Long known as an area that both bohemian artists and serious surfers called home, Los Angeles's Venice Beach neighborhood has experienced a serious cultural renaissance over the past few years. Trendy restaurants, hip bars and sleek cafes have begun popping up all across this beach town, while classic spots that have long been favorites with Venice locals are only becoming more and more popular. Iconic Venice locations — like the off-beat open air workout area Muscle Beach, the ultra-grunge skateboarding areas immortalized in the movie Lords of Dogtown and the eclectic pedestrian-only beach-side Boardwalk, famous for its street vendors, artists and performers— still thrive; but they now sit alongside high-priced cocktail lounges, high-end luxury hotels, fine dining restaurants and other signs of Venice's ongoing growth.
And that’s exactly why it’s one of the best neighborhoods to explore in Los Angeles — while Venice has evolved, it has not lost the rich culture and amazing history that give it its signature flair.
If you haven’t already explored this intriguing enclave, now is the time to do so: it really doesn’t get much better than Venice in the summer. Here are some of the best spots to help you experience what Venice has to offer and truly take advantage of this LA gem.
Best Spot To Grab A Beer: Wurstkuche
If you like your beer with sides of sausages, fries and great music, this is the place for you. The boisterous, German-inspired hangout has fun written all over it — from the oversized, colorful front door to the Crayola-friendly brown paper “tablecloths.” The food-and-drink menus include something for everyone: light, fruity beers and dark ales; vegetarian sausages and those made with alligator meat.
Best View: High Rooftop Lounge At Hotel Erwin
Without a doubt, party-friendly Hotel Erwin is home to one of the best views in the city. Head to the High Rooftop Lounge (see the theme in action?) for cocktails, live music and panoramic views of Venice Beach. If you want the best chance at snagging a table, visit during the week — because High is a weekend hot spot, especially during the summer.
Best-Kept Local Secret: Hama Sushi
Off of trendy Main St. and Abbot Kinney, Hama Sushi has remained one of Venice’s best hidden gems for years. It’s located just off the beach on Windward Circle, and offers some of the best sushi (and sake) in the city. Best of all, Hama really has two “dining rooms” — one on the patio, where they project surf videos on one of the walls and one inside, by the sushi bar.
Best Free Activity: Venice Canals
If you’ve ever watched Valentine’s Day or A Nightmare on Elm Street , there’s a good chance you’ll recognize the white-picket bridges that span Venice’s canals. Channeling the Italian city of the same name, the canals are one of the best “getaways” you can find while staying in L.A. — and the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon.
Best Celeb-Spotting Area: Abbot Kinney
Forget Hollywood Boulevard — if you want to see celebrities like style icon Victoria Beckham, new power couple Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris (#Talvin? #Caylor?), or long-reigning power couple Beyonce and Jay-Z in their natural habitat, Abbot Kinney is the place to be. Hip restaurant Gjelina is one of the best spots on Abbot Kinney for finding celebrities, but the entire strip’s trendiness makes it one of the best places in the area to rub elbows with the rich and famous.
Best Souvenir: A Tattoo Or Piercing
Want to take your souvenir search to the next level? Get a tattoo or piercing at one of Venice’s many shops. But skip the kitschy storefronts on the Venice Boardwalk — while the artists can be good, the services are priced for tourists (a.k.a. totally hiked). One of the best shops in L.A. (and, many say, in California) is Black Diamond Tattoo, a bit east on Lincoln. And if you're not down for something quite so...permanent? You can always opt for one of their tattoo-style shirts.
Best Way To Get Around: Biking
Biking is definitely the best way to get around Venice (with "by foot" following behind as a close second). The streets are largely flat, and the weather is ideal for beach-side cruising. Visiting and don’t happen to have a bike with you? There are plenty of spots along Washington Boulevard and the Venice Boardwalk to rent a pair of wheels.
Best Breakfast: Flake
Set among ultra-trendy restaurants like Cafe Gratitude and Superba Snack Bar, hole-in-the-wall Flake stands out on Rose Ave. But there’s a reason it’s one of the oldest establishments on the strip: it has seamlessly withstood the test of time, with most of the credit going to their English muffins. My favorite is the off-menu Nutty Monkee — if you like your breakfasts sweet, this peanut butter-banana-Nutella sandwich will have you in the palm of its hand.
Best Spot To Work: Superba Food + Bread
The new sister restaurant of Rose Ave hot spot Superba Snack Bar, Superba Food + Bread is a larger, more casual option just east on Lincoln. Homemade pastries, healthy lunch bowls and incredible coffees come with a serious extra perk: a supremely kind and patient staff. While the restaurant is full service, it is one of the most laptop-friendly spots on the West side.
Images: luisdefran/ Instagram