The Insider’s Guide to Getting Lost on the Venice Boardwalk
From Muscle Beach to the Venice Skate Park and more, explore the best restaurants, bars, and sights on the iconic two-mile stretch.
Like the rest of the city, the Venice Boardwalk has changed tremendously since its glory days as a retreat for artists, hippies, and counterculture movements in the 1960s and ‘70s. There was even a moment where we sincerely worried that we’d lose the iconic two-mile-stretch to Silicon Beach start-ups. Yet even as the neighborhood has contended with decades-long gentrification and an ongoing homelessness crisis, the Boardwalk has retained its edge, still attracting LA’s weird and wacky to its shores.
In the Before Times, strolling the Boardwalk could be an overwhelming endeavor, with street performers, artists, psychics, skaters, cyclists, and tourists all vying for space and attention on the crowded walkway. It also represented one of the most eerie scenes in LA at the height of shutdowns when its wide promenade was closed to pedestrians, with businesses shuttered.
Thankfully, this neighborhood that enjoys an undesignated status as one of the most 420-friendly places on earth is ready to welcome you back. A long-time haven for some of LA’s most prolific musicians and artists, the Venice Boardwalk has inspired countless songs, murals, and movies, ranging from gritty dramas like Lords of Dogtown to buddy comedies like White Men Can’t Jump. When outsiders conjure an image of a typical California surfer bro, it’s inspired by the real-life beach bums you’ll still find sauntering down the Boardwalk.
While the Boardwalk’s past is nodded to with untouched street portraits of legends like Doors frontman Jim Morrison, the unlikely tourist attraction is also adapting to the times. After years of campaigning from Venice residents, a car-free plaza on Westminster Avenue between Ocean Front Walk and Speedway was unveiled in January. Nearby, the famous Muscle Beach reopened in March after three years of closure with updated equipment and refurbished facilities. But one of the most celebrated arrivals is an actually-above-decent food scene that adds variety to the long-standing walk-up windows offering snow cones, corn dogs, funnel cakes, and fair-inspired foods.
Whether heading there to brunch before beach day, admire street murals, ogle at the array of buskers, explore the various pop-up booths, or skate, bike, or scoot down the Strand, the Venice Boardwalk invites you to choose-your-own adventure. And just in case you need some guidance, we wrote this handy guide rounding up everything to see, eat, and do on one of LA’s most classic promenades.
(Full disclosure: We cheated and included a few spots that are a block or two off the boardwalk—you’ll thank us later.)
Even if you don’t lift, a trip to the Boardwalk isn't complete without at least a slow, lingering stroll by Muscle Beach to stare at the ripped athletes as they grunt and toss around weights. For those who do lift, the open-air gym offers an affordable membership at just $10 for a day pass, $50 for a week pass, or $200 for a yearly membership. In addition to being the “Home of Bodybuilding” and once-preferred workout spot for legends like Arnold Schwartzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, all of the equipment is still-new and shiny following a nearly-three-year closure and recent reopening with updated facilities.
Again, even if you’re not a skilled roller blader or skater, you’ll want to find a perch above this dipping half-dome to watch the athletes swerve and flip across the various shaped bowls. The public skatepark butts up against the sand, so you’re in for some pretty epic views in all directions. If you’re interested in taking a turn, just be mindful of those moving around you to avoid any collisions.
If you find yourself at the Boardwalk near sunset, and especially on the weekends, you’ll likely find yourself gravitating towards hypnotic drumming that echoes from the intersection of Brooks Ave and Ocean Front Walk, where an assortment of musicians across a range of skill levels congregate with their percussions and play late into the night. All are welcome to join, just in case you’re the type of person who keeps a bongo in your trunk.
This quintessentially Californian restaurant has something to fit any mood. There are tables and umbrellas off the boardwalk that offer prime people watching and views of the coast, a charming interior that feels like a tech surfer bro’s living room with a vinyl record player and mismatched furniture, and a shaded outdoor patio with cozy couches and wicker-wrapped light-fixtures. The menu offers similar variety, featuring shareables like nachos, oysters, and hot wings, as well as large plates like Corn Agnolotti that nods to LA street fare with charred corn and Tajin. The Line-Caught Striped Bass that’s served with Rita’s fresh flour tortillas is another standout choice. Brunch is an everyday affair, running until 2 pm on the weekdays and 3 pm on the weekends. A selection of wine and beer are available, with a few wine-based cocktails and slushies on offer.
