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Series: Is Los Angeles on Your Bucket List?

Tips for Your First Trip to Marina del Rey and Venice

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Venice Beach, Sand, Water, Pacific Ocean, Palm Trees

Morning at Venice Beach on a cool, windy day


I have lived in Los Angeles since 1998. I’ve learned three things: 1) I’ll never be an expert on all parts of this massive city, 2) The city is always changing, and 3) there is always a chance I’ll still get lost. So, when faced with the challenge of giving “touring Los Angeles tips” to friends and family coming in for our wedding, I fell into a bit of a panic. How would I explain how to get around and offer up suggestions that covered everything this terrifically diverse city has to offer?

The answer? I didn’t. Writing an “Ultimate Guide to LA” would invariably leave out huge portions of the city, and probably not be helpful to our guests. Instead, I broke it down into neighborhoods of Los Angeles that were most likely to be on their radar given where most of them were staying (the Marina).

But the exercise did start me thinking about providing more comprehensive information here on the blog. Los Angeles is one of the most visited cities in the world. And if you are one of those people who is visiting for the very first time (or someone who hasn’t been here in a while), these recommendations might help you plan your itinerary.

I’ll start with a pro-tip: Los Angeles is spread out over a very large area. You can drive for an hour and still be in the city limits (even without hideous traffic). When planning your itinerary, try not to plan to visit a Hollywood attraction, then a beach attraction and then something downtown in the same afternoon. Why? You will spend most of your day in the car, you won’t have much time in any one attraction, and you will probably toss aside your plans out of frustration. Trust me – that’s the mistake I made my first time out here.

Los Angeles is beautiful, strange, exciting, frustrating, and confounding. I’m here to try to make your trip swing more towards the fun and less towards the maddening.

And now for our suggestions!

Marina del Rey, Views, Marina, Boats, California, Traveling Without a Net

Views of the Marina from a balcony at the Marina Del Rey Hotel.


Neighborhood Highlights: Marina del Rey and Venice
Marina del Rey is known for having the “largest man-made small craft harbor in North America” (at one point, the world), and Venice has always drawn the artsy, the bohemian and the quirky (and sometimes the muscle-bound) to its sand. People gravitate here to try the food, walk the beach and wave to the sailboats as they leave the channel. And while the tech companies and celebrities may have made those Venice canal homes into million dollar options, you can still find a hint of the old Bohemia if you know where to look.


ghostrider, red wine, marina del rey, Jamaica Bay Inn,

Glasses of the Ghostrider red blend at the restaurant at Jamaica Bay Inn (near Mother’s Beach)

Food and Drinks
There are so many great restaurants that it would be impossible to name them all, but here are a few of our favorites:

  1. Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice): Rustic chic with a patio and wide range of “New American” food (many vegetarian options). It’s not cheap, but it’s great for a night/day out. It’s very popular, so be sure to make a reservation. And, yes, this is the restaurant you keep seeing in movies and TV shows that take place in Venice. Parking can be found at the street meters (or behind the restaurants at meters), but it will take some patience.
  2. Hinano (15 W Washington Blvd., Venice): It’s a budget-friendly dive bar with great burgers and a fun vibe. It’s also only a block from the beach and had the claim of being Jim Morrison’s favorite Venice bar. Parking is challenging. Note: Cash only.
  3. Cafe Gratitude Venice (512 Rose Ave, Venice): It’s a vegan place that even non-vegans rave about. Be prepared to ponder the question of the day and to order food through affirmation (just go with it). I’m not a vegan, and even I love the food here. The vibe is casual. There is also a second location on Larchmont Boulevard.
  4. Barrique Venice (796 Main Street, Venice): This is a beautiful Italian restaurant with a fantastic wine selection, a Michelin-awarded chef and a charming location inside of a little yellow house. It’s expensive, but so worth it for a special night out.  Street parking only.
  5. Jamaica Bay Inn’s Beachside Restaurant (Mother’s Beach): The main restaurant is undergoing renovations right now, but the outside patio is still swinging. They have a fantastic happy hour (basically 2 drinks for the price of 1 plus $1) and the views of the marina are terrific. This place is generally more budget-friendly than the other hotel restaurants. They also have their own parking (free with validation for two hours), which is nothing short of a miracle in LA.
  6. SALT (Inside the Marina del Rey Hotel): The Marina del Rey Hotel has undergone massive renovations, and part of the upgrades have definitely hit their new restaurant. The outside seating looks at both sides of the Marina, and there are some great views by the fire pits at sunset. You can also dine by the pool on the other side, or inside the restaurant. My favorite dish so far is the avocado hummus, but everything we have tried has been great. They do have happy hour menus which helps with the cost. Don’t forget to get your valet parking ticket validated — it will save you $6!
  7. Scopa Italian Roots (2905 W Washington Blvd, Venice): This place is considered a gastropub with some creative Italian dishes. You can happily enjoy scrumptious appetizers, or you can dig in with full meals. We were impressed with the wine list, and it’s a very lively atmosphere. It will cost you quite a bit if you buy a bottle of wine and have complete meals, but if you are looking for something fun for a special meal, it’s worth it. There is a paid valet lot, but there are also street parking options.

