Looking for the best things to do in Venice Beach? From iconic attractions, trendy hotspots, and cool hangouts, here are all the things to check out in LA’s boho beach town.
Venice Beach has always been one of my favorite areas in Los Angeles, because of its funky, eclectic vibe. And with its beaches, iconic boardwalk, street art, trendy hotspots, and more, there are so many fun things to do in Venice Beach!
Most people know Venice as the bohemian yet kinda grungy neighborhood and immediately picture the madness on its famous boardwalk. Sure, it’s touristy AF, but it’s kinda one of those LA bucket list spots that you’ve just gotta experience once.
In recent years though, Venice has shed some of its former reputation to become a booming, trendy hotspot, filled with hip boutiques, restaurants, bars, and some of the most Insta-worthy places in LA. For better or worse, Venice is constantly changing, but there are still signs of its offbeat, free-spirited persona.
Venice is many things – a quintessential beach town, a hub for bohemian artists, a trendy foodie hotspot, hipster enclave, tourist trap…there’s something for everyone here.
Keep on reading for all of the best things to do in Venice Beach!
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About Venice Beach, California
Venice Beach was founded in 1905 by developer Abbott Kinney, who initially had a vision to create a cultural mecca, where people could follow their intellectual pursuits while enjoying the ocean air. The idea, however, flopped and Kinney gave into public demand and set out to create a beachfront resort town, complete with an amusement park and a miniature steam railroad – a “Coney Island of the Pacific.”
He also created a series of canals, with imported gondolas and gondoliers from Venice, Italy (checking them out is one of the top things to do in Venice), which gave the town the nickname the “Venice of America.”
Upon Kinney’s death, the town was left in shambles, unable to govern itself, and voted to become a part of Los Angeles. Because of the discovery of oil nearby, Venice Beach was full of toxic air, polluted water, and became an eyesore.
When World War II ended, so did the oil boom. The area became remodeled, and housing was built for WWII veterans. It was then that bodybuilding became popular in the area, with the original Muscle Beach being established in nearby Santa Monica. Today’s Muscle Beach stands near the iconic Venice Beach Boardwalk, and watching the bodybuilders there is one of the most popular things to do in Venice Beach.
In the 1960s, cheap rent brought over artists, musicians, poets, and hippies, creating the bohemian vibe that Venice became known for. In the 1970s, surfing and skateboarding boomed, and is still very much a part of Venice’s identity.
Today, Venice Beach has become a mecca of cool, home to many trendy shops, restaurants, and bars. It has also become a tech hub. The Venice of today is very much different from the Venice of yesterday – however, you can still see signs of its offbeat, bohemian past throughout the city.
Venice Beach is the second largest tourist attraction in Southern California, after Disneyland, attracting over 10 million visitors per year. It is also home to about 40,000 residents.
When to Visit Venice Beach
As with most locations in Southern California, Venice enjoys year-round sunshine, so there is really no bad time to visit!
Summer brings the hottest temperatures and the longest days, which means more daylight hours to enjoy all the fun things to do in Venice Beach! Keep in mind that Southern California is famous for its “June Gloom” in May and June, which brings overcast skies in the morning (bring a light sweater or jacket) – however, this usually burns off by afternoon.
Spring and fall are, well, pretty much like summer – California doesn’t get much in the way of seasons. Temperatures stay relatively mild in the winter – highs usually hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and lows rarely get below the 50s, making Venice Beach the perfect place to escape to for some winter sun. Do note that it does sometimes rain in the winter months.
Getting There and Around
Venice Beach sits on the western end of Los Angeles, about 17 miles from downtown (~30 minutes with no traffic). It is also only 6 miles from the LAX airport, which makes it an ideal place to base yourself during any visit to the Los Angeles area. It is a super easy and relatively affordable (~$20) Uber or Lyft ride from the airport.
Public transportation isn’t great in the LA area, but traffic and especially parking are a giant pain (and expensive) in the Venice area, so I’d avoid driving if possible. You can explore the main areas of Venice on foot, and biking is a great way to get around as well. Otherwise, you can easily get around via Uber or Lyft.
