, two blocks up from the sand, for noshes and coffee, then sally forth to walk off that avocado-laden breakfast wrap (US$8.25/RM35.30). You can stroll this stretch of strand from Marina del Rey to the Santa Monica Pier and beyond. But the real treasures of Venice Beach actually lie inland – and we’re not just talking canals.
The city’s famous waterways were the dream of Abbot Kinney, a developer who created these “Venice of America” canals – 11.26km of canals, complete with arched bridges and gondolas – in 1905. Some of the canals were replaced with decidedly un-Venetian roads over the decades, but the remaining canals were renovated in the 1990s, new sidewalks and bridges built and new homes went up along the banks.
Our goal today isn’t Kinney’s canals, though. It’s his street. Dubbed the “Coolest Block in America” by GQ magazine in 2012, Abbott Kinney Boulevard has only become more so, much to the consternation of some locals, who preferred it in its more bohemian, less expensive state. Clearly, those locals have not sampled the butterscotch pots de creme with salted caramel at Gjelina, or the painstakingly brewed coffee at Blue Bottle’s Venice outpost.
Forget the saying about drinking the Kool-Aid. We’ve slurped the butterscotch – and we are smitten by this neighbourhood.
There’s a spot to eat, drink, gaze or shop every few yards on this boulevard, from organic juice bars and coffee houses to boutiques, bistros and galleries. Stroll the half-mile stretch from Blue Bottle to the upscale Lemonade cafeteria, and you’ll pass more than 100 enticing storefronts. Pop into the G2 Gallery to see the Ansel Adams exhibit upstairs; or hang a left before you reach the stairwell to browse a charming gift shop. Pick up home decor items at adorable Tumbleweed and Dandelion. Find vacation gear and beachy, floaty dresses at the new blue-and-white striped Beach House Brand boutique, or street-chic glasses at Warby Parker.
But don’t miss chef Travis Lett’s stylish Gjelina, lined with dark, distressed wood – even the ceiling is panelled – and hung with Edison-bulb chandeliers. Lett, a 2016 James Beard nominee for best in the west – his other restaurants include GTA (Gjelina Take Away) next door and the breakfast-centric Gjusta – has crafted a seasonal menu with wide appeal. On this particular Friday afternoon, a line stretches out the door. Brunchers and lunchers congregate indoors and out. A group of well-dressed teens is celebrating a birthday on the patio. Business types are conferring over flatbread pizza and smoked salmon toasts. Aziz Ansari has just slipped out the front.
And every diner is thinking – butterscotch! – San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service/Jackie Burrell