Venice & Santa Monica
Lifeguard huts, boardwalks and bicycles. These signature seaside items might come to mind when you think about Los Angeles, but they’re specific to the Venice and Santa Monica portion of the city of angels. Drop into this corner of the world any time of year and you’re bound to feel horribly out of shape, among a population that lives, breathes and to some extent breeds the next generation of health and wellness. Owing to Los Angeles’ size, we’ve published separate guides for Downtown and Hollywood are coming in January 2018, but this city guide will focus on running, cycling and swimming in Venice and Santa Monica, where rooftop bars are undermined by the beach and boutique health.
To make the most of this guide, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Venice and Santa Monica. Exact hours aren’t indicated unless very restrictive, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in Directory link directly to the Google Maps profile of the given entity – click on the venue’s name to generate directions. Finally, a Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for accommodation and fuelling during your time in Venice and Santa Monica.
Orientation & Logistics
Venice and Santa Monica are the two main beachside cities of Los Angeles County, known for their relaxed tempo and emphasis on surf and sun. Occupying the space north of Los Angeles Marina to the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood and the bumpier terrain of the Santa Monica Mountains, Venice and Santa Monica have done well to locate themselves in some of the most alluring coastal settings for running, cycling and swimming.
It’s tempting to pin down accommodation in either Venice or Santa Monica and start planning trips to Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles, so first note that the beach towns are roughly 12 miles west / south-west of their urban counterparts. With Los Angeles’ sluggish freeways, multi-stop bus routes and slow metro service, hopping between beach and city lights can be tiring and not something you want to attempt regularly, whether by public transit or private vehicle. When making the choice on where to stay in the city, bringing your daily commitments into the mix would be a wise decision.
Santa Monica reaches back to 35th Street and with Venice’s municipal end point being on Walgrove Avenue, roughly the extension of 23rd Street (numbered streets running parallel to ocean). Major east-west boulevards include the following, working from North to South: Montana, Wilshire, Santa Monica and Colorado Avenue to the north of the Interstate 10, and Pico, Ocean Park, Rose and Venice to the South.
Los Angeles has a desert-like climate, with dry hot summers and warm winter days with cold nights. The lack of humidity means summer evenings are usually warm-to-cool, while winter nighttime temperatures hover around 8°C from December through February. Sea temperatures in the winter hang around 15°C, rising as high as 25°C by the end of the summer. On the Winter Solstice, sunrise is around 6:55am, sunset taking place at 4:48pm.
Though Venice and Santa Monica don’t have any hills to speak of, their infrastructure for running on tarmac or taking on trails isn’t bad at all. Finding hills is about being imaginative – you’ll at least find some slopes arching over Marine Hill which provide 3% elevation and are dead quiet early in the morning.
As for your regular longer run on tarmac: The beachfronts between Venice and Santa Monica are continuous, connected by a concrete beach boardwalk that makes an attractive south-north routing with gentle bends. The 10-ft-wide path, 26-mile pathway is open to cyclists, in-line skaters and walkers, with runners making up a significant portion of the entire crowd.
You’ll find a good running track at Santa Monica College, located at the corner of 16th Street and Pico Boulevard right next to Santa Monica Swim Center (jump to swimming). The College’s athletics track is enclosed within the Corsair Stadium, providing enough space for an 8-lane, 400m loop with regular bends and straights. Enter the track from the south-east corner on Pearl Street.
LA Running Club opt for Santa Monica High School for their Wednesday evening sessions starting at 6:30pm – ultimately this track is nearer to the beach, but the bends are irregular. Lincoln High School to the north will be another option once its new surface is complete early in 2018.
The Santa Monica Hills begin half a mile north of the U.C.L.A. campus, with trails leaping into the impressive topography that hundreds of Los Angelean rooftops try to replicate. To find trails, head to the Santa Monica Hills which start to rise up to the north and west of the Brentwood and Pacific Palisades neighbourhoods. Three directions are possible, working from east to west towards the ocean: Mandeville Canyon for gentler fire trails, Will Rogers Historic State Park for steeper ascents, as well as Temescal Gateway.
The Westridge Fire Road skirts the western side of Mandeville Canyon, continuing for 5.6km with a lovely 4% average incline that totals at just over 200m elevation gain, topping out at San Vicente Mountain. Along this route, you’ll find a tarmac strip as well as a more discreet trail running parallel to it, for trail runners. The trailhead itself can be found where Westridge Road (residential) becomes W Mandeville Canyon Road on Google Maps (between house numbers #2651 and #2652). Once you top-out, there is an option to double back on yourself or make a loop clockwise on the other side of Mandeville Canyon Road by going across Mulholland Fire Road, and down Canyonback Ridge to Hollyhock Fire Road.