Cool Things to Do in Venice Beach
Experience the madness of the Venice Beach boardwalk
Love it or hate it, hanging out on the boardwalk tops the list of things to do in Venice Beach (and perhaps all of Los Angeles). Its craziness is just one of those things you just have to experience once in your life!
The Venice Beach Boardwalk is dotted with souvenir shops, eateries, kinda sketchy looking medical marijuana dispensaries, and miscellaneous street vendors. It stretches for a mile on the paved Ocean Front Walk, but the busiest part goes from North Venice Boulevard to Park Avenue.
It is usually a flurry of activity, with tons of street performers and plenty of characters – you’ll see people doing anything from singing, dancing, playing instruments, acrobatics, to people offering kisses and hugs for a dollar. You’ll even see some unusual acts, like people using electric saws and snakes!
Sure, it’s touristy AF and absolute madness, but there’s nothing quite like it – and it makes for some excellent people watching!
Gawk at the bodybuilders on Muscle Beach
Muscle Beach gained fame as the workout gym of celebrity bodybuilders Lou Ferrigno (the original Hulk) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can easily spot Muscle Beach from the Boardwalk thanks to a giant mural of the latter, along with a comically large set of dumbbells hanging off the building’s facade (they look fit for gorillas).
Muscle Beach began to call Venice home when the original location in Santa Monica disappeared in the 60s. It still operates as an outdoor gym today, and one of the most popular things to do in Venice Beach is to gawk at the chiseled bodybuilders doing their workouts (you’ll find plenty of tourists and even locals standing around and snapping photos). Bodybuilding competitions are held here as well, and you’ll find a grandstand set up near the competition stage.
Watch the skateboarders at the skatepark
The Venice Skatepark, located on the sand between Windward and Ocean Front Walk, is one of the most iconic skateboarding spots in California. Built in 2009, the 16,000-square-foot skatepark features a variety of elements.
Skateboarding in Venice dates back to the 1970s, when surfers became bored with the flat waves and took to the sidewalks. It was made famous by the legendary Z-Boys, who skated in the area and revolutionized the sport.
Watching skateboarders show off while doing impressive tricks is one of the most fascinating things to do in Venice Beach. You’ll find skaters of all ages, performing all sorts of stunts – even little kids (as someone who cannot stand up on a skateboard without immediately falling off, I am a bit, ok a lot, jealous)!
Check out the cool street art around town
I’m always a sucker for cities with colorful street art (like San Francisco and Lisbon) – so obviously, one of my favorite things to do in Venice Beach is to check out all the cool murals around town. Venice is home to some of the most Instagram-worthy places in Los Angeles, with an eclectic mix of street art and installations all over town, representing a variety of artists and styles.
One of the coolest things to do in Venice Beach is to check out the Venice Art Walls, located on the beach between Windward and Market (between the skatepark and basketball courts). Here, you will see an ever-changing assortment of graffiti art by local artists.
The project showcases a mix of street art, murals, and traditional as well as modern graffiti. It is constantly changing, and is sort of like a living history of graffiti art. The walls date back to the 1960s, but they technically only became legal within the last 20 years. You can even see the artists at work here and doing their thing on the weekends – it is absolutely fascinating!
Aside from that, you can see tons of vibrant street art pieces all throughout town. Some of my favorite murals are scattered around Abbott Kinney (which is also mentioned later on this list of best things to do in Venice Beach), but you’ll find tons more in other areas of the city as well.
Here are some of the best murals to check out around Venice Beach:
- “Bleeding Hearts” aka Love Walls by James Goldcrown: You can find two versions of these spray-painted hearts. The first is off Abbott Kinney, at 471 Santa Clara Ave – the design of this one changes every so often. The second is in front of Joe’s Pizza on the Boardwalk, at 1301 Ocean Front Walk.
- Geometric wall by Love bErto: Another one of my favorites on Abbott Kinney, near the Bleeding Hearts at 1201 Abbot Kinney Blvd. There is also another Love bErto mural nearby, but it’s in a parking lot and often fenced off.
