Ever wondered what it would be like to visit another planet? Go to Venice Beach. You’ll witness every walk of life: Zany street performers, oiled-up body builders, psychics, preachers, and self-proclaimed freaks all make an appearance at the 2.5-mile-long boardwalk. It’s the best people-watching in the world!
Aside from the usual freaks, you’ll find cafés, souvenir shops, and recreational activities.The beachfront counterculture here is unmatched in the bizarre and strange; not even Ripley’s Believe It or Not! comes close. After an afternoon on the boardwalk, nothing will surprise you. Not convinced? For $5 you can see “One-Eyed Jack,” the cyclops chihuahua, a two-headed turtle, and “Itty and Bitty,” the two-headed kitty. Live shows feature fire-eaters and appearances by “Larry the Wolf Boy,” who’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. All this and more is part of Ray Todd’s “Venice Beach Freakshow” (909 Ocean Front Walk), which has gained a huge following. “Freakshow” even has its own televised spot on AMC.
If you’re approached by a giant (about 6’3”) wearing spring-loaded shoes and a black shirt imprinted with a capital “V,” don’t run away! His name is Jeffrey Solomon. In the 1960s, he walked his pet tiger on a 50-foot chain down Rose Avenue. Today, he walks tourists (minus the chain), while giving fascinating accounts of Venice past and present, including little-known facts like how an amusement park became a part of the underwater ecosystem. His Venice Beach Walking Tours (310/433-8453, $40-60) are worth the cost just for the interesting characters Solomon introduces you to along the way.
Aside from the usual freaks, you’ll find cafés, souvenir shops, and recreational activities. For $4 you can pump iron at Muscle Beach. At 10:30am on Saturdays, take a free yoga class on the beach. There’s also an outdoor roller rink and skate park.
The best time to visit is in the summer, mid-morning through the late afternoon. At night, the Venice Beach Boardwalk can feel more like Creep Show, with the crowd morphing from eccentric to spooky.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.