Did I like Venice Beach?
Well, it was fascinating but it's not my scene.
At least that was my impression going in.
Today, when I break it down, when I look at each experience I had at Venice Beach individually, I realize I quite liked most of them. Even so, my lasting impression is conflicted,
How does this work? Let me explain.
Venice Beach: At the End of the Line and Close to the Airport
First, here's why I went to Venice Beach. I chose to go for three reasons:
- When going on an iconic Amtrak journey I like making a complete run of it rather than jumping the line part way. The Coast Startlight goes from Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles. I traveled it in two parts – from Seattle to San Francisco and, after a five night stay in SF, I took the next leg to LA.
- LA is a big place and I had to focus somewhere. Never having been to the famous Venice Beach, I chose to go there.
- It has easy access to the airport by public transport.
What I Liked about Venice Beach
As you can see from the photo above, the weather wasn't with me the day I went to Venice Beach. It was winter. However, there were still surfers in the water and people on the promenade. I suspect that there is a lot I missed by going at that time of year but the upside is that it wasn't overly crowded.
Breaking down the experiences, here's what I liked:
- The walk to the beach gave me an opportunity to walk along the canals on the way. Yes, true to its namesake, Venice Beach has canals with boat access to homes.
- The surfers are always amazing to watch.
- Even more incredible (likely because you can watch up close) are the skateboarders who, surprisingly, were not all young. There were some who had to be in their 40s and had likely been working the bowls and halfpipes for decades.
- The buskers, as is typical, ranged in quality but one was wonderful. It's worth going to see Starla sing jazz. She's located at the north end of the promenade most Mondays to Thursdays.
- And, of course, there's Muscle Beach. It isn't the original Muscle Beach from the 30s but it has been in this location since the 50s. Even on a dreary winter day there were three muscle-bound men working out to the entertainment of a small crowd.
The Flip Side of Venice Beach
On the flip side, Venice Beach made me sad.
Many of the established shops were on the seedy side and the handmade items sold by street vendors seemed an attempt to make a few bucks out of anything found lying around – shells and the like. There was little that was interesting or creative. There are many medical clinics where you can get a prescription for marijuana for about $40. Apparently real doctors write them but with so many clinics it seems more like an opportunity to exploit people than deliver a valuable medical service.
But what was most disturbing was the size of the homeless community which included people of all ages. Yes, there are some who are simply living the hippy scene – it looks temporary, a phase – but there are others who are stuck in a cycle of poverty. And with the gentrification of Venice Beach (as shown in the photos above), the police are cracking down on the community. But if you are stuck in poverty, if there isn't a safety net, where would you go? I discussed this with Starla who is now retired from teaching and she certainly had strong and clearly expressed opinions on racism and poverty in America.
One organization that is visibly helping the homeless in Venice Beach is Send Me A Penny which operates a food stall giving out hot meals to homeless people almost every day of the week. If you're there, please stop by and give them $5 or $10. You can also go online to support them here.
So, while many of the individual elements of Venice Beach were beautiful (the water, Starla) and entertaining (surfers and skateboarders), I have been left with bitter taste in my mouth. In my mind, the affluence we have in North America (I include Canada in this) leaves no excuse for people in such need.