This Tijuana-style birria spot opened a location off the boardwalk in 2019, earning a warm reception from munchie-driven locals, wave-worn surfers, and tourists alike. Get the spicy stewed beef in tacos, mulitas, tostadas, and quesadillas, and add some birria broth (con carne) for dipping. Even catering to Venice’s plant-based crowd, the taqueria offers a veggie taco (with cheese), mulita, tostada, vampiro, and a Deluxe Plate with grilled red, yellow, and green bell peppers and onions, served with cilantro, onions, and hot sauce. Refreshing agua frescas in flavors like pineapple and jamaica will keep the spice from overwhelming your palate. They’ve got red umbrellas in the Westminster Ave pedestrian plaza, to cast shade over your tables while birria gets you warmed up for your beach day.
Quick, easy, cheap, and delicious, The Win-Dow checks all of the boxes for an efficient fuel-up before you hit the boardwalk or as a last-minute picnic before you settle on the sand. The under $10 menu is to the point with smashburgers (including a vegan option), a Fried Chicken Sandwich, a Grain Bowl, Shaved Kale Salad, and French Fries. They also boast an ice cream program that's unique to the Boardwalk location with hand-spun milkshakes in flavors like Chocolate S'Mores, Local Strawberry, and Vanilla Bean, with the option to add malt for just 50 cents more. They've also got dipped cones in Salted Caramel (with a caramel shell, caramel drizzle, and Maldon salt), Peanut Buddy (with a chocolate shell and peanuts), and Mint Cookies and Cream (mint shell and Oreo cookie crumb).
This charming and light-filled market on Dudley Ave just off the Boardwalk has its own fishing boat that allows them to catch all of their fish fresh daily and sell it to customers (as well as local fine dining institutions like Republique, The Tasting Kitchen, and Mirame), specializing in highly migratory species like tuna, yellowtail, bonito, and dorado, as well as rock cod, ling cod, whitefish, sand dabs, and halibut. They take their wine just as seriously, only stocking natural and biodynamic options, though the selection offered is global. At just $50 a month, their wine membership is one of the most affordable in town, offering two free bottles per month, discounts on retail wine, and a waived $20 corkage fee when you dine in.
Did you even go to Venice Beach if you didn’t get high? Fair warning, even if you don’t partake, you might feel a little secondhand buzz from the smokers toking up and down the Boardwalk. But for those who are seeking to get stoned, this pioneering shop that prioritizes education is a great option for novices and experienced potheads alike, offering flower, pre-rolls, vapes, concentrates, edibles, and other products that you can also order online for additional convenience.
After the sun sets and you’re ready to party Boardwalk-style, head to new-ish supper club Winston House, where you’ll find live musicians and DJs performing under the glow of a spinning disco ball every night of the week. Co-owner Corey McGuire said he was inspired to open the lounge because, “There are so many music fans on the Westside of Los Angeles, but faced with driving across town, it ends up being too hard to get to most shows. We work hand in hand with the music industry to bring the best artists to Venice so that people don't have to make that journey east. Artists get to connect with a different fan-base and Westsiders get great music. It's a win for everyone.”
Also on offer at the two-story venue is a menu of beach-inspired bar foods like West Coast Oysters, Duck Tacos, and Lobster Fried Rice that’re available late into the night (and from an express window that opens at 10 pm). The cocktail menu features reinterpretations of classic drinks like mojitos, old fashioneds, and white russians, and beer and wine are also available.
Established in 1915 by Italian immigrant Cesar Menotti, Townhouse is the oldest bar in Venice and one of the oldest in all of LA—the basement-level Del Monte bar even served as an actual speakeasy during Prohibition. In 2006, the bar was bought by Louie and Netty Ryan, another pair of immigrants by way of NYC. You can still catch live music and comedy shows in the Del Monte basement, including KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic DJ Anthony Valadez, who spins dance tunes every Friday night. The bar’s fully stocked and a rotating cast of pop-ups provides the late-night munchies.
