Santa Monica + Venice
Head west and share the endless summer
The makeup of popular beach cities mirrors the constant change of their oceans. Businesses crest and crash like waves, just as others begin to rise. New residents and visitors, like the tide, arrive and recede every day. Santa Monica and Venice are no exception.
In the ’30s and ’40s, Santa Monica was a hazardous, high-stakes city that noir novelist Raymond Chandler loosely fictionalized as “Bay City”, a place where mob-affiliated gambling boats were buoyed by the Pacific and gallons of Prohibition liquor. The lawless bohemia of ’60s Venice that attracted artists and musicians like The Doors is no more. Neighborhoods in both Santa Monica and Venice irrevocably shaped the legendary Zephyr skateboarding team (the Z-Boys) in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
YET THE ESSENCE OF SANTA MONICA AND VENICE, LIKE THEIR SHARED OCEAN AND GOLDEN SUNSETS, IS IMMUTABLE.
Yet the essence of Santa Monica and Venice, like their shared ocean and golden sunsets, is immutable. They are cities of perennial promise, inspiration, and community. Santa Monica Pier is forever the end of Route 66, the destination that inspires countless cross-country trips each year. You will always see people walking, photographing, and sketching the canals designed by Venice’s visionary architect, Abbot Kinney. If you know where to go today, you’ll find businesses that preserve the history and promote the enduring spirit of these ever-changing cities.
Record Surplus has provided the soundtrack for Santa Monica since 1985. Located at the edge of the city’s Mid-City neighborhood, it is one of the last record stores on the Westside. A haven for music obsessives, the large and open store has roughly 50,000 new and used records beneath its high wooden ceiling. Walking in is like discovering that your neighbor’s garage is actually a meticulously organized, easily navigable warehouse of vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and DVDs. Browsing feels intimate but never cramped. In addition to the stock and welcoming space, there’s a friendly, widely knowledgeable staff that debunks the disgruntled record store employee stereotype. Owner Neil Canter is a surf rock encyclopedia, the best guide to the music that scored surfing safaris and bonfires up and down PCH in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Longtime staffers like DJ/record label owner House Shoes (Michael Buchanan) and rapper Koreatown Oddity (Dominique Purdy) have helped curate a deep reserve of contemporary hip-hop from LA and elsewhere.
Rip City Skates, a small white building with sticker-covered windows, stands less than a mile west of Record Surplus. Opened in 1978, it’s the only skate shop in Santa Monica with ties to the Z-Boys, the Dogtown (Santa Monica and Venice) skaters who redefined the now-Olympic sport with their alternately laid-back and aggressive surf-inspired moves. Rip City is equal parts museum and retail space. Skateboards of every decade-defining shape and color adorn the walls and ceiling, most autographed by the famed skaters who rode them. New boards from national companies rest next to those from local board makers like Santa Monica Airlines (founded by Zephyr co-founder Skip Engblom). Most importantly, owners Jim McDowell and Bill Poncher are behind the counter. Acting as historians, instructors, and deadpan comedians, the pair assists and jokes with skaters of all abilities who regularly hang at the store. At the same that the Z-Boys redefined skateboarding, McDowell and Poncher also catered to the flocks of roller skaters who glided and danced along the snaking trail of sand-dusted concrete that runs next to Dogtown’s beaches. That tradition continues today, as skate dancers of every skill level groove in Venice’s skate dance plaza most weekends. If you’d rather rock and spin to oldies on eight wheels than carve the concrete bowls of the skatepark, Rip City still carries skates.
If you’d rather rock and spin to oldies on eight wheels than carve the concrete bowls of the skatepark, Rip City still carries skates.
Angel City Books & Records is the perfect (and perhaps the only) place to meet fellow bookworms on the Westside. Since 1998, owner Rocco Ingala has created a warm, cozy space that splits the difference between bookstore, art gallery, and small record shop. Above the nearly overflowing shelves of fiction, poetry, philosophy, history, and more, he’s hung many of his abstract expressionist paintings. Next to the first and signed editions in the glass case behind the counter, there’s an enviable cache of Beat literature, including some from Venice’s scene of the late ’50s. During that era, local poets like Lawrence Lipton (The Holy Barbarians) arranged readings at their homes and in venues like Venice West Café. Though Angel City doesn’t host readings, it sometimes carries the work of poets who read at Beyond Baroque, the Venice literary and arts center that organizes/hosts poetry readings and workshops. While browsing, admiring the artwork, and listening to the music from Angel City’s records over its vintage stereo, you might also meet your partner. According to Ingala, couples have met and later taken their wedding photos here. These events attest to the singular magic of this quaint space.
Townhouse is a short walk from the Venice skatepark. The oldest bar in Venice, it’s a meticulously rendered time warp back to the 1920s. With its long wood bar, stuffed leather booths, and ornate Damask wallpaper, Townhouse feels like a regal saloon. Cocktail enthusiasts can order standards like the Old Fashioned or select from a diverse menu of daring Prohibition-era drinks. During Prohibition, Townhouse was home to a speakeasy accessed via trap door. Today, that speakeasy is known as the Del Monte, a basement bar with a large dance floor. (There are stairs at the front and rear of the bar.) Each week, Townhouse hosts new and recurring events both up and downstairs, including Mahalo Mondays, which features Hawaiian music and Tiki cocktails, and free back-to-back stand-up comedy and burlesque shows on Wednesday nights. The dress code is always casual, but the drinks, music, and entertainment are always elevated.
Townhouse caters to all, but Hinano Cafe is usually populated by longtime Venice locals. Purportedly a favorite haunt of Jim Morrison, Hinano serves beer, wine, and rightfully lauded burgers. There’s sawdust on the floors, sports on the flat screens, and free popcorn behind the pool tables. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, local bands play everything from blues and surf rock to covers of Fleetwood Mac. Even if your feet are coated in sand, you’re welcome to grab a pitcher and watch a game.