The Nuthouse By the Sea, An Unlikely Visit To Hollywood, and Good Food Along the Way
Venice Beach is located just south of Santa Monica, California. It is definitely one of the best beaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Not only is the scenery absolutely amazing, but the people who frequent this beach make it one of the best people watching locations in the US, if not the world.
The beach itself is a wide, flat, soft sand stretch that appears to be roughly well over a quarter mile wide to where it meets the cool water of Santa Monica Bay of the Pacific Ocean. This is a Mecca for southern California sun worshipers, surfers, and everyone else who just like lying in the sand. The ocean swells on the day I visited, were subtle until they neared the shore. At that point, they would curl into a brief tube, and then implode, crashing in a crescendo of bouncing white foam surf onto the shore.
The beach is so huge, there is plenty of room for everyone, and everyone seemed to be out taking advantage of the beautiful hot sunny weather this Sunday had to offer. A small boom-town of beach umbrellas had formed, their occupants happily lazing away the afternoon in the pleasant shade they provided. I was told the local schools would also be starting up again soon, and I saw a lot of kids determined to make their last day of freedom a good one. Their mothers had a glazed over, harrowed look in their eyes, that appeared to say, “I don’t care what you do today, tomorrow I am free.”
I liked the tall skinny palm trees that were dotted and grouped together all along the beach. If Dr. Suess and Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) invented a tree, I think they would have come up with the palm tree. There are many different types of palms to be seen in the area. From short and stout varieties, to tall ones I saw on the beach. A palm tree at full maturity has a long, smooth and narrow gray trunk that makes a soft parenthetical bend high up into the sky. At the top of the trunk, the palm leaves hang like fern fronds, kind of like a bushy head of flattened dread-locks. They make a soft rattling sound in the ocean breeze. To me, they are the quintessential beach tree, and possibly the best plant symbol of southern California (though I can think of another plant that southern Californians would probably claim as their symbol). They offered shade to those who wanted it, and they make for a good picture. If I had my hammock, I know I would have put it to good use in the shady copse of these towering trees.
Venice Beach isn’t simply a beach. It is more of an ocean side recreation center that attempts to have something for everyone. Besides the beach, there are basketball courts, paddle tennis courts, an amazing skate park, a playground area, volleyball courts, a bike path, and a boardwalk. The famed muscle beach is also located here, a gathering place of vain, muscle loving maniacs who were hard at work, bulking themselves up for their own gratification. All of the recreational courts were busy with athletes playing their game. At each venue, a small group of spectators and resting athletes were gathered around watching the games being contested.
The boardwalk was my favorite part of the whole beach. It’s comprised of a wide asphalt avenue, maybe 40 feet across, with one edge being the last row of buildings of the city of Venice, and the other being the sand beach. On the city side, were a large number of shops and restaurants selling souvenirs, tattoos, food, trinkets, art, clothing, surf boards and other wares. These were the established merchants. On the beach side, the city has designated spaces for “mobile merchants” to set up their tents, umbrellas, and tables to sell their art, collectibles, jewelry, hand made accessories, and services (such as palm reading, temporary tattoo shops, etc). The spots on the beach side were procured with city license, or were first come first served, depending on the spot. Everyday, these people would haul everything to the beach, set up for the day, and tear it all down again at night, only to repeat the process.
On the buildings near the boardwalk, and throughout the city of Venice, were elaborate murals painted on the walls. The talent of these artists was quite evident, and I was amazed at the detail they could capture by using a building as a palette. I’m a big fan of public art; I think it gives neighborhoods and cities more character and charm, especially if the artists are talented. Venice Beach has done well for itself in this regard.
I walked the stretch of boardwalk that was maybe a mile long. I enjoyed checking out all of the artists work, admiring a lot of it. There are a lot of talented people selling their art along the beach. Not a bad place to make a living. Beyond the artists, were others selling clothing, hand made jewelry, and trinkets. There were a few musicians playing for tips, “live” mannequins that would hold completely still until you tipped them, then they would come alive for 2 minutes, jumping dancing, screaming, and gyrating until they slowed and once again became frozen. I loved the variety of merchandise available, and though some of the shops sold the same things, most had found their own niche of unique merchandise for sale.
The people of Venice Beach are what make this place special, and a world class people watching destination. I like to think of it as a “Nuthouse by the sea.” There are weirdoes of every variety gathered here, homeless bums (myself included), spaced out addicts, winos (“Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Help me get drunk today“), medical marijuana clinic orators trying to drum up appointments with the “doctor.” A young man of twenty something years of age was hollering out his spiel, “MARIJUANA, You KNOW You Wanna!” Every time a family would walk by, he would mention “family discounts are available.“ I thought this was hilarious. There were many eccentrics, and even two street-side gospel screamers. There were many southern Californian beach bums carrying surfboards or long board skateboards, and groups of slackers asking for handouts and money. Mixed with the more extreme folks were the “Joe Tourist” types, walking around with their families in tow, the locals, who mostly tried to ignore everything going on, the exercisers, street merchants peddling their wares, rappers trying to publicize their music, . There were those who came down simply come to hang out and take in the atmosphere. The trendy, beautiful people that California grows like fruit were out in full force, and everyone else, who are tough to categorize. I’ll simply say the medley of humanity found here is an interesting melting pot as any I’ve ever seen. I believe everyone should come and see Venice Beach at least once in their life. It really is an experience you won‘t soon forget. I was there on a beautiful Sunday. I would recommend visiting on a weekend, as more of the colorful characters will be out and about.
