Angelenos would have you believe that we are and will always be car people. We tell you we like our freeways long and our tops down. But, like the Tinseltown dreams our main industry peddles you, this image is a slight fabrication.
Some of us are bikers, careening down park trails, daringly darting in and out of traffic and coaching kids with training wheels around suburban subdivisions.
Although I was an avid rider as a kid, that all ended when I returned from a bike trip through Israel with battle scars and my favorite pair of jeans in shambles. Nine years later, my heart races with fear when I have to drive near a bike commuter during rush hour and have lost count of how many people have mocked me with "you know what they say about riding a bike."
But as I see more of my friends signing up for triathlons and ditching carpool lanes for bikes and buses, I thought it was time I put my fears behind me. An easy (re)starting point was the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, or the Strand, specifically the 8 ½-mile stretch that connects Santa Monica and Venice. Paved, flat and, most important, endlessly scenic, this portion sees its share of pro cyclists in skintight racing gear but is also welcoming to tourists and families coasting around on beach cruisers. A nervous slowpoke who occasionally wobbles and drags her feet in the sand will fit in fine.
Beach Cruising: Biking Venice and Santa Monica
Pacific Coast Highway separates the Santa Monica beach and bike path from the city. To skip hefty costs, locals often park elsewhere and carry their bikes across one of the four pedestrian overpasses north of the pier. Rentals are also available from shops like the cash-only Perry’s, which outfitted me with a pink beach cruiser for the afternoon.
Heading south, I pedal slowly at first, obsessively ogling the pops of pastel and intricate architecture that make up some of Santa Monica’s most unique beachfront buildings as I get my bearings on the bike.
Winding past the Pacific Park amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier, I can hear happy squeals rip through the air as the roller coaster quickens its turns and jumps and my mouth waters for cinnamon-covered churros from the food carts. Maybe on the way back.
Venice has its famous Muscle Beach, but Santa Monica ain’t no slacker either. Beachfront yoga classes are to be expected here, but so are volleyball and weight lifting.
Moving into Venice Beach, it’s no surprise that the hangout for the Beat Generation still sees religious, political and social demonstrations. I dismount and join the gawkers marveling at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ Festival of the Chariots.
Looking for some local flavor, I beat the brunch rush and belly up to Venice Ale House for chicken tacos. Catering more to the “new” clean-cut Venice than the beachfront shacks some residents adore, the restaurant’s staff takes pride in regional, organic meals paired with Southern California craft brews -- or, if you must, a glass of actress-favorite kombucha fermented tea.
Full and confident by now, I glide down to the Skate Park, stow my bike and hop up the high steps to peer over the pit’s edge where young Tony Hawks flip and Ollie, impressing me with their coordination.
Near the skate pit, I gain visual inspiration from the graffiti art community’s latest creations. Established in 2007, these public art walls are open on the weekends to all taggers with valid permits.
Maneuvering through the mid-morning crowd, I watch pickup games at the courts made famous through films like “White Men Can’t Jump” (whose basketball scenes where actually filmed over on Rose Avenue) and “American History X.”
Dangling above us all at one of Venice’s newest establishments, harnessed riders shoot through the sky, making me realize that conquering my acrophobia will have to wait until next time.