- Homage to a Starry Night by Rip Cronk: Venice Beach’s version of the legendary Van Gogh painting stands on the corner of Wavecrest and Ocean Front Walk.
- Touch of Venice by Jonas Never: This vintage scene is inspired by classic film noir and Orson Wells. You can find it at 21 Windward Avenue
Hang out at the beach
Venice at its core is a beach town, so obviously one of the best things to do in Venice Beach is to at least spend a little bit of time at the beach.
You can chill on the sand, sunbathe, and just chill; or, for those looking to partake in some water sports, there are plenty of recreational options available.
Looking to hit the waves? North of the Venice Pier and lifeguard headquarters, you’ll find the Venice Breakwater, one of the best surf breaks in LA. Built by Abbot Kinney in 1905 to protect his amusement pier, the artificial barrier is the only place on the beach where the waves break on both sides. The sand is said to be the finest for creating the best sand sculptures as well. Private surfing lessons, as well as beginner lessons are also available.
While you are at the beach, be sure to also snap a photo with the colorful Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower, painted in rainbow colored stripes. The tower was painted by artist Patrick Marston, for celebrating Pride Month in 2017. The installation was made permanent to as a symbol of diversity, acceptance, and the LGBTQ community. You can find it on the beach, near Brooks Avenue.
Hop on a bike (and head to Santa Monica)
Venice Beach and its boardwalk is situated along the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail, also known as the Strand, which stretches from Will Rogers State Beach in the north, to Manhattan State Beach in the south. The section that passes through Venice Beach stretches about two miles.
One of my favorite things to do in Venice Beach is to hop on a bike and cruise along the part of the Strand that goes to Santa Monica. It is an easy, flat 3-mile stretch, which is ideal for all ages and ability levels. It’s just one of those iconic So-Cal things to do!
You can bring your own bike, otherwise there are tons of bike rental stands set up all along the boardwalk. Rentals usually average around $20/day. For some added fun, you can also partake in this small group tour of Venice and Santa Monica.
Once you reach Santa Monica, you can hang out at the beach, check out the iconic pier and Pacific Park amusement park, or do some shopping at the Third Street Promenade.
Embrace your inner trendsetter on Abbott Kinney
Abbott Kinney Blvd. is THE mecca of cool in Venice, and is often referred to as the “coolest block in America.” The ultra-walkable street stretches for about a mile from Washington Boulevard to Main Street. It is lined with hip boutiques, acclaimed restaurants, and trendy bars. You’ll also find it dotted with cool street art.
Spending an afternoon checking out what’s going on on Abbott Kinney is one of my favorite things to do in Venice Beach. I usually start at one end and make my way to the other, stopping in and out of what catches my eye.
One of my favorite shops on Abbott Kinney is the Toms flagship store. You’ll find all of their products here, as well as a lounge and a cafe. Be sure to stop for a cup of coffee, as it is legit! It is the perfect place to relax and take a little shopping break.
If you are a stationery and paper goods fiend as I am, be sure to also check out Urbanic, which bills itself as a paper boutique. It’s got a well curated assortment of cards, stationery, journals, wrapping paper, party decor, and much more (it’s a great spot to shop for gifts). I can’t help but pick up a few things every time I’m in there – and I always leave super inspired, ready to tap into the creative side.
Other favorite shops include Burro, which has a mix of gift items, such as jewelry, home goods, stationery, and apparel, that encapsulate the California lifestyle (it’s another great place to shop for gifts!). I also love Piece Collective, firstly for the super Instagrammable triangle facade, but also for their well-curated collection of unique clothing, accessories, and home decor items. Another favorite is Grow Venice, which sells a mix of items to be used outdoors (plants, garden goods, home items, games, gifts, and more) .
Hungry? Eating my way through Abbott Kinney is also one of my favorite things to do in Venice Beach. The street is home to some of the hottest restaurants in town, including Gjelina, the Butcher’s Daughter, and Felix Trattoria. In the mood for a snack? Grab a donut at Blue Star Donuts, or a scoop of ice cream at Salt & Straw (both two of my favorites from Portland, so I’m super happy they both have locations here!).
