Venice Beach has always been this side of skuzzy and although two decades have passed since I first encountered this iconic Californian beach town it hasn’t improved much.
I lived in different parts of this Los Angeles enclave over the years. Initially, I sublet a cramped one bedroom apartment that three of us shared for a summer just so that we could be in close-proximity to the beach. The novelty wore off after a season, and I moved a few streets further away to the iconic Rose Avenue. Nowadays this street is hip and trendy. It’s full of coffee shops, small boutiques, and little bijou bars serving food on small plates washed down by fine Californian wine. Back when I lived on Rose – I had the daily dilemma of choosing which gauntlet I wanted to run at the end of my day at work in order to reach my apartment. I could enter from Rose from the north (Lincoln Blvd) and dodge past-their-prime hookers plying their trade outside a row of ramshackled rent by the hour motels. Or I could enter the street from the other end and furtively avoid the gaze of the nickel and dime bag hustlers selling smack outside the laundromat.
My third Venice apartment was just off the Venice Canals. It was a roomy studio apartment with an excessively large floor to ceiling picture window that overlooked a pedestrian cut-through that led to the beginning of the canals. Each weekend I had to keep the blinds closed or live my life on display as droves of tourists wandered past in search of the canals.
After three failed attempts at finding a suitable apartment, I decided that Venice was “a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there” and I moved to another part of the the City. But I’m not adverse to taking a trip down memory lane and during my recent trip to LA I wandered around the old neighborhood to see how things had changed.
Camel Rides in Venice Beach
Abbot Kinney is the name of one of the most gentrified streets in the area, home to a dizzying array of restaurants and bars. It was named after the man who built the canals as a homage to Venice, Italy.
A recent addition to the area I hadn’t stumbled across before, was a wire mesh pubic art project of camels wandering down the street. A cultural reminder of a time when Abbot Kinney interjected the fun of the fair to offer Live Camel Rides.
They sculptures look a little lost and out of place. They’re described as topiaries, but they’re devoid of any living plant or foliage. I like their arrival in the neighborhood, but I wish they didn’t look so sad and down on their luck.
There’s a couple of nearby murals that feature Abbot Kinney.
But my favorite is a tall incarnation of the man on the side of a brick building just off Venice Boardwalk.
I have a soft spot for street art, and Venice with it’s eclectic mix of residents and visitors wouldn’t be Venice without it. Here’s just a tiny sampling of others within a block or two of the camels.
Abbot Kinney isn’t the only famous resident of Venice. Charlie Chaplin owned a 1913 California Craftsman style house just of Abbot Kinney, and this mural is just streets away.
If you’re intrigued enough about this area to want to spend a few nights here exploring for yourself, you can rent Charlie Chaplin’s former home via Homeway.
It was interesting to wander around the streets of my old neighborhood again. Whereas the neighboring areas of Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica have become fully gentrified, and the second hand shops and family run shops have been pushed out by global brand name chains, Venice is clinging onto it’s heritage. It retains is counter-culture roots, which coexist amid ribbons of new world commercialism. I don’t think it’ll ever completely go over to the dark side of respectability – and that’s fine by me. After all, I don’t have to live there!