City Guide: Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a town where the manufactured becomes real—where the Grove shopping center’s forced-perspective architecture and cool, jazz-dancing waters have made it the main street of the city center. A view of Disneyland’s snow-capped Matterhorn is more internationally renowned than the white peaks of Mount Baldy, both clearly visible on a smog-free L.A. day. These usual tourist stops are terrific— that’s why millions of visitors have poured into Los Angeles for decades. Savvy business travelers take advantage of this city’s touristy nature to mix work with fun and explore some of the exciting, and even exotic, “real” places around town, like the Abbot Kinney canals.
You’ll be exploring adjacent Venice, but consider Santa Monica as your base of operations. You’ll take breakfast meetings at places your in-town colleagues will relish by staying beachside, adjacent to a remarkable manufactured place that predates Disney by 50 years. Just a scant six miles down Lincoln Boulevard north of the Los Angeles airport, past the blocky new Playa Vista neighborhood abutting the Ballona Wetlands, and minutes from the deluxe hotels lining the sand and bluffs above Santa Monica beach, a left turn onto Venice Boulevard brings you to a hidden turn-of-the-20th-century marvel that might have inspired Las Vegas’s brash habit of co-opting the world’s treasures. Just across the way, you can choose to meander along the legendary Venice Beach Boardwalk or stroll the hippest shopping area in Los Angeles, which has blossomed on the bohemian avenue named for visionary developer Abbot Kinney. A full day of walking, shopping, actual surfer sightings and plenty of local flavor are all in close proximity.
You’ll be close to downtown via the freeway, as traffic flows most heavily westward in the morning and eastward in the evening. Beverly Hills and Hollywood are navigable by freeway and street driving. Rent a convertible and ask your concierge about traffic shortcuts through town that require Sunset Boulevard.
Tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney, inspired by the picturesque canals of Venice, Italy, built what was initially called Abbot’s Folly: Sixteen miles of canals—to be navigated by gondola, naturally—along with small summer homes and seashore attractions, including a grand pier, walking boulevards and an immense bathhouse. More than 100 years after their grand opening on July 4, 1905, just six canals remain, flanked by Washington and Venice Boulevards to the north and south, and Eastern Canal and Pacific Avenue to the east and west. Years of neglect and local political infighting had nearly obliterated the last canals, where the water was murky and the crumbling sidewalks flanked by moldering cottages, until a multimillion-dollar renovation dredged the canals, installed new sidewalks and inspired an architectural renewal. The canals now showcase some of the priciest real estate on L.A.’s stratospheric Westside neighborhood, as well as innovative design that maximizes use of the narrow lots.
Enter the canal zone, and you’re instantly in another world: Watery streets gurgle by, ducks quack and all manner of kayaks are tied up alongside the hedge-lined streets. Charming white bridges arch over the waters and birds paddle by, as does the occasional kid in a rowboat. The homes practically abut the sidewalk, and part of any canal walk means a wave to residents brazenly outing their incredible luck at living here while sipping their morning coffee or evening martini. The bohemian spirit of the place is clear: You might spot the local who does her daily yoga practice while floating by on a surfboard.
Much like the ebb and current rise of the canals, Abbot Kinney Boulevard has seen ups and downs over the decades. Its latest incarnation is as L.A.’s chicest destination shopping zone, half a mile of modern cool meets boho living, lined with galleries, bars, restaurants and shops that are blissfully independent, with nary a boring chain in sight. It’s a short walk from the corner of Eastern Canal and Venice to the start of Abbot Kinney, anchored by an apartment/retail complex with strong modern lines. A few years ago, local merchants and residents decried the development of a modernist live/work building replacing an old bungalow, and even put the kibosh on plans for a new hotel.
Shops and attractions
While the neighborhood is still at odds over the new development, sleek structures are rapidly outnumbering vintage facades today. But bohemia stays strong: Robin Murez’s hand-painted sign marks her Sculpture Garden (1632 Abbot Kinney), an outdoor gallery and working studio punctuated by glass “blade” sculptures and Egyptian deities behind a chain-link fence. Young hipsters lazily wheel by on beach cruisers, tanned and fit year-round. Design turks and surf dudes navigate the stretch on skateboards. Storefront shops tend to prop their doors wide open or even roll up garage-style walls, and the proprietors are friendly, open and happy to chat.
Stroll down the boulevard and stop in at Surfing Cowboys, Purveyors of Beach Couture and California Lifestyle (1624 Abbot Kinney) for an eclectic mix of vintage chairs and groovy patio furniture at non-vintage, but fair, prices. Vintage wooden skateboards by Tenderfoot are mounted on the wall, better suited to hanging than hanging 10. Urbanic (1644 Abbot Kinney) stocks all your paper needs, from unique letterpress cards to Kate Spade notebooks and essential Moleskine notepads. Thinking green takes on additional meaning at cheery Farmacy (1509 Abbot Kinney), whose neon letters out front read “Handcrafted Organic Medicine Licensed Herbalists Caring for You.” All products are organic, from makeup and shampoo to enhanced edible products, including prescription-only cannabis-laced gelato and cookies. This “discreet dispensary” also boasts a full array of Chinese herbs, books, teas and music.
Handsome menswear shop Enda King (1419 Abbot Kinney), named for the Dublin-born proprietor, is a great spot to nab Rufus shirts with French cuffs, Goorin Brothers hats or a high-quality Western shirt by Ryan Michael. Local favorite Firefly (1413 Abbot Kinney) is a feel-good personal-gift shop. Pick up a cool new sunhat and spend an hour sniffing candles—is your mood more wasabi-mint or bergamot-tobacco? Vanessa de Varga’s revamped vintage furniture captures the aqua-hued, frond-filled airiness of the ’60s at Turquoise (1409 Abbot Kinney). Waraku USA (1225 Abbot Kinney) is a one-stop shop for all your hip Japanese kicks—that’s sneakers, pal.
Double Vision’s (1223 Abbot Kinney) brilliantly selected, uncommon objects have delighted visitors for more than a decade. You’ll find all kinds of treasures, from vintage collages by an anonymous Russian artist to ceiling-high sculptures made from buttons or Scrabble tiles. A+R (1121-1 Abbot Kinney) is a new anchor in the neighborhood. The shop’s “edited global design” highlights witty objects, often with repurposed shapes, like a knee-high porcelain Wellington-boot vase. Shopkeeper Andy Griffith regales visitors with the backstory of each unique piece.
Equator Books (1103 Abbot Kinney) throws open its giant garage doors daily to host art openings and events. Pick up vintage books on surfing, art or photography, or peruse the informative Art of Mud Wrestling, on display next to Leonard Feather’s The Passing of Jazz. A few bees hum around the bespoke beeswax candles at ultrachic LFrank (1116 Abbot Kinney), adding to the fashion buzz for designer Liseanne Frankfurt’s exquisite collection of 18-carat gold jewelry, from everyday earrings to glamorous arm cuffs.
More insider information on Los Angeles/Venice
RUTH HANDEL enjoys the Yucatán chicken sausage at Jody Maroni’s.