Will Rogers State Park has a trail working up to Inspiration Point over 2.8km at 7%, with gentler options heading out from the car park. To the left (West), Rivas Canyon Trail reaches over to Temescal Gateway Park over 3.4km with less than 50m of climbing. To the right (East), is Rustic Canyon which is an unmaintained trail that links drives up along the Will Rodgers Trail. This path does link to a “Connector” trail that loops over to Backbone Trail, the natural extension of Inspiration Point. So if you wanted to make a larger day out of your visit to Will Rogers State Park: Head up Inspiration Point, along Backbone, down Connector and right onto Will Rogers Trail and back to the parking lot to close out c. 14km of trail.
One lump along is Temescal Gateway Park, where Shadow Mountain Drive Climb works up the hill in the same northerly direction as climbs from Will Rogers State Park. Make a clockwise loop with your descent and complete a 5km route.
Trips to these trails will entice you to explore Brentwood and the magnificent U.C.L.A. campus, a huge piece of urban land that includes a brilliant athletics track (Drake Stadium), 50m swimming pool and Olympic gym, all accessible to the general public. Check-in at John R. Wooden Recreation and Sports Center and get a day pass for $10 – all hours published here.
Cutting up the coast on the 101 is the simplest way to get to very good, undisrupted riding within 20 minutes of Santa Monica. The 26-mile Beach Boardwalk might be heralded by tourists but it’s only pleasurable if you ride before 8am – from 9am you find yourself playing skittles with cruisers. Then there is an amount of city riding to do – always excellent for exploring the city, but varying in safety if you’re looking for continuous riding.
Big groups are well versed with the 101 – the shoulder is wide a few lights means you can keep the ride together until you start on the climbs. And climbs start fairly suddenly, doing their best to work through or around the Pacific-facing hills in the Santa Monica Mountains. Among the most popular are “Canyon Roads” Topanga, Tuna, Las Flores , Malibu and Latigo, jutting up to right after The Getty Villa, in this order from south to north. This sequence of roads also informs possible descents, but note that Tuna is a one-way street, available to descenders only.
If you were to choose one entire route to get yourself orientated: head up the coast, stopping at Malibu Farm Cafe as you start to roll into Malibu proper. After grabbing a coffee and snack, continue in the same direction, first taking a right on the discreet Webb Way, then the first left to get your onto Malibu Canyon Road. This will guide you up into the mountains with some traffic moving fast without a huge shoulder. Brave this until Piuma Road where you can take on a delightful bunch of harpins up to the firestation at the top of Las Flores, signposting your descent to sea level and return to Santa Monica. In total, this route will clock you nearly 65km and 1000vm – see the full Strava readout.
Forgetting Malibu and focusing on the city a little more: Mandeville Canyon starts out in Brentwood and continues for 8 kilometres at an average incline of 3%. The road dead ends at the base of San Vicente Mountain so you’ll have to enjoy a descent right back on yourself, or even take a right onto Westridge and complete another climb before your final descent on the 25km full loop.
A good piece of infrastructure for a casual rides, exploratory ride is the Ballona Creek bike path which connects Playa del Rey with Culver City along a 7-mile tarmac stretch. The path allows for continuous riding, and their website indicates the dozen access points from the city’s main roads.
Bike rental in Santa Monica and Venice goes three ways. Either you join the Rapha Cycle Club (RCC) for $200 per year and rent a Canyon from their fleet, or you look to two other providers in the area, Helen’s Cycles and Cynergy Cycles. Whereas Rapha offer brilliant service with a simple check-out procedure a consistency of product, Helen’s and Cynergy have a more expensive daily rentals and much stricter deposit process.
If you’re looking for a group bike ride from Santa Monica, note that Rapha organise regular rides from their location on 4th Street and have the necessary snacks to grab before you set out. Helen’s Cycles organise a group ride on the first Saturday of every month
Flying into Los Angeles International or Burbank Airport reveals no shortage of swimming pools, usually cut out in the odd dimensions of a truly recreational pool. Fortunately, Los Angeles takes its competitive swimming fairly seriously and has a number of excellent Olympic pools available to the public, as well as the prospect which lured people to the seaboard in first place – the very swimmable beaches.
Adjacent to Santa Monica College’s Corsair Stadium is Santa Monica Swim Center, a brilliant swimming pool used by the best in the neighbourhood. Take a look at swim hours to plan your workout and note the $7 drop-in fee (pay in cash or by card).
You’ll also find groups going swimming in the Pacific 12 months of the year. Tower 26 are a prestigious swimming group who have an open water workout on Wednesday mornings at 6am from May through October opposite tower #23, roughly one mile south of Santa Monica Pier. Their early morning, mid-morning and evening sessions cater for any schedule, taking place at Palisades High School. Whether you are looking to join Tower 26 for their open water or pool sessions, contact Coach Gerry Rodrigues to flag your interest, indicate your swimming background and goals. The drop-in costs for sessions is $20.
