You might be familiar with the beach boardwalk in Venice, California, and the rapidly expanding Abbot Kinney neighborhood with its bourgeois delights, but someway somehow, there are still people that don’t know Venice has its own set of canal waterways, and that they’re absolutely beautiful.
Gondoliers in Venice, California
California was settled by Westward dreamers, but their ambitions didn’t halt at the sea; their collective dreams and fantasies piled up in mounds on the Pacific shore, festering and overgrowing themselves into stranger and stranger forms. Case in point: in the early 20th century, big tobacco tycoon Abbot Kinney dreamed of recreating the waterway canals of Venice, Italy a half hour north of Los Angeles.
The Canal District of Venice, California stands as a reminder that this is the state of mad dreams overflowing their boundaries, frustrated and almost petulant at being unable to expand further west. It is undoubtedly true that Kinney’s dreams didn’t see full fruition: as they stand today, they’re a mere quarter of the original canalways, which were to be one component in an even more grandiose civic vision, one that included dance halls, lavish piers, and restaurants. But Kinney’s dream was drowned by, of all things, the coming of the automobile, Southern California’s most populous species to date.
After the Canals were built, the greater Los Angeles area contracted an untimely and ravenous need for roads, with which to feed the madcap-paced lifestyle of its residents. This led city leaders to cannibalize the canals for roadway, thus shrinking and choking the waterways down to a fraction of its former glory. For decades, the former luxury neighborhood lay in toxic disrepair, an eyesore that couldn’t economically be fixed until the 90s, when a major renovation re-established the canals as an enduring example of SoCal’s odd beauty.
The Canals Restored to Glory
Despite spending nearly a half-century in ruin, the Canal district today stands as one of the most beautiful, and I have to re-iterate, strange sights in Venice, California. The waters are still, with a tinge of algae-green and a healthy population of basking ducks in the waters, whiling away the hours on unused canoes and rafts. Though the canal-space was reduced considerably, it still encompasses three neighborhood streets inside a grid of waterways and walkways, with multiple bridges to span them. It’s not the sort of thing to glance at from your car before driving on–the Canal District is more than large enough to occupy an hour’s or so walk, especially given the exceedingly beautiful residential areas. The houses are composed of typical beachside homes, intermixed with more creative real estate that adorn themselves with impressive arbors, peculiarly-decorated patios, and fantastic architecture.
Overseeing everything is a general air of leisure and tranquility–the many times we’ve visited, it’s never been too crowded nor too sparse. There’s always a few parties of wide-eyed visitors meandering on the walks, with a few friendly residents pushing strollers and walking dogs, all leaving plenty of walking and thinking space for yourself. To round everything off, there’s even a small bathing pool for the ducks, located next to a children’s park. Absolutely enchanting.
As if that weren’t enough, the Venice canals are also located next to the area’s most strollable neighborhoods. Venice Beach is always notoriously teeming with colorful street performers, vendors, artisans, skaters, and body-builders patronizing Muscle Beach. If you feel the need for more suburbanite pleasures, the nearby Abbot Kinney block is home to some of LA’s most up-and-coming artisanal craft stores, restaurants, and boutiques. Regardless of what the traveler in you is after, Venice, California has an endlessly supply of local color with which to satisfy.