Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first in our new blog series Staycation Tour! I’m hitting the road and taking you with me on a tour of my favorite, unique California weekend getaway spots that are perfect for creative business bosses. This week, you’re joining me for a trip to Venice Beach and a few nights at my favorite hotel in town Hotel Erwin. Check out a full gallery of photos at the bottom of this post.
“Venice Beach takes care of Venice Beach,” said our waitress at the iconic restaurant The Rose in Venice, CA after she finished telling us the end of the origin story behind the tattoo on her forearm. I usually don’t ask people about their tattoos. Even though they’re a public-facing thing, there’s something intensely personal about them and I don’t want to be the person who forces a stranger to relive the death of their grandma after dropping off a bowl of lobster rigatoni. But something told me it was okay to ask our waitress about the scripted lettering that read Venice on her arm.
Luckily, she seemed happy to share the story about how she was attacked on a public bus in Venice Beach one night and someone else on the bus stepped in and saved her. His response when she thanked him was, “Venice takes care of Venice.” That good samaritan happened to be a tattoo artist and he gave her that tattoo to remind her that Venice always had her back.
it's been 20 years since venice first had my back...
In my early 20s, I started my art career on the boardwalk there. That was a rough year for me. I’d dropped out of grad school in San Francisco to move to LA with my friend Paige to be an artist. I ended up sleeping on a bean bag in a tiny doorless room in a one-bedroom apartment with Paige and a few other girls who were also “trying to make it” doing something creative. Just after sunrise, Paige and I would grab the blanket from the “bed” (technically a bean bag) pack up a milk crate with our paintings and head out from Hollywood to Venice on the 10 freeway in a rusty truck that her ex lent her with broken seatbelts and we’d spend the day sitting on the sidewalk trying to sell our art to Midwestern tourists.
It didn’t take long for a few of the other artists on the boardwalk to take us under their wing. They were homeless and slept in nearby alleys so they were on the boardwalk bright and early and started saving good spots for us. On days when we didn’t sell paintings and needed gas money to get back to Hollywood, they’d pitch in. And if any of us made a big sale, well, on those days we ALL ate burritos from the taco stand.
Returning to Venice Beach two decades later felt strange but wonderful. Walking down the boardwalk, seeing the artists there… the memories of those summer days I spent there fueled by my burning desire to find a way to make a living with my art rushed back. But I wasn’t a local anymore. This time, I’m here as a tourist. And, I looked like one. In my nice clothes and fancy sunglasses. Staying at a hotel instead of crashing on a bean bag. But, even now, as an interloper, Venice welcomed me.
The Hotel Erwin invited my husband and I to stay for a weekend and get to know Venice Beach again. As I drove the familiar 10 freeway, this time in my own car with a working seatbelt, I felt nervous the way you would if you were meeting up with an ex for lunch. Even though you’d both moved on, you wondered if there was still any common ground or maybe even a spark.
When we arrived at the Hotel Erwin my anxiety melted. The Erwin is just a block from those iconic V E N I C E lights strung across Pacific Ave, it’s right there in the heart of my wild days and of so many other people’s reckless youth too. It was a block from the beach, a half a block from the little strip with a vintage store, a coffee shop and the Chinese restaurant Mao’s Kitchen where no matter how broke I was I could always get a delicious $1 salad. Seeing some still-standing familiar spots and the welcoming staff at the hotel made me feel good to be back.
When I saw our room at the Hotel Erwin with the mustard yellow velvet couch, rattan chair, ocean view balcony, pops of orange and green and retro charm in every corner I second guessed our plans to go out and explore. But, even though I wanted to spend every minute I could in that cool room, I’m glad we pushed ourselves outside and into the afternoon sun.
In all the time I spent in Venice Beach, I never hung out on Abbot Kinney. Back then I was more of a “40 oz. beer in a brown paper bag” than fancy cocktail lady but the latter was exactly what we were looking for, so we walked to Abbot Kinney and stumbled upon Roosterfish and its great cocktails and a mural-filled patio. Then we wandered up and down the street window shopping and people watching. The old me would have scoffed at the new me, making my husband take photos of me in front of all the colorful murals we passed on the way back to the Hotel Erwin.
