Los Angeles is the land of the beautiful people and home of the overpriced drinks. I’ve lived in LA for all of my adult life, and I’m still not used to the $17 cocktails (nor will I ever be). Despite the damage to my bank account, I genuinely love it here. You truly can’t beat the year-round sunshine, captivating ocean views, and endless supply of rooftop bars or glamorous late-night events.
While exclusive Hollywood Hills parties and boujee, influencer-packed restaurants are fun, I typically prefer a more laidback scene. That’s why I spend a lot of my free time on what we locals call the “West Side.” More specifically, I often find myself in Venice Beach.
If there’s one neighborhood that brings a little more color and character into an otherwise posh (and sometimes isolated-feeling) city, it’s Venice Beach. From vibrant graffiti murals painted on the sides of gas stations to beachgoers cruising down the boardwalk in rainbow rollerskates, Venice is the epitome of the California dream… but a little weirder and therefore more fun. If you’re not familiar, you might recognize the iconic Venice Boardwalk from a legendary Red Hot Chillie Peppers music video. Or maybe you’ve spotted it in the backgrounds of classic LA-based films like Lords of Dogtown.
Although the eccentricity is tenfold compared to other parts of LA, Venice’s prices don’t differ much from the rest of the city. Meaning generally expensive. But contrary to popular belief, there are ways to make an oceanside vacation in LA’s most vibrant neighborhood affordable without skimping on all that it has to offer. If you’re ready to check this Los Angeles gem off your bucket list without blowing all your cash, keep reading for my budget-friendly guide to Venice Beach, California.
PART I – Where to Stay
The best part of Venice is immersing yourself in all of the wackiness that can be found there. On any given day, you might stumble upon sword-swallowing street performers, drum circles on the beach, artists creating immaculate sand sculptures, and tipsy tourists who may have had one too many drinks at the Venice Whaler. Luckily, you don’t need to stay in any swanky five-star hotel to score accommodations in the thick of the fun. Book a bed at Stay Open for an elevated hostel experience, right on the boardwalk.
Stay Open is artistically decorated and super Instagrammable, always a plus. The co-living space has a shared kitchen and lounging area, so it’s easy to connect with others and make friends if you’re a solo traveler. When I spent the night at Stay Open, I felt instantly welcomed and invited into the festivities. One of the other guests was a chef from Dallas, Texas who was happy to cook burgers for dinner. Someone else showed off their impressive amateur bartending skills by making everyone margaritas to wash their meals down. Although I was only at Stay Open for one night, it really did feel like an inclusive and safe community.
The best part about Stay Open, though? Instead of reserving a bed with a curtain, like older-style Euro hostels, you get your very own sleeping pod. It’s literally like a cocoon in the form of a bunk bed. Closing the door to your pod makes for a dark, quiet, and private space for sleeping and downtime. Each pod includes its own twin bed (it’s seriously so cozy!), USB outlets, complimentary WiFi, and an LED light system. So you can do your late-night reading or get home after dark without worrying about waking the other guests.
Learn more about Stay Open and book a pod of your own here.
If shared living spaces aren’t your thing, check out The Kinney. With guest rooms hovering around $200 per night, this young-minded, party-centric hotel serves up everything that Venice is all about. It’s complete with bold, in-your-face designs, an outdoor courtyard with ping pong tables and firepits, as well a heated pool and spa. It’s the ultimate laidback hotspot for energetic adventurers and partiers.
Just one block from the bustling shopping and dining hub of Abbot Kinney Boulevard (hence, the name), The Kinney couldn’t be in a more prime location. It’s walking distance to the beach, of course, but it’s also conveniently located near some of the best Venice restaurants and bars. Right now, The Kinney is running a seasonal promotion for 25% off your stay, so you can get even more bang for your buck.
Use the promo code FALLSAVE and book your room here.
