LA Tourist Attraction: Venice Beach and Pier
Venice Beach and its 1,310 foot pier is one of the more popular tourist destinations in Southern California and it was once an amusement pier on a much grander scale than it’s neighbor – the Santa Monica Pier – a couple miles to the north.
The Venice Pier Beach is more “artsy” and “hip” area than its northern neighbor and has a reputation for great people watching and street entertainers. Ocean Front Walk is a paved pedestrian path that runs north and south right in front of the buildings that face the waves. A paved bike path also takes off north from the pier on the beach offering a great bicycle route to Santa Monica. Bike rentals are available here.
It’s popular with surfers that catch waves near the pier. The wide beach has numerous volleyball courts, restrooms, showers, and picnic tables. The fishing pier is a great cool down spot (it is often 10 or 15 degrees cooler than a block inland) and is wheelchair accessible with special sections where fishing from a wheelchair is possible. A parking lot adjacent to the pier charges a flat rate of between $5 and $15 depending on the season.
To the immediate north is the famed Muscle Beach. Street performers and artists entertain on the adjacent boardwalk, which is home to a wide variety of shops that sell everything from souvenir muscle tees to local art. Abundant dining options are available just off of the pier.
History of Venice Pier
The town of Venice Beach was founded in 1905 as a seaside resort town. The current Venice Pier was one of three piers in Venice Beach, California, and a more elaborate amusement destination than today’s Santa Monica Pier. The three piers were built during a time when developers had to actually lure people to live by the ocean!
Venice, originally called “Venice of America,” was founded by Abbot Kinney who bought two miles of oceanfront property south of Santa Monica in 1891. They built a resort town on the north end of the property, called Ocean Park, which was soon annexed to Santa Monica.
Kinney began to construct a new city originally named Venice of America. When it opened on July 4, 1905, Kinney had had built a 1,200-foot long pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall, a hot salt-water plunge, and a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture.
By 1910 attractions on what was then called the Kinney Pier became more amusement-oriented by 1910. A Venice Miniature Railway, Aquarium, Virginia Reel, Whip, Racing Derby, and other rides and game booths were added. Kinney died in November 1920 and the amusement pier burned down six weeks later in December 1920.
Amusement piers were exceptionally popular during this era. Just a few blocks to the north was Ocean Park’s Pickering Pleasure Pier (demolished in 1974) and the Sunset Pier just a couple of blocks to the south that featured the Sunset Ballroom and a restaurant (demolished in 1965).
The Kinney family quickly rebuilt their amusement pier to compete with the neighboring piers. When it opened it had two roller coasters, a new Racing Derby, a Noah’s Ark, a Mill Chutes, and many other rides. By 1925 with the addition of a third coaster, a tall Dragon Slide, Fun House, and Flying Circus aerial ride, it was the finest amusement pier on the West Coast. Several hundred thousand tourists visited on weekends.
What happened to the various piers in the area over the years could fill a book. The current Venice Pier was built in 1963 and by the 1980’s it was deteriorating. It was scheduled for demolition in 1986. Venice residents rallied to the cause, and after years of perseverance the pier was restored and reopened in 1997. On December 21, 2005, the pier again suffered damage when waves from a large northern swell caused part of it to fall into the ocean. It was reopened again in 2006.
The restored pier is managed by the City of Los Angeles, Parks and Recreation Department and is open from 6 a.m. to midnight. It is located at the western terminus of Washington Blvd.
Stay tuned as we bring you more articles about Venice of America, the Venice Canals and more of the attractions in Venice Beach.