Forget tourist-swamped Venice in Italy. For a hip, quirky and much more modern vibe amid sandy beaches, chic shopping and cool canals, you need to head to Venice, California.
You can walk everywhere in this LA suburb – rare in a city built for cars – and you can eat, drink and play practically 24 hours a day.
Here’s how to plan the perfect two day itinerary…
Colourful: One of the canals which are lined with cute pastel-coloured houses
Most flights from the UK land in LA in the early evening and, if traffic is on your side, it’s only a 15-minute taxi ride to Venice from LAX airport.
Make like a local by booking an apartment or house with Airbnb – spend from £40 to £100 a night for a decent place.
Or stay at The Erwin (hotelerwin.com), where you can get a room with a balcony just steps from the beach. There’s also a rooftop bar, the highest in town. Doubles start from £195 a night.
If you’re feeling weary after your flight, you’ve come to the right place for a kickstart of caffeine – because Venice does a mean coffee. Blue Bottle Coffee or Venice Coffeebar, both on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, are good bets.
The street is the area’s main drag, named after the tobacco millionaire who founded the town.
Need something stronger? Cocktails beckon seductively at the Rose Cafe on Rose Avenue, a big, boho, buzzy space with skateboard art and a vibe that is pure LA. Stay on for dinner, or carry on down the road for innovative Indonesian food at the Wallflower restaurant (wallflowervenice.com).
If you are in Venice on the first Friday of the month, a cheap way to eat around the world is to check out the food trucks that stay late along Abbot Kinney (abbotkinneyfirstfridays.com) and surrounding streets. A sushi burrito – which you probably can’t find elsewhere – is a favourite.
Superba Food & Bread (superbafoodandbread.com) is a great choice for a leisurely brunch, with everything from kale toast to fried chicken sandwiches. It’s on the slightly edgy (some might say shabby) Lincoln Boulevard. But don’t let appearances fool you. There are good shopping opportunities here, too. Try Christy Dawn for boho dresses, Late Sunday Afternoon for cool scarves and bandanas and General Store for wonderful homeware, skincare and jewellery.
At Deus Ex Machina at the junction of Lincoln and Venice boulevards, you can sip a latte and pick up funky men’s clothes, art – and even a motorbike.
Afterwards, head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which is crammed with beautiful boutiques, galleries, bars and cafes – not to mention beautiful people.
The famous Muscle Beach gym where the buff lift dumbbells for the masses
Put on your walking shoes and wander along the canals. They’re not as extensive as those in the Italian city, but this area is delightfully tranquil, with pedestrian bridges criss-crossing canals lined with cute houses you’ll be yearning to snap up for yourself (though you’ll need to be a multi-millionaire to do so, as this is one of the most expensive areas of California). By now you’re probably ready to hit the beach.
Pick up provisions from the on-trend Erewhon supermarket (erewhonmarket.com). You’ll find the likes of adaptogenic bone broth from £16, smoothies mixed with cannabidiol (CBD) from £14 and unbelievably healthy salads averaging £14. Or there’s Gjusta, (gjusta.comgjusta.com) near Gold’s Gym, where Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Rock built the muscles that built their careers. This artisanal bakery and deli can do food to go, including divine sandwiches.
Too virtuous? On Abbot Kinney is Salt & Straw (saltandstraw.com), an ice-cream institution. Weird and wonderful seasonal flavours are on offer, but you can’t go wrong with their salted caramel. Tip: if the queue stretches out on to the street, buy a pint tub from the counter for £9 and you won’t need to wait.
Nearby, Venice Beach itself can feel like a bit of a circus. There are street performers on the boardwalk and performers of a different kind at the famous Muscle Beach, where the buff lift dumbbells for the masses. The beach is wide, long and sandy so there’s room to stretch out, fly kites or throw a ball.
Surfing lessons are also available at Venice Pier, where two-hour classes start at £47
Want to catch some waves? Book a surfing lesson at Venice Pier, where two-hour classes start at £47 (venicebeachsurfschool.com). If you don’t look the part, visit the Mollusk Surf Shop and tog yourself up.
There are bars and restaurants aplenty along Abbot Kinney, but book ahead for Gjelina (gjelina.com) one of LA’s most iconic restaurants. People have been known to wait weeks for a table just for a taste of their guanciale pizza, made with green olives, Fresno chilli and mozzarella.
Hire bikes from ridevenice.com (£5 an hour or £14 a day) and work up an appetite with a 20-minute, easy cycle along the boardwalk from Venice Beach to Santa Monica. Treat yourself to breakfast overlooking the ocean at the swanky Shutters on the Beach hotel. The menu at their Pico restaurant even includes Lobster Brunch for £49 if you really want to splash out.
While you’re here, take a walk along Santa Monica Pier and maybe spend some time on the beach. If you’re keen to swim but less keen on the chilly Pacific waters, pay £8 for a pool pass at the Annenberg Community Beach House (annenbergbeachhouse.com) for a fun few hours in sunny waters.
Hop on a trolleybus and head out of Venice to Los Angeles to take a two-hour Celebrity Homes Tour of Hollywood for £30 (ultimatehollywoodtours.com). Your guide will entertain you as you pass the major sights, including Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Walk of Fame and Beverly Hills and glimpse homes of the rich and famous such as Katy Perry, Puff Daddy, Sacha Baron Cohen and Gwen Stefani (on the market for £29million when we were there).
Major airlines fly from a variety of UK airports to LA. Look at full-service providers like BA and Virgin Atlantic or US players such as American, Delta or United. Low-cost alternatives including Norwegian can offer big LA bargains, or consider holiday airlines like Thomas Cook. Expect to pay from £325pp for late-summer sun in September.