PART II – Where to Play
Walk or Bike on the Venice Beach Boardwalk
Besides the early morning marine layer, you can pretty much expect sunny skies year-round in LA. There really isn’t a bad time to visit. If you’re trying to save on cash, the good news is you don’t need much to have a great time in Venice. You’re on the beach, after all! But if you get sick of lounging in the sand, take a walk or bike ride down the famous Venice Boardwalk. (Tip: If you book a pod at Stay Open, you can use their complimentary guest bikes.)
You’ll cruise by a slew of art, jewelry, food, and souvenir vendors that sell one-of-a-kind trinkets for only a few bucks. If you’re feeling dangerous, you can even get yourself a tattoo right on the boardwalk. Well, a henna tattoo that washes off after a couple of weeks. This boardwalk is probably one of the top three people-watching spots on the planet. Am I exaggerating? No, not at all. As I already mentioned, there are street performers every few hundred feet – from dance groups and acrobats to musicians and painters. You’re never short of entertainment.
If you’re one for outdoor sports and fitness, you’ll be happy to learn that the boardwalk leads to a skate park, outdoor gym, basketball courts, and plenty of open space for a quick sweat session. The skate park always makes for a good show, even if you don’t skate yourself. I love stopping to watch the skaters of all ages fly around the half-pipes and launching into the air. Sometimes you can even catch a Livestream of the action on the Venice Skate Park’s Facebook page here.
Along the boardwalk are also tons of sit-down restaurants, bars packed with day drinkers, and boutique retail shops. When you get wiped out from all the busyness, grab a bite or drink to-go and chill out in the grass areas under the cool shade of a palm tree.
To find out more about the many wonders of the Venice Beach Boardwalk, click here.
Explore the Abbot Kinney Art Scene
If you’re looking for some more free fun and creative inspiration, make your way to Abbot Kinney Blvd. Aside from the trendy restaurant and shopping scenes, there is a passionate community of art lovers. Abbot Kinney is home to several art galleries, including Art Unified, The G2 Gallery, and the Hamilton Press Gallery. With these creative spaces all within walking distance of each other, you can make your own Venice art crawl.
Not only are there galleries to peruse, but the streets are filled with beautiful works of art, too. Graffiti painted on the sidewalk, street art, and giant murals plastered on the sides of buildings can be found on every corner of Abbot Kinney. The entire mile-long boulevard is like its own outdoor gallery. You don’t want to miss it!
Check out all of the shops, galleries, and restaurants on Abbot Kinney here.
PART III – Where to Eat
The Butcher’s Daughter
Contrary to what you might expect based on the name, The Butcher’s Daughter is a plant-based restaurant, cafe, and juice bar. The healthy hotspot serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch so it makes for a delicious meal at any point in the day. If you go for brunch, order the Seasonal Waffle. It’s made with green tea and lemon verbena then topped with peach compote and plant-based chantilly cream – and it’s only $15. Savory, sweet, and tart all in one? Mmm…yes, please. Pair it with the Mimosa Flight for the brunch experience of your dreams. You get to select the base of each mimosa from the menu of fresh-pressed juices, so you can at least pretend it’s a healthy morning drink.
If you go to The Butcher’s Daughter for dinner, you’ll definitely want to try one of the restaurant’s stone oven pizzas. I am a loyal member of the fruit-on-pizza gang, so my go-to is the Dolce Picante Pizza. It’s topped with stone fruit, Calabrian chili, cauliflower bechamel, arugula, and feta. The plethora of flavors and textures packed into every bite is unbeatable. However, if you’re a fruity pizza hater, there are plenty of other classic dishes you’re sure to love on the menu.
Browse through The Butcher’s Daughter’s daytime, evening, and drink menus here.
Maybe it’s the Italian in me speaking, but you can never go wrong with any combination of cheese and carbs. That’s why I love Forma. Yes, it’s named in honor of formaggio — Italian for cheese — a promise which makes perusing the menu all the more enticing. Forma has a wide variety of main course meals, but it’s the small plates and sides that make it worth the visit. This is the kind of place that’s great to go with a group before a night out on the town. With many sharable options on the menu, it’s easy to order a ton of food for the table and split the check for an affordable pre-party dinner. My favorite shareables are the charcuterie board (a classic wine night essential) and the gnocco fritto, which is fried pizza dough, burrata, and tomato sauce spread (for only $9).
