Venice Beach

People, people, and more people Part 2

VB--Crowded sidewalk 3VB The sidewalk 4

Venice Beach is one of the most well known and legendary beaches in Southern California.   Besides movies and TV shows filming at its location, occasionally a magazine snap shot shows a celebrity bicycling along the nearby beachside trail.  All walks of life stream back and forth on the now famous boardwalk and that alone is enough to keep you people watching for hours.

VB--Bicycles on sidewalk

Situated just south of Malibu and Santa Monica, this eclectic beach town is known mostly for its circus like atmosphere along the 2 mile beachside promenade.   Of course there is much more to this area than the celebrated Venice Beach walkway.  Beautiful homes line the south side while the quiet and serene Venice Canals stay hidden just down the road.    For this story we are only featuring the boardwalk and Muscle Beach.

VB-Santa Monica pier in the background
On this November day we successfully found parking at a lot right next to Muscle Beach. I have made many trips to Venice beach in the summer and ended up changing plans due to of lack of parking spaces.  At that time finding a spot was like finding gold.

This time luck was on our side, as we piled out of the car on our way to the world famous beach.   Many a cast and crew have filmed here for the day and one such cult classic was Xanadu featuring Olivia Newton John.  A wall mural was featured prominently in the movie in which Olivia’s character comes to life as she leaves the painting.   Although I never saw that particular mural, there were plenty others to add to the color of the area.

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VB-Brick House

Even though it was 6 weeks into fall, the crowd was thick.  The weather was nice enough to wear shorts and the sun was beaming strong as if it believed it was summer.  I couldn’t imagine how busy it must be in July or August.  No wonder I could never find a parking spot the few times I visited.

As you step onto the side walk you are greeted by shops and stores selling everything you can imagine. Geared towards tourists, obviously there are tons of  t-shirts , novelty, and souvenir stores.  Strewn along the route are snack bars and restaurants with even an oxygen bar thrown in for good measure.

VB-Shops 2VB-Crowded side walk

VB-Gingerbread courts 2VB-Oxygen Bar

Scattered out along the sidewalk on the beach side are local artists selling their goods and local musicians performing alone or with a band.  I couldn’t believe how good the contemporary jazz band was that performed just outside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch.  Each player and especially the guitar player had the skill of any top musician now making it in the music business.    Along the way we stopped and listened to a piano player whose hands skillfully hit the keys to a point where you felt like you were at a concert at Carnegie Hall.  A slight exaggeration I know but it speaks to the quality of talent in these musicians.

VB-Piano ManJazz Band

There were a few shall we say unusual people. One guy dressed up in some crazy costume with a flower pot hat was actually charging people to take a picture with him.  A lot of photo ops had signs that said they kindly take donations.   Half the time I was afraid to take a picture and the other half I was trying to take one while avoiding someone’s head in the shot.

Flying through the crowd was our first sighting of Harry Perry the now well known guitar playing, roller skating, and turban wearing man.  I know that sounds like a tongue twister but that is exactly what he is. I have seen him on TV a few times as he is a local icon and known for strumming his electric guitar while gliding through the vast sea of people.  He only slows down long enough for a photo op with tourists or to offer up his signature t-shirt, both at a cost.  To honor the man trying to make a buck, I only photographed his back side for posterity’s sake.

Guitar man

With such a cast of characters all in one place it was no wonder there was an attraction called Freakshow with sword swallowers, and other freakish acts.   The outside Barker promises that once you pass through the door you will be amazed at the wonders inside. Those wonders include two headed snakes or lizards, and various other animals with missing or added limbs.   Once he mentioned sword swallower I was done, not my cup of tea.   However, the place has been there for years, so there must be something of interest to bring in the crowds.

As the sidewalk continued on for more and more blocks, the sound of drumming hit our ears.  There were two separate areas where groups of people equipped with various percussion instruments expertly played a synchronized beat.  In one area a saxophone chimed in to add to the rhythm.

Located right on the beach and more towards the water is a skate park with tons of riders and an equal amount of onlookers.

