Los Angeles is one of those places I’ve always felt a little ambivalent about. I kind of wanted to go but…then again I wasn’t that worried if I didn’t. It was probably due to the number of people I’d spoken to whose responses to the city were lukewarm. However, with Brother Gallivant and his family having moved out to the trendy neighbourhood of Venice last year, we had an excuse to go and check it out for ourselves. We timed our trip to coincide with Mother Gallivant’s big birthday. Sister and Aunty Gallivant plus spouses, partners and kiddies all came, too, so this was a real treat for the whole Gallivants tribe. And we were so glad we went. Venice LA has an identity all its own outside of the sprawl of the city centre – and these were the things we loved best about our Venice…
1. Abbot Kinney Boulevard
This is the main drag and is the height of hip. I spent hours here, drooling over the coolest clothes and homewares, interspersed with some coffee, food (and OK maybe some cocktail) stops along the way. We happened to be in Venice on a First Friday (the first Friday of the month) when, come the evening, dozens of food trucks rock up and dispense dishes from around the world. It’s probably the biggest bargain in this pricy part of the world.
The golden sand stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s also a wide beach, so even when tourists descend en masse, it never feels really crowded. There aren’t any sun loungers to hire, which is pretty standard in LA. It’s more a place to lie on a towel, fly a kite and watch the locals rollerskating along the boardwalk. You might be tempted to have a dip in the water. I wasn’t – this is the Atlantic after all, so never that warm. If you fancy surfing, there’s a school where you can book lessons right by Venice Pier. If you walk far along the beach it’s pretty quiet, but the area closest to all the shops and restaurants is buzzing with tourist tat shops, interspersed with little food joints and, of course, the famous Muscle Beach, too – where men and women with oversized pecs pump iron in the outdoor gym, wearing very little, for the entertainment of tourists (and maybe a bit for themselves, too!).
3. The Venice Canals
Admittedly they are not as extensive as those they were meant to emulate in Venice, Italy. This area used to be bigger, when it was first built in 1905. However, as cars became popular over the years, many of the canals were filled in to make way for roads. A shame, but it’s still a really pretty area for wandering around. The Venice Canals are lined with lustworthy wooden houses and criss crossed with little bridges.
4. The cute houses
Everywhere you look in Venice are the cutest houses. Many used to be cheap beach homes. Not any more. Venice is one of the most expensive places to buy property in the whole of the US. While we were there, this minuscule 600 square foot hut (charming – but still basically a hut!) was on the market for a cool $1.5 million.
By the time we managed to get everyone up, ready and out each day it was almost lunch time. But we still felt like eating breakfast. So brunch it was. A favourite was Superba Food + Bread on Lincoln Boulevard for comfort food – anything from avo on toast to a fried chicken sandwich. On Mother Gallivant’s birthday we made instead for Pico One, the seaside restaurant at Shutters on the Beach Hotel in Santa Monica- it’s the place to come for a fancy lobster brunch with ocean views. We worked up an appetite by cycling there along the boardwalk from Venice. Which brings me to my next favourite thing…
6. Cycling to Santa Monica
We hired some bikes with Ride! Venice for the week we were there. In fact, we didn’t bother with a car as we spent lots of time in Venice and, the few times we ventured away, we grabbed an Uber (which are really good value). Truth be told, I think we were all a bit nervous about the infamous LA traffic – and parking!
7. Ice cream
And more specifically Salt & Straw, on Abbot Kinney. Flavours range from the weird (Black Olive Brittle and Goats Cheese??) to the wonderful (Seasalt with Caramel Ribbons). The queue usually snakes out right out of the door and down the street but it moves fairly fast. Tip – if you can do without the cone, just buy a big tub and you go straight up to pay without the wait.
8. Hollywood Tours – it’s an easy drive into the city centre. There are lots of tours on offer from here – we did the Celebrity Homes Tour with Ultimate Hollywood Tours. It was great fun. We got driven around the major city sights – Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars take place and the Walk of Fame and then, most importantly, we got to gawp at lots of celeb houses in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Some, but not all, were behind huge gates, but it was a bit of a thrill to see where stars old and new – from Al Pacino and Marilyn Monroe to Katy Perry, Charlie Hunan and Bruno Mars – call home. Our guide had lots of tales to tell so the two hours whizzed by.
We couldn’t resist spending a day in Malibu – and it’s only a half hour or so drive. Paradise Cove is a dreamy sand beach. It’s privately owned so, unusually for LA, you can bring alcohol (beer, wine or champagne only). Sun loungers are available to hire if you prefer not to lie on the sand. Eating at the Paradise Cove Beach Café is worth it as it means a big reduction in parking charges. It’s busy but relaxed – feast on fish tacos with your feet in the sand – and portion sizes are enormous, so you can easily share plates.
10. Erewhon Now we thought we’d save ourselves some pennies by packing a picnic from healthy food store Erewhon, before heading to Venice Beach. I opted for a takeaway from their deli counter – Combo Plate Salmon and 2 sides – plus some pineapple slices and a CBD organic lemonade. I think I just managed to hide my jaw dropping surprise at the purse punchy $50 bill… then I apprehended the rest of the Gallivants and rapidly edited their baskets before they reached the till. Yup, I think we found the world’s most expensive supermarket. It was worth it, though, just to see how the beautiful people of LA really do live – I bet it’s great place to star spot if you hang around long enough.
So there’s our Top 10 LA. We’d love to know yours, too…and maybe we’ll have an excuse to go back.