This long-running bookstore is a welcome respite from the chaos of Venice Boardwalk, stocking its shelves with a wide selection of titles from small and large presses, with a knowledgeable staff that’s eager to help you find the perfect beach read. The shop hosts author readings and signings, as well as a book club that meets on the last Thursday of every month at 7 pm. May’s read is Wicked Enchantment by poet Wanda Coleman.
Jim Morrison’s favorite beachside burger shack hasn’t changed much since he was a regular, though the pandemic has encouraged them to expand their patio seating. In the dimly lit interior, you’ll find surfboards nailed to the ceilings, pool tables, mounted TVs, and sports flags framing the bar. The World Famous Hinano Cheeseburger is the move, with a slice of melted cheddar or Swiss cheese on top of a plump patty, and accompanied by lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard, and relish on a bakery-fresh sesame seed/egg bun. A full bar is available, but beer is the specialty, with special attention paid to American Pale Ales, Lagers, and IPAs.
For more beer on the Boardwalk, stumble down to this locally owned spot that offers one of the best patios for people-watching. As the name suggests, California craft beers are the specialty, though they’ve got a full bar with classic and house cocktails, plus wine, sake, kombucha, and hard seltzers. The food is elevated pub fare with organic ingredients, including burgers, sandwiches, wraps, bowls, salads, and a few large-format seafood dishes. As Andy Vaughan, the director of operations for hospitality group Local LA says, “It’s a celebration of LA, and the best place to get a beer and a chow.”
Around the corner from Winston House and Townhouse, Belles Beach House comes courtesy of the hospitality group behind LA hotspots Eveleigh and Elephante. The newer, tiki-inspired beach bar is adorned with palm trees and cozy wicker furniture that feels quintessentially Venice while also transporting you to the tropics. Hawaiian and Japanese influence is felt in dishes like the Teriyaki Cheeseburger with a Kobe beef patty and Char Siu Pork Ribs, as well as cocktails such as Heat Stroke with tequila, cocchi americano, lime, passion fruit, mango, chili, and smoked cayenne salt. A golden hour special is offered Monday through Thursday from 4–6 pm, with $10 cocktails and wine, $6 beers, and discounts on bites like Avocado Crispy Rice and Hawaiian Fries.
As we mentioned, the Boardwalk can be overwhelming and crowded, especially on the weekends and just a few blocks away, the Venice Canals offer a scenic and relaxing escape. Originally built by Venice developer Abbot Kinney as a way of recreating the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy, his Venice canals project was stalled when automobiles rose in popularity in the 1920s. Today, only six of the original thirteen canals are still open, with water entering through sea gates in the Marina Del Rey breakwater, and again in Washington Boulevard. A maze of bridges and sidewalks help you navigate the canals and border residents’ homes. While the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, many of the homes have undergone modern renovations in recent years.
Maybe you just can’t bear to leave the Boardwalk and if that’s the case, you’ll want to book a night at the neighborhood’s only beachfront lifestyle hotel that’s just a short walk away from the skate park and other landmarks. The hotel’s rooms offer three different themes that pay homage to Venice archetypes: the beachy bohemian, the soulful artist, and the Dogtown skater, many featuring ocean views. If you prefer to watch the action from the comfort of your room, the hotel has partnered with popular all-day cafe Great White to deliver food directly to your room.
Since the 1970s, Hotel Erwin has offered comfortable rooms just steps from the Boardwalk, plus a rooftop with one of the best sunset views on the Westside. They make it easy to extend your beach day into the weekend with bikes and helmets offered complimentary to guests, as well as towels, coolers, volleyballs, and other games. A selection of the rooms even have balconies with chairs so you can post up and watch as the sun dips below the Pacific Ocean.
If you’ve been boozing on the Boardwalk all day and need something hearty and delicious before you make your way back inland, Mao’s is a long-running neighborhood institution serving up country-style Chinese dishes at affordable prices. They’ve also got an unbeatable weekday lunch special that offers your choice of entree with steamed rice, salad, and spring roll for just $11 (or $13 for seafood and tofu entrees).