Venice holds a special place in California lore. From its purple sunsets and quiet canals to the bombast and theatrically of its ocean front walk, the beachside town retains prime position in the tapestry of the internationally exported West Coast dream. A man-made attraction, the town has logged a turbulent history that has seen it popularized, depopulated, discarded, rebuilt, gentrified, glorified, and mobilized in the hundred or so years that have past since its inception. More recently, it has been re-identified as the mecca of electric scooters, having become a contentious riding zone and effective storage bin for the Birds and Limes and other rideshare upstarts that have migrated to its sands since the early days of shared e-mobility in 2017. For this reason, it seemed inevitable that Venice, Los Angeles – in this case, North Venice, specifically – would find its way into our neighborhood series. Read along, and mark down the following insider destinations for your next Unagi ride around California’s most colorful seaside community. Oh, and don’t worry, unlike those shared electric scooters, your Unagi won’t turn off in the middle of your shoreline cruise
In 1891, wealthy land developer Abbott Kinney and his business partner Francis Ryan purchased the two miles of oceanfront property that would ultimately become the site of the residential and commercial attraction named after the famous Italian city. After Francis died, Kinney inherited a new cadre of business partners, creating a short-lived fellowship. The group’s dissolution culminated in a coin flip, through which Kinney won the less attractive, southern end of the property covered in marshland. In order to develop the grounds into his prospective oceanfront tourist draw, Kinney needed to dig miles of canals that would, in time, become an attraction of their own. Having drained the land, Kinney erected a pier filled with rides, games, restaurants, and a racing derby; and, after a fire had burned the pier to ashes, he rebuilt it with roller coasters and other modern amusements.
The following decades saw the neighborhood fall victim to overpopulation and subsequent neglect. The pomp and circumstance that Abbott Kinney levied upon the town in its glory years attracted droves of residents and tourists, the numbers of which overloaded its nascent water and sewage system. The beach town’s travails led to its annexation by Los Angeles County, and, although its incorporation brought its management under the auspices of the city, the ensuing Great Depression staved off any long-term progress.
By the 1950s, the once resplendent travel destination became known as the “Slum By The Sea.” Although the 1960s witnessed the rise of the famed Muscle Beach, popularized by then bodybuilding champion and future movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, it also saw Venice become the breeding ground for the gangland environment that dominated its culture in the 90s. Only through moderate gentrification in the early 2000s, and heavy gentrification in the latter half of the current decade, did Venice once again reclaim its former allure.
As in any community, gentrification comes as a double-edged sword. The Venice Crips and Venice 13 largely relocated to Inglewood following the steady influx of new, relatively wealthy residents and increased police presence, but rising rents forced out many of the bohemian and counter-culture artists that once occupied its seaside bungalows. Some might now critique much of Venice as overly commercial, but the abundance of street and graffiti art, sidewalk performers, low-key coffee shops, and one-off food stands maintain much of the artistic authenticity that developed in Venice during its neglected years. Hop on your Unagi, and we’ll take you to the spots that help Venice maintain its eclectic flavor.
You’ll want to begin your Venice Beach Unagi excursion towards the southern tip bordering Santa Monica. Work up a bit of a glisten in the broad boardwalk sunlight and stop by underground fish-n-chips favorite the Wee Chippy for a quick snack. Glasgow native Joe Gorrie founded the Wee Chippy in 2013, determined to bring authentic fish-n-chips across the pond to his home in the States. His commitment not only to authenticity, but also to quality, is more than evident in his cooking. You won’t find fresher cod at any restaurant in LA, his beer batter is both flavorful and light, and the selection of salts and condiments add some varying notes of flavor to the UK favorite. Additionally – and in line with Unagi’s ethos – Joe runs an extremely low footprint operation; all the Wee Chippy’s ingredients are locally sourced, its plates and utensils are paper made, and the staff recycles the Chippy’s cooking oil for bio-fuel. Go ahead and wolf down the classic fish and chips with Pacific Ocean kosher salt and tartar sauce and hop back on your ride.
Keep peeling down the boardwalk until you hit LA’s most revered skate park. The history of skating in Venice Beach is almost as old as skating’s history in California, and dates back more than forty years to the Santa Monica based Z-Boys, well known in pop culture as the Lords of Dogtown. For decades, local skaters – the lifeblood of the burgeoning skate industry - had pushed, pulled, and lobbied for a skate park to be built in their backyard, and finally, in 2009, after two decades of debate and a ten-month construction period, the Venice skate park was opened to the public. We don’t recommend dropping into one of its architecturally striking bowls on your Unagi, but pull up to the railings and watch the kids fly. Local skate athletics don’t get better than this.
Continue down the boardwalk on your electric scooter and check out its other sweat inducing attractions. The rusted outdoor weight-room of muscle beach might be currently sealed off for replacement and renovation, but the mini tennis, basketball, and squash courts will help you burn off those beer battered cod filets.
Hook back around the boardwalk and make your way to one of Venice’s lifelines, Windward Avenue, for a latte at the renowned Menotti’s Coffee Shop. Like the Wee-Chippy, Menotti’s also came to Venice in 2013, and has served up the neighborhood’s best coffee for the past six years. You’ll find its understated, sparse wooden interior a respite from the eclectic wildness of the beach, and, if you look hard enough, you might come across its secret menu (sorry, no spoilers).
Spend some time weaving through the side streets as you head south and enjoy the large-scale murals and street art that adorn the area. In keeping with its skate and surf counterculture vibe, the neighborhood has been nothing but friendly to the talented artists that have made its buildings their canvas. Be sure to pay your respects to Mr. Abbott Kinney in front of his gargantuan black and white portrait.
As a final stop, cruise past local nighttime eatery and cocktail hot-spot James Beach and head along North Venice Boulevard to the entrance to the Venice Canals. A gentle incline will lead you down into one of Los Angele’s most whimsical settings, where nature and man’s ingenuity find a rare bit of harmony. Take in the docked canoes, varied avian life, green hedges, and colorful homes as you glide through Mr. Kinney’s hundred-year-old masterpiece.
Keep coming back to our community page for neighborhood stories, tips, and treats to amplify your Unagi experience. If you’ve got a neighborhood story you’d like to tell, ping us at firstname.lastname@example.org; we’d love to hear from you! Ride safe everyone!
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