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A pocket of diversity

Friday, May 25, 2012

I practically picked Venice Beach out of a hat when I was pondering where to stay in Southern California. On one hand, I wanted to visit part of my family and my friends in the Los Angeles area, but I had a great desire to be by the water and not have to drive a car for the first week of my trip. I asked a few people about the area, but most thought I should choose Santa Monica instead because for them Venice Beach was crazy and a bit weird. Fortunately, they were unable to persuade me to change my mind. I knew virtually nothing about Venice Beach and was eager to discover it for myself.

After my long flight from Florence, I took a stroll along the beachfront street in search of a restaurant. I was a bit surprised by all the (possibly homeless) people sitting or lying down along the grassy area that bordered the beach. They seemed harmless and actually quite friendly. When I walked past one older gentleman who was selling his artwork, he glanced at me and said with a big smile, “I love women with short hair.”

Venice Beach is so different from the California that I’m used to visiting. I didn’t see any of the typical shops, fast food chain restaurants, or coffee shops that I normally see in our strip malls and shopping centers. There weren’t any big businesses unless you count the many pharmacies (spelled “farmacies”) that were selling medical marijuana and cannabis. I walked into one pharmacy in the hopes of buying a bottle of water, but had to walk out when my head began to get a little fuzzy.

At times when I ran down the street in the morning, I had to dash to the bicycle path and avoid the crowds so as not to inhale the strong waves of (mostly marijuana) smoke and alcohol that wafted in the air. Funnily enough, I felt quite safe even though I saw a couple of arrests take place and looked out my window to see police cars circling the area at all hours of the day and night.

I chose not to focus on some of the dirtier parts of the city and reveled in the amazing diversity all around me as well as the long, sandy beach and Abbott Kinney Boulevard where I enjoyed perusing lovely shops and eating in delightful restaurants. I particularly enjoyed all the healthy food I was able to eat. I had sushi made with brown rice, smoothies with spinach and fruit in them, and salads made with organic vegetables.

I loved my week in Venice Beach where I could freely walk around, dip my toe (and only my toe) in the ocean, and run along the beach. I reveled in a city filled with such great diversity: tattoo parlors, street vendors, ethnic restaurants, unique boutiques, and artsy shops. I found Venice Beach to be a lovely mix of what America is all about: the coexistence of cultures, classes, and lifestyles. The next time I go back to Southern California, I hope to return to Venice Beach where I will relax and embrace the city oncer again.

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