Explore the Venice Canals
While Venice is primarily known for its beach, one of the best things to do in Venice Beach offers a glimpse into a different side of the city. Just a few blocks east of the beach is the Venice Historic Canal District, a network of six man-made canals inspired by the ones of Venice, Italy.
The canals were built by Abbott Kinney back when founded the city back in 1905, and how it got its nickname of “the Venice of America.” Kinney developed Venice Beach as a waterfront resort, complete with an amusement park and a miniature steam, in addition to the canals.
Originally, the canals covered the entire area between Abbot Kinney, Pacific Avenue, and Venice Boulevard. Most of the canals were filled in 1929, due to the popularity of automobiles, creating some of Venice’s main streets like Windward Avenue and Market Street. The rest of the canals fell into a state of disrepair until 1993, when a multi-million dollar restoration project revitalized the area.
What remains of the canals today covers the area between South Venice Boulevard, Pacific, and Ocean Avenues, and Washington Boulevard. You can access them from the pathways at Venice and Dell, or near Venice and Pacific Avenue.
Walking through the canals is one of the best things to do in Venice Beach, to escape the craziness of the rest of the city. You’ll see an idyllic scene unfold before you, with charming homes, arching bridges, blooming flowers, ducklings, and rowboats. While there are no water tours of the canals, you are allowed to explore at water level with your own non-motorized water vessel – use the launch ramp from Venice Avenue.
The canals and the surrounding residential district were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Many of the old homes along the canals were also remodeled, and new, modern homes were also built – these homes are prime real estate, going for millions of dollars. I loved seeing all the cute homes in the neighborhood – they all had so much character!
The homes in the area get super dressed up for the holidays, and it is one of the best places to see Christmas lights in LA – it is absolutely magical! There is also an annual holiday boat parade.
Snap a photo with the iconic Venice sign
One of the most iconic sights in town, the Venice sign hangs over Windward Avenue, at Pacific Avenue, and snapping a photo with it is one of the most popular things to do in Venice Beach.
The sign that you see at the intersection today is actually a replica of the one originally installed by Abbott Kinney in 1905. It is a defining symbol of Venice’s past and present, and today the trademark for the sign is owned by the Venice Chamber of Commerce..
The sign lights up at night – it is especially beautiful around sunset. Be careful of oncoming traffic here – it is a busy intersection, so avoid jumping into the middle of the street. However, the intersection has a pedestrian scramble crosswalk, so when the light turns green, all traffic stops, and you can cross in all directions for 30 seconds – this is when you have your chance to get your shot!
It will still likely take several tries to get that perfect snap, and you’ll probably feel super silly to do it, but all of that is part of the fun, making this one of the best things to do in Venice Beach!
Grab a drink and check out the view
While many of LA’s rooftop bars have an urban city vibe, Venice’s own rooftop overlooks the beach. Located inside the Hotel Erwin, the High Rooftop Lounge has won numerous awards for its ambiance and view – therefore, grabbing a drink here and enjoying said ambiance and view is one of the top things to do in Venice Beach.
The best time to come here is around sunset, however, it is the most crowded. As it is one of the most popular things to do in Venice Beach, expect a wait during busy times, i.e. weekend evenings, when it may also have a cover charge.
I’ve found that a better time to come is in the afternoon – we visited on a Sunday afternoon, and it was pretty chill and there was no wait. They also do weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas as well, if that’s your thing.
Other things to do in Venice Beach
Looking for even more things to do in Venice Beach? Consider checking out the below as well:
- Tour the Mosaic Tile House: The home and studio of artists Cheri Pan and Gonzalo Duran, the Mosaic Tile House is adorned in thousands of rainbow-hued tiles. This is one of those things to do in Venice Beach that has been on my list for awhile, but I haven’t been able to check it out yet – the photos look insane though! You can only see the house by booking a tour – more information here.
- Check out the Binoculars Building: One of Venice’s most unusual buildings stands at 340 Main Street, with a giant set of binoculars on its facade. Designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the binoculars sit in front of Google’s LA campus. The building itself is also designed by Frank Gehry.
