Hipsters, in-line skaters, surfers, artists, performers, and slackers mill about the boardwalk and intermittently gentrified and patchy streets of Venice Beach. This what many consider to be L.A.'s East Village or Haight-Ashbury by the sea - indeed, it was a haven of counter-culture and members of the Beat Generation during the '50s and '60s, as well as avant-garde artists and graffiti experts, like the late gay artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, in the '80s. Secondhand clothing and music stores, piercing and tattoo parlors, health-food stores, and outdoor markets still line some of the streets near the beach, as do a few art galleries and theaters. The famed 1.5-mile Venice Boardwalk, which curves along the stunning beachfront, still offers some of the most colorful people-watching in California, from street performers to ripped gym bunnies to fortunetellers. At the Washington Boulevard end of the beach, a 1,300-foot fishing pier juts into the sea - the structure was nearly razed after falling into disrepair in the '80s, but it was fully restored and reopened in 1997.
The community - it's actually a neighborhood within the city of Los Angeles - is less polished than its northern neighbor, the incorporated city of Santa Monica, but life here is fairly stress-free, and the trend factor - especially along the inland commercial thoroughfare of Abbot Kinney Boulevard - has increased markedly over the past decade. Venice also has a handful of noteworthy restaurants and hotels, plus a very popular gay bar, Roosterfish.
Be aware that Venice is less conducive to car traffic than most communities in metro Los Angeles. The streets are narrow and the traffic is heavy on weekends and even sunny weekdays; it's best to park by the beach and see the community on foot. Venice had an unfortunate reputation for crime and transients right through the mid-'90s, but it's cleaned up considerably in recent years, especially the neighborhoods near the beach. That being said, don't leave valuables in your car, and stick to well-lighted thoroughfares.
For a vague sense of Venice circa 1905, when the eccentric cigarette magnate Abbot Kinney developed the city as a California version of Italy's Venice - complete with a 16-mile-long canal system - walk along Dell Avenue from Washington Street to Venice Boulevard. You'll cross over four of the canals the Kinney had constructed, each of them crossed by gently arching bridges. Many of the homes here have little boats along the canals, which were restored about 20 years ago - the neighborhood now comprises the Venice Canal Historic District.
The north end of Venice, around Rose Avenue and Main Street, leads into the hip Santa Monica shopping and dining district of Ocean Park.