It was the summer of ‘74. Four young musicians, fresh graduates of High School, were touring the country as the members of a Top 40 cover band, when they finally landed in Southern California. There was some time to kill between gigs and the band members unanimously decided to seek out Venice Beach to spend a couple of hours in the sun. SoCal has hundreds of miles of legendary beaches, so “Why Venice Beach?” you may ask. It was because, at that time, Venice Beach was famous (or infamous) for four things: being the birthplace of the “Doors,” having an eclectic counter culture population, being the site where Arnold Schwarzenegger worked out at Muscle Beach, and most importantly, legalized nude sunbathing.

While it is wrong to condone the objectification of women, a nude beach in the pre-internet world was like some sort of nirvana for 18-year-old boys.  Consequently, that afternoon the band excitedly immersed themselves in the bizarre circus that was Venice Beach.  Sitting on a park bench, they observed massive body builders bench-pressing enormous weights while girls roller-skated by on the asphalt bike path dressed in only their skates.  Captivated by their new surroundings, they watched topless bike riders, sword swallowers, pot-smoking hippies, jugglers, panhandlers, and au natural people enjoying the tossing of Frisbees on the beach. The presentation was a sensory cacophony with the laughter of free spirited people, the music of buskers, the throaty growl of revving motorcycles, and the squawking of seagulls; all set to the background of warm sun, cool breezes, blue ocean and brown sand. It only lasted for a few hours, but this powerful vision of Venice Beach would forever shape their impression of the SoCal lifestyle.

 Fast forward to the present. A much older man, no longer a member of any band, lands in Southern California for a considerably overdue visit with his son.  They discuss their agenda and the son decides to treat his Dad to his first In-N-Out burger, followed by a visit to Venice Beach. The Dad eagerly anticipates his return to the scene of his youthful exploits and looks forward to re-living that moment in time that so indelibly etched a vision of the SoCal lifestyle in his memory.

After a brief battle with the traffic, they finally arrive in Venice Beach and in the words of Jack Skellington, “What’s this?” Gone is the low cost, dilapidated housing that attracted the counter culture crowd. Expensive modern townhomes and high rent apartments have replaced it. Gone is the open weightlifting area and the funky old Gold’s Gym. A fenced exercise park with stadium seating and a modern two-story workout facility have replaced them. Gone is the paved bike path and the girls (sniffle, sniffle) wearing only skates. A concrete road populated by fully clothed tourists has replaced them.  Gone is the alternative lifestyle vibe and the Dad’s 40-year-old vision of the way of life in SoCal. Commercial development and the tourism industry have replaced them.

I may, or may not, be the person in the above story, but I do know that the summer of 1974 only happened once.  According to this article in the LA Daily News, that summer was the ONLY summer that Venice Beach was clothing-optional.  The LA city council quickly put a stop to that shortly after I (or the person in the story) visited. I also know that change is constant and evolution is inevitable. Beginning in the 1980s, developers and city planners came on the scene and pushed out the “quirky” residents of Venice Beach in favor of tax revenue and tourism development. In a way, it is a shame. But while Venice Beach has gone mainstream, you are left with a wonderful, if touristy, family destination for a beautiful day at the beach.

Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
  Venice Beach
Venice Beach
The ramshackle buildings along the waterfront of Venice Beach are now modernized and have house convenience stores and souvenir shops for the visitors, and even a “green” doctor. There is a huge 10-court outdoor basketball court for friendly pick-up games and an awesome skateboard park. Miles of beautiful beach beckon with rolling ocean surf and palm trees swaying in the breeze. Street vendors and artisans line the sidewalk selling their wares while the eclectic crowds parade by. Since this visit was on a weekday, it all seemed pretty tame, but I was assured that the weekends bring some of the more colorful LA characters to Venice Beach.
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Beach
While Venice Beach may have lost some of its character over the years, it still has warm sun, cool breezes, blue ocean and brown sand.  But even more important, the new vision of the modern SoCal lifestyle that I formed on this trip was even better because I got to share it with my son.
Venice Beach
Happy Birthday Daniel!