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Venice, California, USA

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Venice, California, USA is a peculiar town. The closest description that springs to mind is that the town is a strange mix of the (now sadly late, lamented) Kensington Market and Brighton, England.

It's definitely very different from 'LA proper'; it's very Bohemian and relaxed, but wholly separate from the urban sprawl to its east. It's definitely a town in its own right, not least in its high density of tattoo parlours, which may well be the highest in the western world.

Apparently, the Doors came from Venice. There's a large mural of the Lizard King (aka Jim Morrison) himself on the wall of one of the beachfront buildings; walk down Speedway and you'll see it. They're big on murals in Venice. The town has featured in several recent British adverts, including the Rolling Rock beer ad with a big snake, a magic show and a woman with a bed of nails, which is shot around the streets of Venice. Also, the distinctive arched architecture of Abbot Kinney (the original designer of much of Venice) can be seen in the background of the John Smith's No-Nonsense Man 'lifeguard' ad. Venice has also featured in the movies Speed, The Net1 and in an episode of the supernatural thriller series Brimstone.

Venice occupies quite a small area; just walk north for a few minutes and you're in Santa Monica, which incidentally has quite a large ex-pat British community. You can, if you prefer, just relax on the marvellous beach itself or take a look at what Venice itself has to offer.

There's plenty of cheap accommodation for the budget or student traveller - hostels include the Venice Beach Cotel, which is pretty decent. The Venice Beach Hostel up the street deserves to be given a wide berth; travellers who've stayed there often tell frightening tales of vermin infestation.

Around Town

A lot of your nourishment during a stay in Venice will probably come from the million-and-one fast food joints lining the beachfront. You'd be advised to choose carefully. The pizza from the place next door to the comprehensively-stocked head shop and by the beachfront market is very similar to cardboard. The best junk food to be had comes from the Sidewalk Café; in fact, the food there isn't junk and they do great breakfasts. While you're eating, read a book from Small World Books situated next door. Look out for the bookstore's cat if you go in.

The beachfront is composed of the beach itself with its stunning views of the Pacific, and everything behind the beach on the land. There's the famous skating route along the edge of the beach; the road behind it with all the beachfront shops and market stalls; and the neo-Classical buildings of Venice itself, including its own canal running behind the beachfront homes. When you go down the beachfront walk, look out for Harry Perry, the 'World's Greatest Wino' - the guy in the turban on in-line skates with the electric guitar, who's something of a local celebrity and known the world over to Venice visitors (that's a lot of people: at the weekends up to 150,000 people visit Venice Beach every day). If you don't spot Harry then you'll almost certainly see one of the many other weird and wonderful street performers who entertain and bemuse alike.

1Watch out for Sandra Bullock walking along one of the canals.

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