There are also numerous upscale and budget-friendly options along Washington Blvd. You can just walk the blocks by the beach and select your favorites from the menus posted outside.



People wandering the boardwalk in Venice Beach.

People wandering the boardwalk in Venice Beach.


Things To Do

  1. Stroll Venice Beach Boardwalk (aka Ocean Front Walk)
    The odds are good that if you have seen Venice Beach (or Los Angeles) in a movie, you have also seen the Boardwalk. On any given day, you’ll experience the buskers, drum circles, and vendors that have made the area famous. It is generally safe, even if you are a woman traveling solo, although it is always a good idea to keep an eye out. Bicycles do get stolen down here with frustrating regularity, so keep that in mind if you rent one for your travels (there are places right off the beach that rent bicycles, surfboards, etc.). Taking a stroll along the Boardwalk is worth it for the people watching alone, but you may find yourself drawn to the shops, as well. Plus, you can’t beat the view of the ocean.
  2. Walk Venice Beach
    Speaking of the ocean, a walk along Venice Beach is a “must.” You can start from the Pier and go down toward the channel (the closer you get to the channel, the fewer the services and people on the sand), or start from the channel and walk toward the slightly controlled chaos of Venice Pier. We’ve done this a number of times from Andy’s boat on the way to Hinano. It is great exercise with fantastic views. Personally, I prefer doing it early in the morning, or later in the afternoon, because it can get very hot during the summer months and mid-day is super crowded.
  3. Take the Venice Canal Walk
    Do you love hiking or taking extended city walks when visiting a new place? The Venice Canal hike is a favorite. Not only will you see sights you recognize from film and television, but the homes are gorgeous, and you might just fool yourself into thinking that you’ve stepped into an entirely different world. This area is so different from the rest of the city that I find myself admiring it even after all of these years. You can drive over many of the bridges, but the walk allows you to see much more of the architecture. The LA Times has a great article that gives you step-by-step instructions on the best route.
  4. Paddle Boarding in the Marina
    Are you super athletic or looking for a little adventure? Paddle Boarding in the Marina may be your answer. You can rent equipment in Basin D by Mother’s Beach. They will provide you with some instruction, but I highly suggest practicing before you head out too far into the boat lanes. It can be a bit tricky when the sailboats are leaving the docks and heading into the channel, so always stay alert when you hear the warning horns.
  5. Watch the Boats Leave the Channel
    You can drive down (or walk) to North Jetty for fantastic views of the sailboats gliding out of the Main Channel to the Pacific Ocean. There are always crowds along the walkways and the pier at sunset. It’s a very mellow activity that makes for a relaxing diversion before dinner. I’ve even seen people bring picnics down there!
  6. Concerts in Burton Chace Park (13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey)
    In July and August, on alternating Thursdays and Saturdays, there are free concerts in Burton Chace Park. People come by water taxi, private boat, car, and on foot to enjoy a summer night on the water with great music. You can get this year’s line-up here.
  7. Shopping on Abbot Kinney Blvd.
    My love of Abbot Kinney changes on any given day and is directly related to how quickly I find parking. It’s Venice. Parking can be a deeply painful in this part of Los Angeles. But if you nab a spot, you will have easy walking access to unique boutiques, galleries, wine bars, restaurants (see Gjelina above) and more.
  8. See a Play at Pacific Resident Theatre
    They have main stage productions and smaller, experimental ones. We have been enthralled by every production we have seen there. Seriously, they are doing terrific work, always cast exceptional actors, and if you have the time on your visit, you should grab a ticket.


What are your favorite things to do in Marina del Rey or Venice? What would you recommend for first time visitors to Los Angeles who want to spend time by the water?

51 Comments on Series: Is Los Angeles on Your Bucket List?

  1. It’s a pity that I haven’t seen your guide before going to LA. I liked Venice Beach, but for the rest of LA we ended up like you say – spending a lot of time in the car and not feeling the city vibe properly. I should plan to come back sometime, I regret a bit spending only little time there.

    And thanks for your post, it is quite informative. Looking forward to the rest of the series. 🙂
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    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm // Reply

      The first time I visited, I spent a huge amount of time in the car trying to get to all the places that made the top 10 lists. Live and learn!

