Each beach city in Southern California has its own personality, but Venice has cornered the market on cool. And when you have teens and tweens, the cool factor just might be the difference between a lame outing and one that’s truly "sick". One of our favorite LA day trips is to set off for Abbot Kinney Boulevard for lunch, shopping, and people watching, and then going for a walk along the footpaths of the serene Venice Canals. Conceived and built by cigarette mogul Abbot Kinney in the early 1900s as a replica of the Venice Canals in Italy, the original canal system was three times larger than that which exists today and had gondoliers, summer homes, and entertainment for tourists. Eventually most of the canals were filled in to build roads, leaving the small but magical neighborhood that remains.
We arrived in the late morning – everyone was hungry! We parked at the corner of Abbot Kinney and Venice Boulevard — there is street parking up and down Abbot Kinney but it’s tough to find a spot. If you don’t have any luck on AK, try the free lots on the adjacent Electric Avenue between California and Santa Clara, near the restaurant Lemonade (1661 Abbot Kinney Boulevard). Lemonade is a cafeteria-style restaurant that’s good for a quick bite to eat: sandwiches, salads, plenty of veggies, and a decent mac and cheese.
If you haven’t tried the ever-popular, upscale Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney), lunch is a good time to do it. The restaurant does not take lunch reservations, so you can always get a table if you’re willing to wait. The restaurant features local produce in creative dishes, and their takeout offshoot a few doors away offers, among other things, the best egg sandwich in the city.
The street life is lively enough to keep the kids entertained as they roam and people-watch – and to give parents the chance to dip in to some trendy local stores and shop. Some of our favorites include:
Kreation Kafe, 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice
This flagship is the newest of the Kreation restaurants, and it opened just over a year ago, expanding on the wildly successful SoCal juicery franchise. The food is healthy and delicious: chicken kebabs, tabouli salad, soups, and spreads with flatbread. There is table service in the airy café and a take out area in the back with juices, snacks and hot drinks. We grabbed a coffee and a protein smoothie to go.
L.A. Stronghold, 1625 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
We shopped at The Stronghold for the single brother-in-law who has everything. An amazing collection of high-quality denim, hats, man-bags, antique shaving instruments and not-run-of-the-mill gifts for the discerning guy.
Tom’s Flagship Store, 1344 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
It’s definitely worth checking out the new Tom’s Flagship store. Yes, they sell shoes, but they also have a cafe, a sunglass shop, and a gorgeous, laid back seating area where you can chill with your dog and a computer for as long as you want. There’s free wifi and lots of places to plug in. They are also one of the only places around that you can just pop into to use the bathroom!
Mystic Journey Bookstore is a mecca for searchers of new age books, medium consultations, tarot cards, and all things spiritual. Our kids were especially interested in the incense selection and multicolored crystals.
And while you’re walking the off-beat beat, a little-known but fun venture for the kids can be found at the back of the rustically elegant potted plant emporium The Juicy Leaf (1140 Abbot Kinney). Catering to the chic instincts of the urban gardener, the store offers grown-ups a wild variety of jarred cacti and indoor trees and root-sculptures – but also stocks a variety of ingredients for children (and adults) to construct their own inexpensive mini-terrariums to house “air plants,” which survive without roots or soil on weekly waterings.
Our last stop was King Edna (1419 Abbot Kinney) where we found super-soft and stylish California-made t-shirts for our East Coast friends. They offer a hyper-cool (if expensive) array of colors and styles that make these tees and sweatshirts truly unique.
Our son noticed this teeny piece of street art painted on one of the curbs – fun, but is it Bansky?
For a nighttime perspective on AK, there are the ongoing Abbot Kinney First Fridays. At sunset on the first Friday of each month, Abbot Kinney is closed off to cars, the stores stay open late, and food trucks line the street. There’s live music and other events each month. For more info check out the AKFF Facebook Page. Venice insiders say that it’s best to arrive early if you have young kids, and that the most kid-friendly food trucks can be found in the parking lot of The Brig (1515 Abbot Kinney). Here’s a picture of the Kogi truck at The Brig:
After all that shopping, we needed a little nature to clear our heads, so we took a stroll on the Venice Canals. We walked across South Venice Boulevard and entered the canals at Dell Avenue. Younger kids will love checking out all the boats and thrill to a possible duck sighting along the path. Before we made our way back to the car, our teens were happy to spend fifteen minutes hanging out on one of the arched bridges over the canals, dangling their feet and chatting.
Some Angelenos like to complain that Venice is becoming more corporate and less bohemian, and that the chain stores have moved in amid the spread of blandness. But for those of us who find ourselves too often at malls and McDonalds, an afternoon amid the colorful quirks of Venice comes as a breath of fresh air.
Written by Amanda Beasley Weinstock