Day Trip: Venice Beach, California

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As many times as I have driven between Northern California and San Diego, I have never been to Venice Beach or the Santa Monica Pier. Crazy I know, since they are two of the major tourist destinations. Chris and I had a date day planned and I decided to finally check these off my bucket list. We spent some time on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, walked a bit down Abbot Kinney and ended the day on the ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier. While I am not an expert on Venice, maybe you can take away a few tips to inspire your own day trip to Venice Beach.

By car, Venice Beach takes about two hours from our home in Oceanside. We went on a Saturday so thankfully we didn’t have to battle rush hour. It took us longer than the two hours because I wanted to drive HWY 1. I figured it would take longer but I did not anticipate the extra hour, so plan accordingly if you also want to do this. HWY 1 is so pretty in most areas of California but the stretch from Newport Beach to Venice Beach is nothing special. I wish we would have just driven straight to Venice and then had more time to wander around there. We did have some nice views of the super snowy mountains though.

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There are many public parking areas and even for a busy Saturday we found a spot in one of the beachfront ones. It was 9 bucks for all day- a steal compared to San Diego parking prices. We were on the south end of the Venice Beach Boardwalk area so it made it easy to walk up and back and see everything. I loved all of the murals and colorful buildings, even those that seemed like private homes had some cool ones.

We passed by “Muscle Beach” which is the outdoor gym where Arnold Schwarzenegger got his start. We did see quite a few guys working out and showing off for the crowd. In this area there are also handball courts, basketball courts and a whole lotta people watching.

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Closer to the sand are the Venice Art Walls (and palm trees) covered in graffiti. We watched while artists got to work covering over old creations with new ones. Artists need a permit and a scheduled date to be able to paint here, so it isn’t just random graffiti. The art here is ever changing which makes it such a cool part of the Venice Beach scene.

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There are also quite a few performers on the boardwalk area. We happened to catch a hip-hop group that was drawing a large crowd. Honestly the people watching is just as good as any of the performers, so you might just find a bench and watch awhile.

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We decided to walk up a block to the intersection of Windward and Pacific Ave. where the Venice sign is. This intersection is busy and every corner is crowded with picture takers. On the southeast corner you will find the coffee shop Great White and Mollusk Surf Shop. I love the Mollusk aesthetic and their collection of surf/ camping books was pretty rad too.

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Venice is also home to quite a few vintage boutiques. Personally I prefer to dig and thrift for my vintage, but it is always fun to poke around these shops and watch my husband try in vain to find the perfect shearling jacket.

Once the hunger hit us we stopped by Wee Chippy for some rosemary french fries with chipotle ketchup and truffle mayo. They were amazing. Across the street is Groundwork Coffee if you need a pick me up. We may have also seen a popular past season Bachelor villain doing some filming.

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We walked from one end of the boardwalk and back and decided to head over to the Abbot Kinney corridor where I heard there were some cool shops to peek into. This was when I really wished we hadn’t taken so much time driving there. I wanted to check out every cool shop on this strip and some of the eateries too. Alas there wasn’t much time but we did head in to Stag Provisions (menswear with a rustic vibe) and Aviator Nation (colorful 70’s style bombers and track suits) plus a few more. There were long lines outside Salt and Straw (ice cream) as well as Felix Trattoria (Italian). I would have loved to try both, but time was not on our side. I did find out there is a Salt and Straw here in San Diego so we’ll just have to make another date day!

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Chris was obsessed with riding the E-scooters that were literally everywhere. We saw tons of people making use of them and Venice Beach/ Santa Monica is actually the perfect place. Every scooter we tried we couldn’t get to scan into the app, they were dead, or they were extremely slow. So we definitely had some bad luck there. If you can get one to work I would highly suggest using them to get from the boardwalk area to Abbott Kinney and then all the way down to the pier.

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On the way back to the car we happened upon a pop-up makers fair called Artists and Fleas. It was fun to check that out since we had been to the Brooklyn location last March. Before we headed off to Santa Monica Pier, there was one more shop I wanted to check out off HWY 1/ Lincoln Ave. called General Store. I am obsessed with their aesthetic and wanted to see the beautiful space for myself. It did not disappoint.

It was our goal to hit the pier at dark so the lights made things all the more fun. I was expecting it to be so much bigger! It is amazing how many rides they managed to cram onto that space. My husband has always been a little afraid of ferris wheels, but I had to drag him on. The ferris wheel is right at the end of the pier and in the dark it feels like you are about to fall off the abyss. I definitely was a bit scared this time. I would love to go back and ride it in the daytime for the pretty ocean views. Maybe when Hallie is a bit older.

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With only french fries in our bellies we were pretty starving so we picked the restaurant at the end of the pier for dinner. Mariasol had a cool sea shanty gone Mexican look to it and HUGE margaritas. I wouldn’t recommend the food at all, but on a sunny day an extra large margarita and a deck seat would be pretty choice.

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All in all it was a great day. Chris drove home while I slept the whole time. It was nice to have a full day just for us without having to think about changing diapers and nap schedules. For a second trip I would love to shop and eat my way down Abbott Kinney and then ride the ferris wheel in the daylight. What would you do?

Did I miss out on something amazing? Leave your suggestions for my next Venice trip in the comments!