Biking Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk – Part 2

In my previous posting, I had described my fairly regular bike ride to Venice Beach up to the central Windward Plaza. The trip continues…

Beyond the main plaza, the bike path wavers near the boardwalk north until it reaches a unique attraction, the Venice Beach Freakshow housed within an extended patio building. On weekends and in season, a loud speaker announces in barker fashion the various wonders visitors will see for a nominal admission price. Occasionally, I have seen a fire-eater performing on the patio to bring customers in to see the show. This freak show is currently the focus of a new AMC reality program, so it is attracting more tourists to the boardwalk. I must admit that as of this writing, I have not tuned in to see the series. Nor have I stopped on my bike rides to see the show itself.

At this point, the bike path snakes outward and around a series of grassy palm tree patches. Visitors and homeless alike gather on these knolls to view the waves coming in to the shore. My goal is reached when the bike path slides back to within a foot or two of the boardwalk, two short blocks away from the Santa Monica border. I get off my bike and walk it across the short sand strip to the red-stripped “no vendor” entry area on the boardwalk. Then I cross the pedestrian traffic to a small store called N’ice Cream on the north side of Thornton Court. The store sells gelatos and sorbets, made fresh every morning in their main shop on Abbott Kinney Boulevard, just blocks away. I choose one of the four fat-free sorbet flavors of the day and get two scoops in a cup. I enjoy the watermelon flavor when available and thought the champagne flavor during New Years was very creative. I take my cup and sit in one of their chairs to enjoy the broad variety of visitors walking along the boardwalk.

I mentioned the “red-stripped” no vendor area on the beach side of the walk. This provides an open entry area to the beach within the marked spots all along the beach side of the boardwalk where artists, musicians and small vendors can license a position to set up a canopy and pitch small souvenirs and artwork to visitors. At N’ice Cream, these spots are taken up by an artist selling colorful framed paintings, a small vendor selling marijuana design t-shirts, and Tom the photographer selling a small selection of 8×10 souvenir prints of Venice. It has only been a few cold and quiet weekdays when I have noticed their spots to be empty.

It is during this time of people watching that I realize just how famous worldwide this stretch of beach and storefronts truly is. I have heard just about every language and accent pass by me – German, Japanese, Spanish and more. Winter appears to be the season for European tourists, while summer is perfect for Aussie tourists. However, the bohemian flavor of Venice attracts a broader flavor of travelers, those seeking to explore the wilder side of human nature and enjoy the starving street performers populating the boardwalk. I was amused recently by one nattily dressed pedestrian who was walking his dog down the boardwalk. The dog was leashed per the law, but the man had trained the dog to carry the other end of the leash in his mouth, scolding the eager pup whenever the leash was dropped. A dog walking himself! I just had to shake my head.

Having finished my sorbet, I toss my cup into the ice cream cone-designed trash bin and walk my bike back over to the bike path. It’s time to head home by backtracking my trail and re-navigating the bike path with fellow bikers, Segway renters, skaters and seagulls. The bike path is posted as being for bikes only, no pedestrians, but many visitors find the concrete path to be a lovely walk on the beach without the sand or crowds. There would be no issue passing a group of walkers going single file along the right side, but many tend to bunch into conversation groups or pair up as couples holding hands in double wide formation. If they are called out for being on and blocking the bicycle lane, they have no problem glaring back or giving out a not-so-mild invective even as they stand on the large white bike icon painted regularly along the trail. All I can say is that it is just part of the challenge and experience of keeping fit and enjoying this world famous location.

Biking Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk – Part 1

I have been lucky to travel and see many amazing places in the US and Europe, but my recent unemployment has reminded me of an old truism – one often forgets to visit the wonders in one’s own backyard. Shortly after I had purchased my townhome on the westside of Los Angeles over a decade ago, I purchased a bike to enjoy an occasional ride to the beach, but I allowed my job to turn that occasion into an annual or biennial event on the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend. When I was laid off over a year ago, I suddenly had extra time on my hands which I used to write and publish a novel as well as get myself into better shape by riding my bike two or three times a week down to Venice Beach. Just off the boardwalk, a concrete, two-way bike path snakes it way from Washington Boulevard to the Santa Monica pier and beyond towards Malibu. I found that I could head down Venice Boulevard straight to the bike path, turn and bike up to the northern end of the Venice boardwalk, take a pause and head back home all within an hour. Add an extra half hour and I could add the Santa Monica Pier to the round trip.

The boardwalk basically begins at Venice Boulevard North on the south side. The pedestrian strip does extend farther south to Washington Boulevard, but the adjoining buildings are all residential, out of sync with the eclectic vibe from the stores and sights to the north. A stark indication of this vibe is the first store at the Venice corner, a medical marijuana dispensary whose clerks come out into the boardwalk in green scrubs announcing, “The doctor is in.” The bike path at this location is separated from the boardwalk by a city parking lot. During mild weekdays in the winter, parking is a reasonable five dollars and readily available. Film and TV crews will often take up half the lot during these off season periods. During mild weekends in the winter, the parking rate doubles as traffic backs up on Venice. When the weather really warms up, the lot full sign pops up and the backup traffic is forced to turn around and find a way out of the jam. I wave to them as I navigate my bike through the traffic into the lot to the bike path entryway on the other side.

As I bike north on the path, I catch glimpses of the open-air gym of Muscle Beach, the handball and basketball courts, and the children’s playground grouped north of the parking lot. The bike path curves in just past the police station and then curves back north between Windward Plaza and the skateboard park. This is the busiest area of Venice Beach as Windward Plaza is the beach side’s extension of the open area plaza signifying the central entry point to Venice Beach and its boardwalk. Next to the skateboard park, a modern art sculpture of five iron bars stands vigil over two flat-top concrete cones and a couple of concrete walls painted over with graffiti art. Navigating through the pedestrian crosswalk and skateboarders can be tricky at this point even during light off-season days.

Past this point, the bike path curves in toward the boardwalk, turning back north to snake along in close proximity. Near this point in the boardwalk, there is an open air restaurant with a faded red-and-white canopy over the eating area that extends over the entry of a small independent bookstore, Small World Books. I pitched them to carry my book in their store as a local author, but the owner let me know that the store is too small to carry unknown books on consignment. One day, I hope to sell enough books to entice them to stock a few copies of Legacy Discovered on their shelves.

To be continued…