  2. I’ve been to LA but it was several years ago. It does seem so big!

  3. OMG! Los Angeles looks so beautiful. It’s on my list but is it weird to admit that I never heard of Venice Beach. All I think of when LA comes to mind is hiking to the hollywood sign but Venice Beach looks lovely and those palmtrees. Wow! Seriously, you just increased my yearning to visit LA by a 100. Not good for my bank account ugh! LOL

    Thanks for sharing,
    travel lifestyle passion

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:39 pm // Reply

      Hiking to the Hollywood sign (or near it, since you can’t actually get to it legally), is always a big draw! For that kind of day, it would be easier to do the hike and maybe add a trip to Griffith Observatory to that day, so you stay in the same area. As for the beaches, you could definitely spend all day just beach hopping!

  4. Venice beach is one of my favorite places ever. It has such a relaxed and cool atmosphere that a lot of LA doesn’t. The food there is incredible and it’s a great place to people watch too.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:40 pm // Reply

      I love the people watching! I do hate the parking, though. So, when we head down there, we usually have a plan to stash the car and then just stroll everywhere we want to go to avoid the fees and the hassles.

  5. Los Angeles has always been on my Bucket List so it’s nice to have an insight on what you should do on your fist trip there 🙂 thanks !

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:40 pm // Reply

      If you ever come out, let me know! I’d be happy to give you some other tips for things to do around where you are staying. 🙂

  6. Great tip on not planning to visit the beach and Hollywood in the same day. Definitely don’t wanna be stuck in traffic. I’m planning on visiting LA again soon so this is super helpful!

  7. This is a really nice, extensive guide and good thing you turned it into a series or it would be a novel, aha! LA is HUGE. I love it though – definitely appreciate you talking about the restaurants too though as we all know food is the best part of travel 😉

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:41 pm // Reply

      LOL! Yeah, I thought about trying to do one complete guide, and I realized that was nuts. I’m not even sure I could put all of downtown into one post.

  8. That’s a great intro because when we visited LA the thing that struck me is how large it was, that we could drive for well over an hour and not be out of it, and if we are talking about continuous urban landscape, then that stretches to 4+ hours, even though it’s no longer LA! So vast! But still some great gems to visit. I haven’t been for a long time so am thinking maybe time to revisit!
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    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:42 pm // Reply

      Isn’t that crazy? I’ve never seen a city before that goes on and changes so much depending on where you are in it.

  9. Havn’t gotten to California at all yet, but from what I have heard from friends who have, Venice Beach is a must-visit. Great insight!

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:43 pm // Reply

      It’s so much fun! My college roommates came in for my wedding in May, and it was their first time here. They had such a great time just walking around and people watching.

  10. Megan Jerrard // June 22, 2017 at 1:28 am // Reply

    Thanks for this post! It’s super helpful to have information broken down into neighborhoods – I visited LA last year and it was super overwhelming trying to figure out the logistics of where attractions were, and how to get from one end of the city to another. I think it’s a great idea for people to plan their days based around the popular neighborhoods and take in those attractions without trying to jump all over the place. Venice Beach was a definite highlight of my time 🙂

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:44 pm // Reply

      I was definitely one of those first-time visitors who tried to see everything with no real idea of how long it would take just to get there. Now that I’ve lived here for a while, I have a much better feel for what is reasonable to do in a day!

  11. Megan Indoe // June 22, 2017 at 4:28 am // Reply

    You’re right LA is hard to put down everything in one place, especially since things are changing all the time as you mentioned and its so spread out! One part of LA could take an hour to get to another part! We do love taking day trips up there (we are from OC) and feel like there are endless things to do. You’ve done a great job highlighting some of the best!

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:45 pm // Reply

      And we’re just starting to really explore the OC. We started with the beach towns, but we’re branching out now. Really enjoying it!

  12. I love these tips! I have been to Venice once, and really enjoyed my experience mostly just walking around and people watching. Next time I’ll have a better plan 🙂

  13. LA for me was all about Hollywood and beaches. Never knew it has got so many diverse range of things-to-do and places-to-see not to mention the ever changing nature that writing a guide on it would be a beastly task!Paddle boarding in the Marina sounds like a my kind of thing! 🙂

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:47 pm // Reply

      You would be in good company. There are so many paddle boarders working the channel, even on the weekdays. Great exercise, but my balance needs some work! 🙂

  14. I love LA and I’m always surprised at how many people don’t really want to visit LA. My cousin lives there so I love going to visit him – plus it helps the budget! The Venice Boardwalk is definitely a stunning, interesting and fun spot!
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    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:48 pm // Reply

      I think LA seems really intimidating to people, and the images that are on TV don’t often reflect the actual city. But there is so much to do here that I think people end up being surprised by how much they enjoy it.

