Cycling the Tour de California
Santa Monica and the area around Venice Beach has always been my favourite part of California, perhaps because it has a similar feel to where I live in Bondi. There is one big difference though: the Venice Beach Boardwalk. There is simply nothing like it anywhere else in the world, a veritable human zoo featuring some of the weirdest and most wonderful characters that ever walked the earth. A stroll along the boardwalk will ensure your visit here will never be forgotten.
We’re staying at the perfectly positioned Shore Hotel, a boutique-style 164-room hotel that offers unique eco-conscious accommodation, with sustainably obtained décor and state-of-the-art amenities. All of the rooms have private patios or balconies which offer either beach or city views. Our room is looking straight out onto the Pacific Ocean, just across the road from the famous Santa Monica Pier.
The Santa Monica Pier was opened in 1909 and exudes history. An additional pier was added in 1916, which now houses all the rides including the big dipper and the colourful ferris wheel, along with all the other fairground attractions like the pier’s legendary carousel that was built in 1922 and features 44 hand-carved horses.
While walking around here, you’ll enjoy the entertainment on offer from quite a number of talented buskers plying their trade along the way. The talent seems to be getting better and better with each visit.
After some quick pier perusal, we’re soon aboard a couple of complimentary Shore Hotel pushbikes for our compulsory pilgrimage along the Santa Monica to Venice Beach Boardwalk bike ride. The ride gives you the opportunity to check out the various celebrity oddballs that call the boardwalk home, and this year’s cycle certainly doesn’t disappoint.
It doesn’t take too long before we’re passing the first of the legendary regulars, starting with the snake man, who has added a thick, creamy coloured python to his menagerie. Business, just like his voice, is booming.
Not long after we see the snake man, the bearded guitar playing, turban wearing roller skater appears and begins to circle us like a great white shark. He offers up for sale just about everything that can be either worn, smoked or consumed. Next up we pass the pot shop guys, dressed in their Sunday best leafy green-coloured suits, who are trying to flog their ‘medicinal’ marijuana to passers by.
After passing an array of shops selling just about everything imaginable, we arrive at the greatest freak show attraction of them all, the Venice Beach outdoor gym, aptly named Muscle Beach. This gym has been a highlight since 1934 and some of the biggest and most famous body builders have strutted their stuff here, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and the biggest green man on the planet, Lou ‘The Hulk’ Ferrigno.
There’s no one famous working out today, but the main guy hovering about is a formidable giant and this behemoth doesn’t disappoint. He also doesn’t mind having a chat… to himself. Perhaps he’s off his meds for the day? After gawking and listening to him for a while and watching him perform some extraordinary superhuman, steroid induced chin-ups and other acrobatic maneuvers, we are distracted by a basketball game being played on a court next door. Some of these guys might just be undercover NBL stars, such is the quality of the basketball being played.
There’s also a racquetball court nearby and the grunts and moans emanating from these ultra competitive players makes me feel like I’m witnessing a final in the Olympic Games.
The collection of eclectic characters, as well as the plethora of fruity activities occurring along the boardwalk, are quite astonishing, and I haven’t even mentioned the daring young dudes going vertical and getting massive air at the skate park.
Before our boardwalk adventure finishes up, we sit around for a while to watch a troupe of dancers performing breakdancing moves that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Cirque du Soleil performance. After commanding our attention and a huge crowd for about 20 minutes we continue cycling up to Marina del Ray, where the cycle and walkway path abruptly ends.
From there we make our way inland, a few blocks back from the beach, to the exclusive enclave of Venice, which is where the renowned Venice Beach Canals are located.
The Venice Canal Historic District is a neighbourhood in the Venice section of Los Angeles, California. The area is renowned for its man-made canals, which were built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney as part of his Venice of America plan. Kinney sought to recreate the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy, in Southern California.
The area is so surreal and picturesque, it actually feels like an adult real estate version of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, but without all the Oompa Loompas.
I love Los Angeles and Santa Monica, but nothing surpasses Venice Beach and the boardwalk with its colourful array of weird and whacky characters who continue to call it home.
How to get there
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166
Where to stay