What really makes the Forma menu stand out, though, is the cheese bar. Let me repeat, a cheese bar. You can conduct your own cheese tasting by curating a plate of the restaurant’s selection of more than 50 cheeses. This selection also includes a few vegan cheese options, so all you dairy-free folks can join in as well.
In addition to splitting appetizers among your group, you can also get a bottle of wine to complement your food. If you down your bottle before you’re even halfway through dinner, try one of Forma’s signature cocktails. These are on the pricier side of things, but it’s worth splurging on at least one. I order the “Hot Stuff” cocktail, which seems like Forma’s take on a spicy margarita with an Italian twist. It’s made with tequila, Aperol, ginger, fresh lime, grapefruit, jalapeno, and mint. It is a whole mess of flavors that somehow blend together to form a tart and zesty refreshment.
Ready to dig in yet? Check out the full Forma menu here.
PART IV – Where to Party
High Rooftop Lounge
There’s a special place in my heart for rooftop bars. Sunshine, great views, and daytime cocktails are the key ingredients for a great time. I’ve been to most of the popular rooftops in every neighborhood of LA, and High Rooftop Lounge continues to rank at the top of my list. Sitting above Hotel Erwin, this trendy yet laidback bar offers one of the best views in Venice. Take a walk around the bar’s perimeter and you’ll get a full 360-degree view. On one side is the heart of the Venice Boardwalk and the Pacific Ocean, and on the other side is a view of the city, including the Downtown skyline and Hollywood Hills. (Tip: Check the weather forecast and make a reservation during sunset. High Rooftop Lounge has an incredible view of the sun setting over the horizon each night.)
Although it’s much of what contributes to the good vibes and carefree ambiance, the picturesque views aren’t the only thing High Rooftop Lounge has to offer. The beer, wine, cocktail list, and full bar are fully stocked with everything you need for a boozy beverage. Maybe it’s the quirky (and fitting) name that draws me in, but I always order the “LA Woman” cocktail — a concoction of vodka, prickly pear, lemon, and dragon fruit. On an extra hot day, I’ll go for the LA Palomita Slushee, a frozen blend of tequila and grapefruit. All of the specialty cocktails embody the endless sunshine energy that flows through all of Venice, and it’s hard to resist trying each one on the menu. If you go to High Rooftop Lounge in the fall or winter, they also have a seasonal selection of hot cocktails to choose from.
If you want to sip on a variety of drinks without going overboard on the check, head up to the rooftop between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday for happy hour. The happy hour menu features food and drink specials all for $10 or less. Staying at Hotel Erwin is also a great option if you want the rooftop views and easy boardwalk access within only a few steps from your room. Use code “STAY & PLAY” when you book a room for 30% off and waived facility fees.
See the High Rooftop Lounge 360-view for yourself by clicking here.
Just a short walk on the boardwalk from High Rooftop Lounge is another one of my favorite spots called The Waterfront. It’s a beer garden and restaurant all in one, which makes for a chill, welcoming environment. It’s like a backyard summer barbecue packed full of young partiers and tourists alike, making it easy to mingle. The Waterfront is generally pretty rowdy on a nice weekend day since it’s an up-and-coming party scene (it just opened a few years ago in 2018). The line to get in can get long, so get there early if you’re going on a sunny Saturday afternoon. If you do get stuck in a line, though, it’s totally worth the wait.
I can’t go to The Waterfront without ordering at least one Frosé, a frozen mix of watermelon and rosé wine with coconut water, lime, lavender, and Lillet (and garnished with a cute little flower on top for fun). It’s like drinking a sweet boozy cup of frozen candy. If you’re not one for fruity pink drinks, there are plenty of draft beers and wine waiting for you behind the bar. As of right now, The Waterfront doesn’t serve any hard alcohol. This is good news for budget vacationers since wine and beer are cheaper, and if you’re a lightweight like me, they’re still equally effective.
View The Waterfront’s full menu of food and drinks here.