It’s a tourist mecca. Venice or Venezia as it’s called in Italy. My visit there was in the cold of winter, and still, all the gondolas were full, and hotels were overpriced though much more affordable than during the tourist season. It was an amazing experience and a place I’d recommend most people visit. But for me, I wouldn’t return.
Across the Atlantic, and across the Florida peninsula on the Gulf Coast, sits another Venice. Like Venezia, Venice, Florida straddles waterways and is dotted with commercial enterprises everywhere. It has a much more relaxed feel that is prevalent in much of the western coast of Florida, compared to Miami Beach of Key West. Nestled just outside of Naples, another Florida jewel, Venice may be a man-made wannabe Venezia, but it truly is a relaxing and enjoyable place to visit.
Even further west, across our Great Plains and Rocky Mountains and the flashiness of Hollywood is Venice, California. Having been to LA so many times, as a child on family visits and later for numerous business meetings and to manage special events throughout Southern California, I thought I knew many of the hidden pockets of LA. Certainly I hadn’t missed Venice Beach.
Venice Beach makes a great backdrop for a movie. Romantic comedy? Adventure? Farse? Who-done-it? Any of the above. It’s such a colorful place. Now that California legally sells “medical marijuana” the main drag is popping with “clinics” that look more like tattoo parlors. Come to think of it, maybe they are full-service concierge-filled holes in the wall where you can get your blood pressure and eye pressure checked for the Rx of pot, and while you wait for the prescription to be filled to your doctor’s orders, you can get some skin work done.
What looks like once was a main square in Venice, just off the beach, is a charming mish-mash of inviting old buildings. There are coffee houses and delis, and even a macrobiotic vegan restaurant, SEED. It’s a small shop, but the menu is rich with variety. There are plenty of rice bowls, and the flavors run the gamut from Thai to Japanese to Indian to Italian. They have to-die-for looking desserts made with maple or brown rice sweetener, but none made with diabetic-friendly agave. As unassuming as this place looks, the chef has served many of stars, most of whom look like they are in terrific shape.
While Venice Beach is just a short drive away from Hollywood and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, its ambience is from another planet.
Despite all the times I’ve crisscrossed Los Angeles County, I’d never stumbled by the Venice Waterways in Los Angeles. Finally, I realized why this area is called Venice. There is no beach here. There are no designer stores or hawkers selling rip-offs or take-offs. This is a quiet pocket of residences connected by waterways instead of streets. Some of the abodes sit rather untouched from how they must have been 50 or 60 years ago, only more hidden from the high grass, weeds and foliage. Then, there are the magnificent mini-mansions. These homes look like where millionaires with taste rather than opulence chose to live.
Park your car and explore the back alleys which are waterways. Just as in Venezia, you have to cross from one street to another over footbridges, or in a row boat. Whereas the Florida waterways tend to filled with fancy schmancy yachts, the homeowners here have small boats that look more like toys for their kids, than to explore the world or race down a river. In fact, during a quiet Saturday morning stroll, several families moseyed on by in their canoes. Others roamed in their bicycles. What called my attention the most was how the residents had a great sense of living close to nature here. Beyond the water, their houses and gardens were one. Their windows and doors were open. Their artwork and sculptures were inside and out. With the proximity of all the homes, one’s flower garden was a canvas for another’s.
Of all the Venices I’ve been too, this is by far the most relaxing and laid back. Not unlike Venezia, it had architectural wonders as well as natural wonders, but the calm and sense of appreciation for nature and color and textures was what I liked the most.