When you think about Venice Beach in Southern California, many things come to mind: the storied boardwalk, beach bums knocking around a volleyball on endless stretches of white sand, and body building beefcakes pumping iron at Muscle Beach. While all those aspects remain, Venice’s narrative is changing.
Instead of the Ocean Front Walk serving as Venice’s main draw, visitors are now flocking to beach-adjacent Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Those seeking to trade in their funnel cakes for single origin cups of coffee, and ironic T-shirts for forward-thinking designer styles, can find what they’re looking for along this milelong stretch of bohemian bungalows converted into boutiques, restaurants and galleries. Christened originally for Venice’s founder, Abbot Kinney has hit its golden age. So park your beach cruiser and put on your sunglasses because here are five spots not to miss as you explore Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Named for restaurateur Brad Johnson’s 100-year-old Georgia-born aunt, Willie Jane serves indulgent Southern American cuisine from chef Govind Armstrong. Must-haves from the selection of Lowcountry favorites include buttermilk biscuits with burnt orange honey butter; deviled eggs with smoked shrimp, black radish and trout roe; juicy pork chop brined in sweet tea served with wilted greens; and crispy cast iron chicken prepared with grilled lemon and poached garlic. The restaurant sources many of its ingredients from its adjacent chef’s garden, including salad greens, herbs and eggs from the garden’s own chicken coop. Complement the fare with a seasonal cocktail menu that blends classic libations with modern creations such as the Coal Miner’s Daughter with bourbon, macerated ginger, lavender honey and lemon juice.
In 2006, Blake Mycoskie founded the popular conscious shoe company in Venice Beach, so it’s only fitting that the brand, known for its One for One movement — outfitting a child in need with a pair of shoes for every pair purchased — recently opened their flagship store on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Affectionately referred to as the TOMS Casa, the space transcends shoe store and feels more like a community sphere where you can sip Cafécito Organico coffee and nibble on snacks from Valerie Confections at their café, while browsing a variety of TOMS merchandise for men, women and children including shoes and eyewear, or hangout in the backyard where the venue hosts music performances, movie nights and craft classes.
Standing less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, you can smell the salt air as you step into this airy beach bistro. Dine on seasonal fare with an emphasis on seafood such as the whole fried red snapper simply served with pickled Fresno chiles and lime. Dinner, lunch and brunch menus kickoff with a daily selection of oysters and move into a smattering of eclectic small plates and salads such as mushroom toast topped with ricotta, caramelized onions, mushrooms and jalapeño; and pear salad with escarole, Gorgonzola, walnuts and cider vinaigrette. A must on the menu is the Connecticut-style lobster roll served with kombu seasoned potato chips; and the gravlax (raw spiced salmon) topped with a butter poached egg and lobster omelet are both can’t-miss items for brunch. Complete any meal with a stellar craft cocktail — all wine or beer-based — selection and save room for the housemade monkey bread for dessert.
The chic bohemian styles from designer Karyn Craven’s Burning Torch line grace the racks of some of the trendiest retail outlets around the world such as Shopbop and Anthropologie, but nothing beats a pilgrimage to its flagship boutique on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The label’s cornerstone is its up-cycled approach to fashion: taking vintage elements, transforming the ordinary into elevated styles and accessories for women, men and babies. The brand’s philosophy extends right down to the store’s location — a historic building from 1925. Shop for washed leathers, cashmere, handcrafted or Victorian fine jewelry, vintage sunglasses, and more. Everything in the shop is for sale, including the mid-century furnishings, wall tapestries and a variety of glassware and antique treasures.
The Tasting Kitchen
The Tasting Kitchen comprises what everyone loves best about Venice: community, style and authentic flavor. Find locals and visitors kicking off their night at the lively bar over craft cocktails such as the Moped on the Freeway, made with gin, fresh pineapple, orgeat almond syrup, Viking Blod mead and Amaro dell’Erborista bitters. Grab a table or a spot at one of the community tables in the bi-level contemporary space. Executive chef Casey Lane leads a kitchen that offers eclectic seasonal cuisine made from scratch daily that ranges from handmade pastas to house-cured meats, fresh fish and selections incorporating produce from the local farmers market. Although many items on the menu change daily, recent favorites include clams served with chorizo and tomato; chicken liver crostone with mustard topped with a poached egg; and tortellini with hen, black garlic and tarragon.
Photos Courtesy of TOMS, Willie Jane, Burning Torch and Jakob Layman