Archive for the ‘California’ Category

DSCN1241Messy, crowded and populated by a mix of performers, artists, musicians and simply people with not much to do, Venice Beach has a self consciously circus-like, artsy subculture. In contrast to other beaches that cater to the tanned, toned and well-heeled, the leather skinned hippies and free spirits who dominate Venice boardwalk are intellectual refugees from the 70s who eke out a living selling souvenirs and henna tattoo services. There is plenty of art displayed here which to my philistine eye looks rather hideous. The carnival atmosphere is completed by a dance circle just off the boardwalk where there is always a crowd doing vigorous impromptu dancing to live music.


Heavily tattooed and pierced waitresses serve boisterous customers in the taverns that adorn the boardwalk. The smells of incense, alcohol, and sea tang blend to form a strange cocktail that I suspect is meant to overcome the smell of marijuana, which can be obtained, but only with a medical prescription (there is no need to snigger, I am merely reporting what I saw). Then there is the occasional cop keeping a benign eye on things.


But not all is as pristine as it ought to be in this Garden of Eden. The boardwalk is being invaded by the evil forces of commercialism in the form of American Apparel factory stores and Chanel designer Sunglass shops. This might be just the beginning of a larger trend and more of these chain businesses will likely start replacing the street folk. The original inhabitants are none too pleased and there are posters protesting this invasion. Sadly, I suspect they are fighting a losing battle. Art, no matter how hideous, hasn’t a hope in hell when competing with commercial chain stores.

Venice boasts some impressive alumni – Remember that it was in Venice that Arnold Schwarzenegger trained as a body builder before he got his Hollywood break. The legendary Jim Morrison of The Doors supposedly performed in Venice Bistro. I asked the bartender about this but the only thing he seemed to know was that Morrison played there for a year, sometime in the 60s. He didn’t seem terribly overawed at working a few feet from where the legend once played, having lost interest when I didn’t buy any drinks at the bar.

Venice Bistro

During the day the Venice boardwalk strip is flooded with camera wielding tourists clicking at everything in sight. Fitness fiends bike along the long path leading from Venice to Santa Monica and people on skateboards (as always) make pests of themselves. There is also the occasional pram-lugging couple who look like they are trying to relive the days when they used to be cool and go to rock concerts before diaper duty took over their lives.

DSCN1248After dusk, the tourist hordes depart, happy to have crossed off one major stop on their LA itinerary. Families cheerfully head back home in their minivans having returned the rental bikes at the bike shops. And Arnold has long departed Venice for a more lucrative career as Hollywood’s terminator and then to Sacramento as California’s gubernator. But the intellectual refugees from the 70s are still here, unwilling to part from this narrow strip of land, the sole barrier between them and the real world they are desperately trying to keep at bay.


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“Health food for dogs and cats”, announces the sign on a shop in the tony Del Mar area of San Diego, capturing, in my mind, the essence of the typical Southern Californian beach town. In summer, the stereotype goes, the beaches are invaded by the species Flora Tannica (female, blond and well endowed, either by nature or surgery) and Homo Surferdudeus (largely male and easy on the eye). Here and there are elderly folk, enjoying a well deserved retirement and desperately trying to stay out of the way of large families accompanied by huge cargoes of barbecue, nachos, Diet Coke and children. And don’t forget the canines – in the mornings they go for runs on the beaches followed by a brisk session chasing balls and seagulls and then presumably to the aforementioned health food shops for some well deserved chow.

While the beaches have much in common and easily lend themselves to careless stereotyping of this sort, I’ve found that many of them definitely do have their own distinct character and sub-culture. Yes, the sun, sand and sun-worshippers look the same everywhere, but when you look beyond the obvious, you can appreciate each beach’s individuality.

I spent most weekends last summer visiting beaches and beach towns in Southern California (it’s hard work, but somebody’s got to do it) and was pleased to have all my stereotypes confirmed.

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