My final full day in LA started out in the small coastal city of Venice, north of LAX and south of Santa Monica. While more famous for its long, sandy beach, the area takes it’s name from the canals that run between the houses and streets at its southern end near the enormous Marina Del Ray.
Today though I stuck to the beachfront areas. At the southern most point, where a breakwater creates an entrance to the marina, the beachfront buildings are a string of houses that look like slightly rundown versions of those I’d previously seen at Manhattan Beach, while to the north the beach side path was lined with small shops selling everything from souvenir t-shirts, to food, to medicinal cannabis (assuming you ‘passed’ the required test – similar outlets were dotted around the city and all looked, at best, sketchy).
The beach itself is wide and made of deep, soft sand that made walking along it nearly impossible away from the shoreline, so I stuck to the footpath which had the odd feel of a combination of Camden High Street and a sunnier version of the seafront walk at Vazon (though clouds were looming on this particular day).
One thing that stands out around Venice are the large murals on the walls of some of the buildings. With great attention to detail they all have their own style and character but add something unique to the area.
Also somewhat iconic (thanks largely to Baywatch) are the lifeguard stations dotted along the beach, the palm trees and the ‘muscle beach’ out door gym (largely deserted in the mid-morning).
While all of this sounds fairly tropical the whole place has something of a tired feel and, while famous as hangout for ‘the beautiful people’ it seems this is no longer the case and I think you’d be more likely to bump into homeless people than a Pamela Anderson lookalike.
The busiest area on the beachfront on this morning surrounded a kind of recreation centre which showed the city’s more glamourously bohemian past with its wall dedicated to poets and writers who based themselves in the area in the 1960s and 70s, including The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison. Next to this was a small but busy skate park and ‘V’ shaped sculpture giving this area the feel of being the beach’s ‘town centre’.
Heading north the tired and quiet feel began to change as Venice became Santa Monica and the beach front buildings, set further back were clearly far more high end.
Much like beach resorts in the UK those that line the Coast of LA have piers with various attractions on and, of the ones I’ve seen, Santa Monica was by far the busiest.
Much of this was similar to the restaurants and gift shops found on Pier 39 in San Francisco with a fun fair added in as well. For me the best part of the pier was simply the views from the end looking north towards Malibu and Santa Monica Mountains and south along Venice and down towards the other beach resorts of Manhattan and Hermosa.
Also interesting was a gift shop dedicated to Route 66, while typically ‘all American’ in style it demonstrates something of the vastness of the country of which this is the westernmost region. On top of that it continued to feed the wanderlust I have for the US…
Away from the seafront, Santa Monica’s city centre features a clearly recently redeveloped shopping area, the Third Street Promenade, with stores ranging from more day-to-day ‘high street’ brands to higher end designer fare. A particular highlight for me was the Barnes and Noble bookstore, which was enormous and featured a wide selection of surprisingly different stuff for a big chain store.
With the wind starting to blow up and the clouds that had been lurking on the horizon all day finally heading nearer, I met up with my cousin and we headed home via a supermarket. As we left the forecast weather really began to hit and it was impressive to see the tropical palm trees and usually calmly hanging road signs being battered by the wind.
The TV news later added a somewhat hysterical (and entertaining) edge to this as the ‘storm’, which ended up really constituting a few heavy showers and some strong wind that passed fairly quickly, was treated by the reporters like some kind of natural disaster (and surely LA knows natural disasters), despite being little more than what we get fairly regularly at home – though I’d imagine heavy rain on a busy eight lane freeway could cause more problems than a two lane road in Guernsey.
With only a few hours in the morning before having to be at the airport for my flight back to the UK we headed out to the Getty Museum in the hills over looking the city.
Despite being a tourist attraction the whole place has a somewhat secretive feel to it. Located off the freeway on a steep sided hill, after parking the car we got onto a minibus which drove the narrow path up the rear of the impressive museum.
The Getty houses a range of art from pre-rennaisance painting and sculpture through to contemporary photography in a collection of impressively designed buildings and gardens perched between Santa Monica and Hollywood.
This early in the day the place felt like we almost had it to ourselves as we explored the gardens (somewhat half finished at this time of year due to seasonal changes and drought) before heading into the museum. While the older items in the first gallery are impressive for their age and style what really stood out to me was the photographic exhibitions, including several feature ones by post-war Japanese photographers looking at the recent history of the people and the country.
As we headed down the hill on the monorail (this final touch completed the feeling of Roger Moore-era Bond villain HQ that the Getty has) I had the feeling we had only scratched the surface of what’s on show here and if I’m back in LA I’ll do my best visit with more time.
From the Getty we headed to the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX rounding off my travels with a mostly smooth flight back across the US, Canada and the Atlantic, including an impressive view of the lights of Las Vegas standing out in the idle of the dark desert.
You can read my previous travel blogs about this trip at the links below: