Summer in the city of Los Angeles propels you outdoors. The glorious weather is impetus to get out and explore a part of town that you may have never seen. Looking for some exercise on a sunny Saturday morning, my husband and I decided to check out the canals of Venice. If you didn’t know, part of L.A.’s Venice neighborhood is modeled after Venice, Italy. Commuting through Venice through the years, we’d had far-away glimpses of the canals but had never seen them despite hearing of the area’s charms. As promised, we discovered that the Canal district is a great place to combine some exercise with a bit of local history.
We parked at two-hour metered street parking along Washington Blvd. near Pacific Ave., where Marina del Rey and Venice meet. Sure enough, along Washington near Strongs Drive and west of the popular Baja Cantina restaurant where we’ve enjoyed many a margarita, a sign marked the Venice Canals Walkway. We followed the sign off of the main drag and the noise of the street gave way to quiet. The first glimpse of canal lay to our right and we were on our way.
Within minutes we’d moved from busy city street to a neighborhood of lovely homes whose lushly landscaped backyards face the canals. The sidewalks are just big enough for two people to walk side by side and enjoy the many flowering vines and the diverse homes, some contemporary, some beachy, and some dating back to the early 1900s when the canals were built. Then there are the canals themselves, where canoes, kayaks, and even a large, duck shaped pedal boat line docks in front of homes, and fish swim through the waters.
The man-made canals were built in 1905 by area developer Abbot Kinney, according to the Venice Chamber of Commerce. Kinney wanted to recreate Venice, Italy in L.A. and named his seaside resort town Venice of America. For a while, there were gondolas and Italian gondoliers along four east-west canals and two north-south canals. But the Venice of America concept never took off, and the canals and arched bridges lit with twinkly lights were shut down and filled in for the bulk of the 1900s. In 1992 the city renovated the canals, draining and refilling them and putting in new sidewalks. The neighborhood then became an exclusive haven for celebrities, artists and the wealthy, in the midst of gritty Venice.
We weaved our way through the neighborhood, using as our guide a “Los Angeles Times” article on the canals by Los Angeles author Charles Fleming. But the area is small enough to explore without a map and there is very little chance of losing your way. We walked up and over the pedestrian walkways that connect the two sides of the canals, covering about two miles in 30-45 minutes. We burned calories, enjoyed lovely views, and learned something new about our city.