What do you think of when you think of Venice Beach, CA? Gorgeous, toned and tanned people wandering around under the glorious sunshine? The laid back lifestyle and people riding bikes around the twisty paths which run alongside the beach? Snapping that perfect photo of one of the most fantastic sunsets in the world behind a row of famous Los Angeles palm trees?
Well, you got me with that last one; no matter what I think of Venice Beach, I’ll never knock the phenomenal sunsets.
But everything else I mentioned doesn’t really sum up my experience of the place.
To be completely honest I hadn’t really given that much thought to what Venice Beach was like before I went. I knew it was in LA and I knew about Muscle Beach so I was expecting a lot of gorgeous, muscly show-offs to be milling around. I’d seen the Pinterest famous pictures of the sunsets at the boardwalk, and the Venice sign. But that was pretty much it.
I was expecting a chilled out vibe mixed in with a bit of urban grit. What I got was a dirty boardwalk and an uneasy feeling I just couldn’t shake. Maybe it was because the famous Muscle Beach was like a ghost town despite it being the height of summer, or maybe it was because too many men had felt it acceptable to catcall and encroach on my personal space.
My first mistake- and one which I think set the precedent for my not-so-nice experience of Venice Beach- was my choice of hostel. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I am an advocate of hostels; I think they can be some of the coolest, quirkiest, and most fun places to stay in- especially as a solo traveller. Some, however, just do not fall into that category.
I chose SameSun Venice Beach because it was in the heart of the action, a stone’s throw away from the boardwalk, and most of the rooms offered sea views. Pretty sweet for a hostel. Except no, the room I was in didn’t have a sea view; it barely had a window and that little piece of glass looked out onto a wall. To make things worse, my room and the room opposite were, for some unknown reason, joined together by a plastic roof. The showers were constantly filled with sand, and there was only one bathroom per floor which made it impossible to get in them.
To top it off, LA was experiencing a heatwave that even the locals were struggling with, and they wouldn’t provide us with extra fans despite the fact that we had no way of getting air into the room. We slept with the door to the hallway open- at least it felt safe enough to do that- and I found myself out in the parking lot in the early hours of the morning, with a girl I’d just met from Georgia (the state not the country) raiding her TV set runner friend’s car for portable fans. At least I got a semi-interesting story out of that!
Oh, and the common room did have a sea view and it was nice enough, if only a little bit small.
The other reasons why I didn’t like Venice Beach I’ve sort of covered above. It was dirty, but not the sort of gritty dirt that you’re okay with because it’s an edgy, urban place. It was real dirt- both on the boardwalk and down the backstreets.
The boardwalk was intimidating as a solo female traveller. I experienced much more catcalling in my three months in the states than I have my whole life in Europe, but there’s only so many times a girl can walk down the same street and have vile things yelled at her, ya know? It got to the point, when I was walking back to my hostel after a long day that I decided to walk along the edge of the sea because I just didn’t want to hear it any more. I felt safer at night, when a lot of places were closed.
As for the sports that Venice Beach is so famous for- the basketball courts, muscle beach, the skate-park- well, I saw none of that. Like I mentioned above, Muscle Beach was deserted, and only a handful of people were on the Skate-park. It was strange to be in this place known for its sporty, lively atmosphere but have that atmosphere be non-existent. It might have been because of the heatwave. However, in Santa Monica the outdoor gyms were pretty full, and the bike rental places were pretty devoid of bikes.
It wasn’t all bad though, and Venice Beach doesn’t get the title of worst place I’ve ever visited. The sunsets were as wonderful as Pinterest has led you to believe they are. It’s worth visiting just to witness one with your own eyes. I also found a cute little café opposite the Venice sign (which, by the way, you have to risk your life and stand in the middle of a four-way cross walk to get a good photo of), which offered up a real slice of what I expected Los Angeles to be like. There was even a film crew filling the place one morning. I tried to listen to their chatter as I ate my bagel and drank my smoothie, but I couldn’t work out what they were working on.
I’m really saddened by the fact that I didn’t like Venice Beach because, on paper, it seems like it should be the perfect place for me. In reality, it was Santa Monica that offered up everything I wanted to experience on a trip to LA. I fell in love with that place- it’s chilled out vibes, it’s relaxing beach, it’s traditional seaside pier complete with fairground, it’s history (the end of the Route 66 trail is on the pier, and Santa Monica is the original home of Muscle Beach), and even its back streets and shopping malls.
So, sorry, Venice Beach, but you just weren’t for me.
Has anyone been to Venice Beach before? Did you like it or was it not the place for you either? Let me know in the comments!
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