Bike ride from Venice Beach to Santa Monica means sun, surf, strange sightings

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VENICE BEACH, Calif. - On one side is a wide swath of beach, where waves from the Pacific crash into the shore. On the other is a mishmash of cafes, street performers and vendors.
But it's what lies in between that draws visitors and locals alike - 4 1/2 kilometres of boardwalk between Venice Beach and Santa Monica. This is one sweet spot for a bike ride.
"We're going biking on the boardwalk," laughed an apprehensive Rebecca Wilhite, who hails from Hartford, Conn.
"I haven't been on a bicycle in a good 25 years, so it'll be a good time."
There are many places to get your hands on a mountain bike or, better still, a cruiser. Rental shacks along the boardwalk offer bikes for $7 an hour or about $23 per day. Tandem bikes and ones with baby seats are also available.
Wilhite and her teenage niece, Abby Krill, found the Venice Fishing Pier a good place to start.
Krill, perched on the seat and ready to put the pedal to the metal, was optimistic about the ride.
"I haven't been biking in a while either and ... Rollerblading didn't work out too well for me. I figure biking, I know what to do," she said confidently.
So, with the ocean breeze in their hair and smiles on their faces, the pair set off.
The bike path is really more like a wide sidewalk that winds its way along the beach between the soaring palm trees. Cruising along on a bike is a great way to check out the funky atmosphere of Venice Beach - but what fun would it be without a few stops along the way?
On Ocean Front Walk, which runs parallel to the bike path, the sights abound.
Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be there pumping iron anymore but Muscle Beach is still worth a look. The outdoor gym offers a chance to watch body builders in action, and for a few bucks you can lift some weights yourself.
If the ride or workout makes you hungry, make a pit stop at the nearby Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom. The chain is well known across Southern California, but according to Jody's website it was on the Venice Beach boardwalk where the "haut dog" was born.
A menu listing more than 24 varieties of gourmet sausage, along with grilled onions and peppers, might make your mouth water.
Give your tush a break and open up your wallet for some eclectic artwork - doesn't everyone need a painting of the Last Supper with Jesus dressed as Superman? - or handmade jewellery.
With all the shopping and performances trying to grab your attention, it could be easy to forget the natural scenery. This is the beach, after all, where rays of sunshine glisten off the waves as they pound into the shore.
But don't sink your toes into the sand just yet.
Keep riding until you reach the boundary where Venice ends and Santa Monica begins. You'll know as soon as you hit the spot - the street vendors are suddenly left behind and the famous Santa Monica Pier looms in the distance.
This is a great location to get off the bike, plop yourself on the sand and just soak in the sights.
Venice Beach is said to be at its lively best during the spring and summer, but a recent visit proves the winter off-season has its perks too. The water might be too cold for a dip, but the beach will be largely your own.
Sit. Relax. Watch the few brave souls in wetsuits catch the waves on surfboards.
But your ride isn't over yet.
Push the pedals a little longer and head north toward the Santa Monica Pier and the amusement park. Yes, the amusement park is over water. Take a spin on the ferris wheel - the first solar-powered wheel in the world, according to the Santa Monica visitors bureau - or head for the thrill of the roller coaster.
The Santa Monica Pier is celebrating its 100th anniversary and the party is on. The official anniversary is in September, but officials say festivities are planned all year.
Maria Losch, a public relations representative for the Santa Monica visitors bureau, says the pier is one of the biggest draws in the Los Angeles area. Losch says renting a bike on the pier end of the boardwalk is popular with tourists.
"They want to experience the whole lifestyle of the West Coast," said Losch.
"They will rent bikes for the day and ride up and down the boardwalk, from the very north end of Santa Monica Beach all the way into Venice and back."
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On the web:
http://www.laparks.org/venice/
http://www.santamonica.com/visitors/
http://www.perryscafe.com/

Organizations: Santa Monica visitors bureau

Geographic location: Venice Beach, Southern California, Santa Monica Hartford, Conn. Venice Los Angeles West Coast

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