- Stroll Along the Venice Pier: Venice’s pier is less well-known than some of the others in LA, but taking a casual stroll on it is one of the best things to do in Venice Beach, especially if you are looking to escape the madness of the Boardwalk and surrounding areas. It is especially popular with fishermen, and it is known as one of the best places to watch the sunset.
Where to Eat in Venice Beach
Venice is home to some of LA’s hottest restaurants, so obviously, eating my way through town is one of my favorite things to do in Venice Beach (as it tends to be my favorite activity in any place I visit, like Seattle, Mexico City, and Costa Mesa).
Here are my favorite picks for places to eat in Venice:
The Butcher’s Daughter
The Butcher’s Daughter bills themselves as a “vegetable slaughterhouse.” Located on on Abbott Kinney, it has a beautiful space, with rustic accents, hanging plants, and high ceilings. Their menu is also absolutely delicious, with plant-based versions of popular favorites, fresh-squeezed juices, and more. I love coming for brunch here, and eating on their patio. 1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Gjelina is a bustling spot on Abbot Kinney always has a line out the door (reservations are suggested – or come late night). It is well worth the hype – the pizza is the BEST here, with a unique twist on the classics. They have an excellent brunch menu as well (and you must have the toast). If you don’t want to wait for a table, they have a take-away outpost next door as well. 1427 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Eggslut is a popular breakfast joint usually has a line, but once you get your hands on one of their sandwiches, you’ll see what the hype is all about. The brioche buns are perfectly soft, and the eggs super fluffy. Try the Fairfax, which also comes with caramelized onions and sriracha mayo – so, so good! The namesake “Eggslut” is also worth trying, a coddled egg with potato puree in a cute glass jar, served with crostini.1611 Pacific Ave
C&O Cucina / C&O Trattoria
We recently walked by C&O Cucina and noticed a line out the door, which piqued our interest. C&O has classic Italian fare, which are all solid but not pretentious (as some of the other Italian restaurants in Venice tend to be). You’ll find well-made traditional pastas, pizzas, and more. You’ll also get unlimited garlic knots, which you’ll be OBSESSED with – we were and had 3 refills. This is what they are famous for, and where the hype comes from! C&O Cucina is on Washington Avenue (technically just across the border in Marina del Rey), while C&O Trattoria is located near the boardwalk.
C&O Cucina: 3016 Washington Blvd / C&O Trattoria: 31 Washington Blvd
The Rose is perfect for brunch, with creative California style spin on brunch favorites (like shrimp and jalapeno grits). It is best enjoyed on their patio. Their coffee is excellent as well. They also have a unique dinner menu, featuring a creative spin on pasta dishes, such as a miso cacio e pepe, and a hamachi collar bowl. Love the hipster decor here as well. 220 Rose Ave
Salt & Straw
Salt & Straw has always been a favorite, so I was excited when they opened up a location on Abbott Kinney. You’ll catch a whiff of the waffle cone and you won’t be able to resist stopping by for some ice cream (seriously, this happens to me every single time). I love their seasonal flavors, which feature a (sometimes unusual) local spin unique to each location. 1357 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Blue Star Donuts
I can never resist donuts, especially if they are as delicious as Blue Star’s! Blue Star originates in Portland as well, but their donuts are waaaay better than that other famous place in Portland. They have some really fun varieties such as PB&J, blueberry bourbon basil, and passion fruit cocoa nibs, and are always so fresh! Try their seasonal flavors as well. 1142 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Night + Market Sahm
Night + Market Sahm is super trendy and serves up a creative take on Thai street food – it reminds me a lot of Pok Pok in Portland. Try the pad kee mao – with pastrami! – and the khao soi, with braised hangar steak (sooo tender). The papaya salad is excellent as well. I loved the funky decor here as well, kinda a vintage 80s theme going on. 2533 Lincoln Blvd
Wurstkuche is a modern, hipster take on a traditional bierhal (like those found in Munich), and serves up a delicious selection of sausages, ranging from the classic (bratwurst, kielbasa, etc.), to the exotic (i.e. rattlesnake). The fries are a must as well, as is the beer – they have an extensive selection of Belgian taps. 625 Lincoln Blvd
Where to Stay in Venice Beach
I’ve always been a sucker for colorful places, so I flipped when I first saw photos of the Kinney – it’s a color lover’s dream! The entire property is full of color, style, and a bit of attitude. I’ve stayed at the Kinney twice now (once when I was still living in SF and was in town for a show, and another for a weekend staycation once I moved to the OC), and have loved it both times!
