Many say you shouldn’t visit Venice beach with kids. In this post, we talk about our experience in Venice California as a family and we share what to expect, what we loved and what leaves many perplexed about this alternative and stunning corner of LA.
Venice beach is more than a little bit controversial when it comes to family friendliness. Put ‘Venice beach with kids’ in the google search bar and you will soon see what I mean.
‘Do not bring your kids’ recites in capital letters the first result. ‘Must-go place to show your kids life outside of the suburbs’ claims another article.
As a European with no previous knowledge of the area, making a call about the appropriateness of visiting Venice beach as a family wasn’t easy.
It took me hours to comb though all the different opinions and I second guessed my judgement many times before clicking on that ‘book now’ button. However, when we settled into our rental one block from the beach, I knew straight away we had made the right decision.
Now that I have seen the place, I understand why Venice California may not be for everyone but personally: we loved it.
From blooming bougainvilleas to frankly bizarre street performances, here is what you should expect when visiting Venice beach with kids.
Is Venice beach appropriate for kids? Why the controversy
Venice beach is immediately to the South of Santa Monica, along the Northern shore of LA. It is a place with a peculiar vibe that makes is distinctly different from pretty much anywhere else in the vicinity.
If I was to pick one word to define it, I would say Venice beach is eclectic. Depending on the street and block you happen to be visiting, you may find yourself in an oasis of peace or in the middle of the crazy freak show of life.
Hipsters, hippies, the wealthy and the desperate mix here making it overwhelming for some, but indisputably interesting for others.
Venice beach boardwalk
The family friendly controversy is about a specific part of Venice: the Venice beach boardwalk.
It is framed by the beach on one side and a series of shops on the other selling anything from smoke (recently legalised in California, as far as I understand) to ‘Venice beach’ branded t-shirts.
On this promenade, you see what can only be defined as the freak show of life: talented performers, not very talented performers, acrobats, drunks and preachers all seem to flock here filling your eyes with colorful clothes that belong in the 70s and your nose with whiffs of distinctive smelling smoke.
It is not a squeaky clean place and it most definitely does not meet the criteria of a family friendly place in the traditional sense of the term.
However, we never felt unsafe (at least during the day, we didn’t go out at night) and if it gets too much, all you need to do is to walk a couple of blocks away from it to enjoy Venice stunning canals, relaxing cafes and the beautiful street art that make this corner of LA so fascinating.
This is our selection of the best things to do in Venice CA with kids
Top things to do in Venice beach with kids: must sees
Experience the Venice beach boardwalk
I am going to open with the controversial place itself, the boardwalk.
I am one of those people who relaxes in the suburbs and who likes clean, pretty places. However, I hugely enjoyed the boardwalk and loved to see that my kids were not intimidated in the slighted by the circus of life going on here.
The best example I can give you is the reaction Little Ms E had to a crazy shop exposing larger than life transformers in their window.
Usually very cautious, she approached the massive and grabby looking display, demanded to wear a pink cowgirl hat and asked the guy running the shop to position her in the best spot for a photo op!
They guy was happy to help, she had a ball and we now have this mental picture where my daughter smiles happy in between crazy transformers and explicit posters!
More than many words, I think this will make you decide pretty quickly if this is the type of place you would enjoy or hate.
Go to the beach
The beach itself in Venice California is lovely.
It is wide, sandy and easy to enjoy with kids: we rented a boogie board by the hour in a nearby shop and spent the afternoons splashing.
The beach is divided into sections: one for bathers and one for surfer and boogie boarders. Life guards are on duty. The beach is free so make sure you bring your own loungers and umbrellas if you want to spend the day.
The beach seemed to be very popular with families and our kids had the chance to splash around with many others their own age, which is another reason why we enjoyed Venice beach with the children way more than we thought we would.
Stroll around Venice California canals
Venice California is not called like its Italian counterpart by chance.
In 1905 tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney set out to build an area of canals reminiscent of the ones in Venice Italy in this stretch of LA and recreated what is indeed a small Venice.
He got Venice beach canals dug out and went as far as bringing in gondoliers from Italy, in an attempt to create a ‘paradise for the arts’ in this stretch of California. The gondoliers didn’t last long here, but the canals did and are gorgeous.
The area is lovely, visibly wealthy but with a relaxed, almost hippie charm that makes it welcoming in a way alien to other elegant areas of the LA.
A stroll around Venice California canals doesn’t take long and can be easily enjoyed as a family.
Our kids enjoyed being able to walk, something they didn’t get to do enough in other parts of LA and we stumbled upon a nice local playground with seats in the shade for the adults.
A small local place and a glimpse of what daily life must be like if you are lucky enough to live in one of these gorgeous houses.
I adored this part of LA and found it a fantastic refuge from the crowds and craziness of other parts of the city.
Go window shopping Abbot Kinney boulevard
Abbot Kinney had such a role in the development of this area that now gives the name to Venice main street: Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
This street is a long road dotted with shops and restaurants and it is beautiful: craft restaurants, juice bars and interior design shops abound and you will be spoilt for choice for lunch options, many family friendly.
Venice is often described as ‘instagrammable’ and as much as I detest the neologism (what’s wrong with ‘photogenic’?) I can see why people definite it this way.
Each corner is a visual delight and the shabby chic hipster decor seems and probably is studied to fill the instagram feed of the iphone hipster crowd that fills these streets – mine included of course!
Just make sure you check the menu prices before picking your favourite: your budget does not go very far here!
Enjoy Venice street art
Venice California has beautiful street art: you will encounter it in many locations and one of the things we loved to do with the kids was to try and spot the next piece.
Some of Venice murals are colourful and easy for the kids to enjoy while other tap into social issues such as the Vietnam War memorial in the photo below.
Get rolling in Venice skate park
Last but not least, I want to mention the skate park, the famous skateboarding location immortalised by oh so many films and TV shows. The skate park is on Venice beach and at almost any time of the day has skaters of all levels of abilities daring its steeps slopes.
Our kids were thrilled but did not join in however, you can see kids of pretty much all ages here so if you have your wheels with you, you can join in!
The eclectic nature of Venice doesn’t make it suitable for all families but I hope we helped you make your mind up about visiting or avoiding Venice beach with kids. Safe and happy travels!