VB- Skate park

Nestled between the various artists and musicians, street performers were at the ready to come to life as soon as a greenback was placed in their basket.  Food was abundant with snack bars and quaint curb side restaurants dotted along the way.  Public bathrooms were also readily available.

VB-Sitting areas

As we passed by Muscle Beach on our way back to the car there were a few chiseled men working out on various apparatuses. On some type of double bar they were performing cleverly worked out routines much to the pleasure of the surrounding crowd.   One muscle man announced that if we like what we see, they would kindly accept donations.    Even the muscle men were getting into the action that has become the norm for Venice Beach.  In their defense, what they were doing was quite impressive unlike the guy simply standing there in a funny hat asking for money.

VB-Muscle Beach signMuscle man 2

VB Muscle Man

Venice Beach is a sidewalk circus with people overload.    It is a place you need to see at least once in your life.

Once seen, I can go back to my sleepy beach town and take pictures to my heart’s content without paying a dime.   With any luck there will only be a few heads in the way instead of a hundred.

Staycations California made all efforts to blur out the faces of pedestrians along the way to honor their privacy. No you are not seeing some new alien invasion.

Photos: Debbie Colwell

 

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Santa Monica Pier

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Santa Monica Pier

People, people, and more people.  A few weeks back I did a story on the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial Pier.  In that story I mentioned that when I was strolling on that pier, it was if I had gone back in time.   The design of the pier seemed reminiscent of a time long ago with old lanterns that subtly lit the walkway and an unusual lack of crowds.    It felt like something from the 1950’s.

SM-Sign FB

Two weeks later it was feeling more like the  21st century as we stepped on to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County, California.  Unlike the Belmont Pier, we were now sharing it not with a handful of people, but with thousands!!    It was bumper to bumper people as far as you can see.

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So what attracts so many to the Santa Monica Pier and not the Belmont Pier?

The Belmont Pier has a snack bar, fishing, plenty of bathrooms and a great view, what more could you ask?   In comparison, the Santa Monica Pier also has those features but with a few wee minor additions, such as,  a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel,  a carousel, a two story restaurant, a flying trapeze,  shops,  carnival games and rides,  vendors, music,  and much more.  It is an amusement park sitting on top of a pier and that is why it is so crowded!

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The Santa Monica pier is where you go to play, eat, drink, and have fun.   We went on the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday so I am sure it was more crowded than normal, although I can’t be sure of that fact.  Summer is probably even more crowded and I also overheard someone say it was busier at night.   So with that in mind, plan to to spend the day here as you would any amusement park or fair.

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The Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 and strangely its purpose at the time was to carry sewage out to sea,via pipes.  Obviously through the years it has been re-built to house and to hold the weight of the amusement park type rides and structures.     I stood in awe as I watched the waves crash against the pilings wondering how they could possibly hold up all of those rides.

SM-Waves crashing on Pier 2 FB SM-Waves crashing on pier FB

Looking north you can see Malibu in the distance and Venice Beach to the south. With its close proximity to Hollywood, the pier has been used in many films and TV shows.   Some scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed at the pier and not surprisingly a Bubba Gump’s restaurant still sits at the entrance.  I’m  told it is owned by some of the producers of the film.

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Standing tall like a beacon for Margarita lovers, the two stories of the Marisol Mexican restaurant are positioned at the end of the pier for your dining and drinking pleasure.    Directly behind it you will find a set of bleachers perfect for relaxing and viewing the stunning Pacific Ocean to the west.   At the absolute end of the pier there is a second level for anglers to reel in their prizes without contending with the crowds.

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Scattered about are small street vendors as well as the sweet sounds of performing local musicians.   Bathrooms are aplenty much to my relief after guzzling two large iced teas.

Santa Monica Pier is a floating party, a carnival, a street fair, and an amusement park all wrapped up in one.    Staycations California recommends it as a fun place to visit for the day and enjoy the rides, games, food, and shops.   Or people watch, there are plenty of them.

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However, if you want mellow there is always the San Simeon Pier some 200 miles up the coast or the peace and quiet of above mentioned Belmont Pier.

Wherever your mood takes you, nothing beats taking a stroll on a pier, even if it means sharing it with a thousand of your closest friends.