  15. LA is pretty overwhelming, so this is a great help to narrow down what to do with a limited amount of time. Coming from a more traditional city, I’m not sure what to make of LA, since it all just seems like the suburbs to me. Clearly that’s when I need a local to guide me to find the best stuff so I can “get it”. Thanks!
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    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:50 pm // Reply

      It really can be overwhelming. There is so much to do and it covers so much ground that it’s hard to figure out what you are going to really enjoy and what is going to be just too much hassle. That’s true even for me, and I’ve been here since 1998!

  16. Every time I think of LA all I can imagine is the traffic. I would love to get a chance to see what else the city has to offer. Venice Beach sounds right up my alley.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:50 pm // Reply

      LOL! Sadly, there is good reason for that. In fact, I was just cursing the traffic last night as I made my way to Hollywood. But with planning, visitors can minimize how much they have to deal with it.

  17. Honestly I’ve never been interested in visiting LA. But the restaurants seem really interesting. Might check it out after all.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 5:51 pm // Reply

      It’s a huge place that is so different neighborhood to neighborhood that it doesn’t have one defining aspect. That’s good, though, because while one part might not appeal at all, others might be fabulous and fit perfectly with your tastes. And there is some amazing food here!

  18. This is SUCH a great initiative! I’m also from Los Angeles and every time I consider writing about, I get super overwhelmed because there’s so much to do, see and eat! Love your restaurant pics too! I haven’t been to all of them but can def vouch for SALT and Gjelina. Looking forward to reading more from the series.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 11:36 pm // Reply

      Even figuring out which neighborhoods to cover first is making my head spin. But it’s starting to be fun, too, because after all this time, we definitely have some favorites throughout the city that we think people will love.

  19. I have never been a fan of LA the traffic alone makes me think very unpleasant thought I rather not describe here. But you have me seeing LA in a different light and thinking that it is a destination worth exploring. I like the diversity you point out and well the one thing that does always resonate with me is food. And it seems my options are endless here.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 22, 2017 at 11:37 pm // Reply

      There really are a ton of food options and that’s true all over the city. And I’m wondering if the LA Metro will help encourage people to explore the city when they aren’t faced with the horrible traffic.

  20. I’ve never done a proper tour of LA so I definitely want to go back and visit again! I’m always looking for an adventure so Paddle Boarding in the Marina seems like a great choice. A dinner at Barrique Venice sounds romantic!

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 23, 2017 at 4:18 am // Reply

      Barrique is so lovely. We sat out on the patio and just enjoyed the night. It’s funny because during the early part of the day, it just looks like an ordinary yellow house. You’d never really know that there was a great restaurant inside.

  21. So if I’m totally honest, LA has never been at the top of my bucket list, but this post makes me rethink that. I would lovw to paddle board, see a ply, and stroll along the Venice Beach boardwalk.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 24, 2017 at 8:36 pm // Reply

      I get it. I never thought I’d live here. It’s hard to pin this place down because every neighborhood is so different. They key is to find the place that works for you and start exploring from there.

  22. I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to try any of the restaurants you mentioned when I was out there before. It sounds like I missed out on some good food. I’ll keep them in mind for whenever I make it back there.

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 24, 2017 at 10:00 pm // Reply

      Next time, for sure! Though with more than 8,500 restaurants in LA, you have a lot of great restaurants to sample wherever you are in the city. 🙂

  23. I live in LA too and you’re right that it’s tough to write an ultimate guide to such a huge city. I always love going down to the beach even though I live in the valley.I just did a fun happy hour at Herringbone in Santa Monica. Great seafood and a fun atmosphere. I also did a write up on Flower Child, also in Santa Monica. A Hornblower cruise of Marina Del Rey is always fun.
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  24. I have only been to LA once and I think I didn’t rush back because I found it kind of overwhelming because of all the driving. It’s nice to have someone give me al these tips to help plan better next time because it has so much to offer! Looking forward to other posts:)

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 26, 2017 at 3:44 pm // Reply

      It can be so overwhelming. I’ve been here a long time, and it can still impact me that way. But I’m glad the post gave some guidance to help with planning!

  25. LA Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats series, which, in transport-through-time-without-a-DeLorean fashion, opens up long-defunct venues like the Los Angeles Theatre and the Million Dollar Theatre for screenings of classic movies for just a few nights during the year.

    • PatriciaSteffy // July 15, 2017 at 2:30 pm // Reply

      We love the LA Conservancy! We did Last Remaining Seats to see Citizen Kane at the Orpheum. And they have some incredible walking tours of downtown that are a must!

  26. The Getty Center is one of the most visited museums in the US, with modern architecture, gardens, and awesome views overlooking Los Angeles.

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