A visit to Venice wouldn’t be complete without at least swinging by Gold’s Gym and contemplating a class at Barry’s Bootcamp on Lincoln Boulevard. Gold’s is an absolute spectacle and an historic facility in the world of strength, and Barry’s have a number of classes that make sense for the jet-lagged runner – their music and dimly lit studios are alarmingly effective. Single class passes are available for their run / free weights interval sessions – the whole event lasts less than 45 minutes and classes start from 5:30am.
Near to Barry’s Bootcamp is a simple but suitable barbell gym, Venice Barbell Club. Though there aren’t showers, you can make up for what vanity you’ll miss in the mirror and do your entire session in the open air. VBC’s outdoor gym space is closed off from the street so you don’t need to worry about onlookers.
Another outstanding and quintessentially Southern Californian facility is TriFit, an impressive campus dedicated to the multi-sport that first started 100 miles south in San Diego. TriFit have a developed programme for triathletes, including events, classes, full gym and a 25-yard pool (three lanes). They also test for lactate threshold, resting metabolic rates (EMR & RMR) and biometrics (body composition and blood glucose). It’s one of the three U.S.A. Triathlon (USAT) certified training centers in the country, so comes with a big blue and red stamp of approval. Drop-in fee is $25, which includes full locker room access, towel service, gym, dry sauna, three-hours of complimentary parking, and unlimited group classes.
Sleeping & Eating
Choosing between Venice and Santa Monica is a case of selecting the edgy and the more established. Each area leans towards the ocean, but Venice has an alternative edge, reinforced by more skaters, slower cruisers and less clothing.
The Palihouse Santa Monica is remarkably quiet, set back from the pedestrianised Third Street Boulevard. Unlike most L.A. hotels, Palihouse don’t allow visitors and with no on-site restaurant, the hotel positions itself as a residency for longer stays, or at least those limping off from the finish line of the L.A. Marathon which finishes 300m from the hotel’s doorstep.
More centrally located is Shore Hotel which has beach frontage one block from Santa Monica Pier. While this “Sleek and Sustainable” hotel puts you right into the middle of the Santa Monica-Venice axis, the hotel is at the bottleneck of the Santa Monica tourist route. The benefit of this proximity is that you’ll practically be able to fall out of your bed and make it to the Beachwalk for your morning run, as well Muscle Beach’s workout area 100m south of the Pier. Complaining about that convenience would be blasphemous.
Staying in Venice does have a more compact feel to it – the overall area is navigable by foot in a pair of evenings. An excellent motel-style half a block from the beach is The Rose Hotel, fitted with crisp furnishings that point to the original beach resort heritage of this fair town.
Working back from Venice is an appropriate swing for healthy food and coffee, since Venice seems to be the epicenter of it all. Up the road from The Rose Hotel is the Rose Cafe-Restaurant, a robust complex serving Venetians from breakfast until the evening. The breakfast burrito is defensible throughout the day, and their import of Verve coffee from Santa Cruz is practically treachery given the short list of options on Main Street.
Continue even further up Rose Street and you’ll arrive at Cafe Gratitude, a burgeoning brand in the city of angels. Gratitude verges on cult with its signature way of ordering food using positive moods and adjectives to title their meals. For example, I’m Thriving and Dazzling = I would like to order the chef’s seasonal soup and the kale Caesar salad (verify by looking at the Venice menu yourself). Gratitude have five other venues in Beverly Hills and Arts District, if you find yourself in town.
There is also Stretch Lab opposite – certainly the frontier of the health revolution. If you do make it to Barry’s Bootcamp, nurse your wounds with a coffee and light snack at The Flowerboy Project. Barry’s smoothies are also excellent and available to pre-order before your workout.
To the south of Rose on Abbot Kinney, Gjelina from Venice’s renowned restauranteur, Fran Camaj, also responsible for eat-in bakery Gjusta which is just off Rose. A stone’s throw from Gjelina is the illuminating Intelligentsia and Whole Foods-esque Erewhon Market, good for healthy lunches to grab-and-go. The Four Sigmatic Shroom Room is a shoebox-sized unit down a bleached white alley at 1629 Abbot Kinney – drop in here to sample the latest health food.
North of Rose Street is Main Street, the extension of Abbot Kinney, or at least an equivalent focal point. Here you’ll find Bulletproof Coffee who have a full spread. Continue further into Santa Monica and you’ll find breakfast at Huckleberry Cafe and coffee in the shape of Caffe Luxxe and Demitasse, who each have additional doorways in other parts of Los Angeles.
Corsair Stadium: no number
Mandeville Canyon Park: no number
Muscle Beach: no number