The Kinney has 68 rooms, all super colorful like the rest of the property, and with retro touches. Rooms come with a super comfy bed, a small sitting area, 55” TV, a mini fridge, and upscale toiletries.
There’s also a pool, and you can also hang out in the Quad, the Kinney’s courtyard area with fire pits, a ping pong table, and lounge chairs. There’s also a fun BYOB bar area as well! Other amenities include complimentary bike rentals, perfect for exploring the local area.
The Kinney is also conveniently located near some of the best things to do in Venice Beach. It is about a mile away from the canals and boardwalk, which are both easily accessible via bike or walking. It’s also on a strip with tons of cool restaurants and bars!
Airbnbs in Venice Beach
Airbnb rentals are available in Venice as well – here are my top picks:
- Venice Beach Guest Studio with Pool and Hot Tub: This Spanish-style pool house features a cozy, relaxing beach atmosphere. Features a private outdoor bathroom, sauna, fire pits, and bike rentals which are perfect for heading to the beach. Sleeps two adults.
- Hip Venice Guesthouse: This colorful guesthouse is modeled after a vintage Airstream trailer. It has a private entrance and a tranquil garden. It has a tropical vibe and includes free wi-fi, full stocked kitchenette, comfortable bedding, and other modern amenities.
- Romantic Venice Beach With Ocean View: This property boasts a romantic ocean-front view that cannot be beat! Located just minutes from the beach. With a plush queen-sized bed. Includes beach towel usage.
You can check out more Venice Beach Airbnbs here.
Other Places to Stay in Venice Beach
Some other options for accommodations in Venice Beach are below:
- Hotel Erwin (Booking.com / Agoda): Hotel Erwin is perhaps the trendiest hotel in Venice, and is located right on the Boardwalk, one of the top things to do in Venice Beach. The property has eclectic, contemporary decor, comfortable rooms, and views that cannot be beat.
- Venice on the Beach Hotel (Booking.com / Agoda): This affordable hotel is just a two minute walk from the beach, making it easily accessible to all the best things to do in Venice Beach. The rooms are comfortable, and have a mini fridge. The property also has a sun terrace. A continental breakfast is included.
What to Pack for Venice Beach
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: Converse Chucks or Vans Old Skool are local favorites.
- Flip Flops: A pair of Rainbows are basically a part of the local uniform here (and super comfy).
- Sunscreen: This one is my favorite and is reef-safe so ideal for using at the beach.
- Cardigan or light jacket: For overcast mornings or breezy evenings. I usually just throw on a denim jacket (or a hoodie). For winters, a packable puffer is ideal for chilly nights and early mornings.
- Battery pack: I never travel anywhere without this one. It can charge up to five times on one full charge!
- Reusable water bottle: I have this one on me at all times.
- Hat: The sun can get super bright during the summer, so I highly recommend having a hat. A straw hat like this one not only keeps the sun out of your eyes (and is perfect for the beach), but also looks cute in photos (this one is another favorite for photos!), but a standard baseball cap will also do.
- Beach Tote: like this one
Have you ever been to Venice Beach? What are some of your favorite things to do in Venice Beach?
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Caroline is a Southern California based traveler, writer, and photographer. She travels all around California, the US, and the world in search of the most colorful places, the most delicious food, and bucket-list adventures. Her aim is to inspire other travelers discover how to add more adventure and joy to their lives. On Pictures & Words, you’ll find detailed guides + itineraries, along with vibrant photos to help you plan the the most epic trips. When she’s not traveling, Caroline also runs half marathons.