To capture scenes of the Venice Beach, I decided to take a covert approach. I put my camera around my neck, and it swung freely just above my navel. When I saw a picture I wanted to get without being obvious or rude, I would simply use the auto focus and take the picture very subtly without anyone the wiser. The advantages were that I could get photos that I otherwise couldn’t get, and hopefully capture scenes of the people of Venice Beach. The disadvantages were that I had no idea if I was going to get the shot. I could only guess if the scene I saw with my eye would look the same “shot from the hip” so to speak. As it turned out, I was able to get a number of dynamic shots that I was happy with.
The following are Venice Beach Boardwalk Scenes.
For lunch, we ate at Jody Maroni’s Sausage Stand. They served a variety of good sausages, and I enjoyed a Polish Sausage on an onion brat roll with sautéed onions, peppers, cheese and Dijon mustard. I thought it was delicious, and would happily recommend that you try it out for yourself.
After leaving Venice Beach, my host gave me an unintentional tour of Hollywood. I had no strong feelings for visiting this famous location. It wasn’t on my list of things I absolutely had to see, and I’m definitely not a “star” chaser. I don’t really watch much TV, and though I like movies, I prefer old movies (Two for the Road, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Graduate, etc) and most of my favorite actors are dead, or far from Hollywood. However, since it was on our way, we decided to check it out, and I’m kind of glad I did. We took the famed Sunset Boulevard east into Hollywood, passing a multitude of posh, expertly manicured wealthy abodes. I’m sure some famous people lived in them, but I couldn’t tell you who. I was actually more impressed with the gardens, and expertly trimmed hedges that would’ve made Patton proud. There were many types of trees and plants in bloom, and the gardeners of this neighborhood are experts at landscape design. I was kind of disappointed though; I didn’t see any hedges shaped into dollar signs. If I was rich, that would be my first priority upon purchasing a mansion.
As the road snaked around through the winding, lush hills the passing car names began to show signs of wealth. BMW, Lexus, Ferrari, Audi, and even Rolls Royce autos passed us by, their owners showing off their status. We passed the well known neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Bell Aire, and into to Hollywood itself.
I saw Rodeo drive. There were no rodeos in progress, however and certainly no cowboys to be seen. I saw the Sunset strip. The strip was a shopping district that didn’t entice me much. We parked on Hollywood Boulevard and went for a walk on the star studded “Hollywood Walk of Fame.” This was kind of neat. I enjoyed walking the shady sidewalks looking down to see whose star was next. I saw the likes of Boris Karloff, Pee-Wee Herman, Frank Sinatra, Thomas Edison (who I didn’t know was enshrined), Vincent Price, Dean Martin, and many others that I did and did not recognize. What I didn’t realize was that they not only enshrine in marble stars of film and screen, but also comedians, radio actors of yesteryear, musicians, and TV stars. Beyond that, I wondered how famous you need to be, to get enshrined. Was it based on money making, or popularity? After all, Pee-Wee Herman made the cut.
I saw Fredericks of Hollywood, the famous lingerie store. I kind of wanted to go in and browse, but since I didn’t have anyone to buy lingerie for, I decided not to. Besides, with my modest Midwest upbringing, I would probably have kept staring at my sandals, blushing, while I tried not to peek at the sexiness all around me. Maybe the mannequins would have found me charming, but the management probably would not have agreed and have me thrown out into the street.
Once again there were more people of every size and shape wandering around the street. I saw homeless people curled up in the dark corners whispering secrets to their dogs to avant-garde models dressed to the nines in the latest fashions looking hot, beautiful, and mildly bored with their choice of lifestyle. I was somewhere in between, caught up in the novelty of being in a famous place.
We drove north, and I spied the giant “HOLLYWOOD” sign high up on the hillside. My friend decided to navigate us for a better view of it, and led us higher up into the Hollywood Hills. Mike drives a 2008 Diesel Powered Chevy Silverado. It’s designed for hauling his RV trailer around. As we climbed into the labyrinth of twisting narrow streets that only got skinnier as we rose, we began to see that this truck was not made for negotiating the blind curves, and bottlenecks of the hills. “They’ll move, he said, We’re bigger.” To which I replied, “Yeah well, I bet they are richer.”
I told him that he should start giving Hollywood tours. As it was, we kind of thought we were going the wrong way on a one way street, and we weren’t really sure where we were, or how to get out of there. The homes of the hills, like much of the cities of Southern California, were jammed in like sardines. The yards were miniscule and every inch of land available was being used. Most of the homes perched rather than sat on the hill, their toes clinging to what little earth they were built upon. The small alley-like streets twisted and curled around them like small snakes.
I really enjoyed seeing how the other half lived. I could have hosted “Life Styles of the Rich and Famous”, except I’m not really in awe of their wealth, and don’t really care how “famous” they are. I figure, they are just like you and I, and would want to be as anonymous as I am.
We finished off our day, by picking up some sandwiches to go at “The Oinkster” in Eagle Rock, California. The Oinkster recently was featured on the Food Television Networks show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Mike and I are big fans of this show, and try to find the restaurants featured in our area. The house special is the Pastrami sandwich. We each ordered a couple to go, and I got a strawberry milkshake to tide me over until we got back to Riverside. When I bit into that sandwich, I almost fell on the floor it was so good. By far the BEST pastrami I’ve ever eaten. It was delicious.
It was a great first day of exploration for me. I was beginning to like southern California, and I look forward to finding more of its charms. I’m off to San Diego next, to check out a great burger joint, the fisherman’s wharf, and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Stay tuned, this Vagabond might find fame and fortune just yet!