Our afternoon buzz wore off just in time for a sunset cocktail (I highly recommend the Spanish Caravan… passionfruit, mezcal and green chartreuse) and some fries with blistered shishito peppers (seriously some of the best fries I’ve ever had) at the High Rooftop Lounge back at the hotel. We sat on the roof of the Hotel Erwin, cocktails in hand watching the sunset on the beach. It was one of those perfect moments that makes you grateful and fills you up. In fact, it was so good that instead of trying to top it, we opted to stay in for the rest of the night. By 8pm we were in our PJ’s, sprawled out on that extra long vintage-inspired couch, eating take out from Mao’s Kitchen (that $1 salad was just as good as I remembered) and streaming Schitt’s Creek on the big TV in our suite’s living room.
The next morning I finally got to try an Eggslut breakfast sandwich which was 100% worth all the hype. Then we crammed a week’s worth of adventures into a single day. We walked down to the beach and I spent a good hour standing in the ocean letting all of those negative ions wash over me then I sat on the beach and read. We rented bikes, rode along the beach and then down to Baja Cantina in Marina Del Rey for tacos and a margarita flight on their sand floor patio for a very Margaritaville moment.
We walked along the boardwalk and I told my husband stories about places I used to go and the ways things used to be. We rode bikes back to Abbott Kinney and I had scoops of lavender honey and pear & blue cheese ice cream at Salt & Straw. We walked through the Venice Canals and picked out our dream houses. We went vintage shopping at Gotta Have it Vintage. The woman behind the counter and I got to talking and she looked surprised when I told her that I used to work in a vintage shop and that I spent a summer selling my art on the boardwalk. Somehow, my husband and I managed to squeeze in one of those perfect late afternoon naps that only seem possible on the pressed white sheets of a comfortable hotel bed. We kept the bedroom window open and the smells of the sea and sounds of the city floated in.
We woke up with just enough time to change and go back up to the roof to meet my friend Paige (yes, THAT Paige circa my Venice beach boardwalk days!) and her partner for drinks at High on the roof at Hotel Erwin before dinner. We caught the sunset once again as Paige and I drank negronis and talked about the old days on the boardwalk. Splitting a burrito. Hoping to sell a painting so we’d have the gas money to get back to Hollywood. How nothing beat a $1 bag of warm mini donuts from the vendor who was set up across from us. All the lessons we learned about community over competition from the artists who welcomed us into their crew. How those days in Venice Beach led us both to our current careers, her running Tierra del Sol Gallery (in LA’s Chinatown) which shows art created by people with developmental disabilities and me creating events, education and community for creatives and small business owners through Dear Handmade Life. I can’t help but think about how vital and transformative that summer was for both of us, over 20 years ago, in Venice Beach. Neither of us realized it at the time. We were just hoping to sell enough art to pay our share of the rent in that one-bedroom apartment.
We finished our drinks and headed to The Rose, which was much fancier than I remembered. We had one of those meals that reminds you that cooking truly is an art form and that a single plate of pasta can be as gorgeous and memorable as any painting in a museum.
And, that’s where our waitress told us the story of how she got her tattoo. I didn’t tell her about my own Venice history. Instead I just listened and watched her face light up with pride as she talked about the place where she lived. I hadn’t thought about it like that before but from the day I arrived there, Venice took care of me, too.
Even when my pockets were empty, shared burritos and $1 salads and mini donuts made sure I never went hungry.
Even when I didn’t know how I would do it, that boardwalk began to carve a path for me to make a living with my art.
And, even when I’d been away for so long, Venice welcomed me back with open arms.
All the artists I knew were gone and so was the guy who carved mermaids out of sand next to my spot on the boardwalk. And even after walking up and down the boardwalk several times I couldn’t find that mini donut guy whose warm cinnamon sugar donuts fed me so many cold mornings.
venice beach isn't the same.... but neither am I...
My love affair with Venice may be over now, but that’s ok!
I’m happy being exes who are just getting to know each other again.
And even though no one there knows me anymore…
and everyone could tell I was just another tourist…
Venice Beach still had my back – and as cheesy as it sounds – a little piece of my heart.
Click play below to watch a short video I made about my adventures in Venice Beach.
CLICK ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE.