Italian villa and gondola in Venice California

5 Wonderful Days in L.A. (Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu, Hollywood)

I’ve been saying for years that the best gift to give your children is travel. Recently, I learned the reverse is true when my son, Cole, sent my daughter, her fiancé, and me plane tickets and booked accommodations and a rental car for a seven-day trip to L.A. and Palm Springs, California. A spring break vacation with my people was the most exciting gift I’ve ever received! Check out options here for adult family time in L.A.

Why L.A.?

Driving up California’s breezy coast — Mediterranean blue waters, cathedral rocks, mountains, and palm trees — feels like a getaway to southern Spain. Walking along Venice Beach canals is a trip to Italy. Star-gazing in Hollywood or at an NBA game… riding the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica’s Pier, or basking on the Baywatch beach is quintessential U.S.A. Los Angeles is the second most populated city in the US (New York City is first), but because Los Angeles County has such vast, diverse areas, there’s something for everyone. Beaches, parks, and a coastal drive on the Pacific Coast Highway are freeing. Celebrities — anyone really — can get lost here.

Returning to L. A. was nostalgic. We loved our 2009 vacation there. Then Cole mostly rode in the back seat of the convertible, but in our Vacation: The Sequel, it was great being with adults and having a man make plans and take the wheel.

Cole booked a beautiful home for five nights near Venice Beach just a couple of blocks from where we’d stayed before on Marina Del Ray. The neighborhood was quiet but just a couple of blocks from restaurants, groceries, shops, and the Venice Canals. We highly recommend it.

Getting away is good for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Reconnecting with grown children is priceless. I’m forever grateful for my son’s generosity. It was a week of laughter and new adventures.

Southern California offers a great escape, and there are multiple options for adult family time in L.A. If you need a multigenerational gathering spot or want to give the ultimate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift, this trip is it. 

Why Stay in Venice?

It’s the “Venice of America.” On the canals, you’ll think you’re in Italy!

I, like other Americans, fell in love with Venice, Italy — the canals, gondolas, architecture, and romantic/mysterious/artistic vibe.

In the 1920s, John Ringling was so impressed with Venice that he built Ca’d’Zan. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace, the five-story Venetian Gothic Revival mansion overlooks Florida’s Sarasota Bay. 

Fifteen years earlier, millionaire John Abbot had an even grander vision. On July 4, 1905, he replicated the entire city and opened “The Venice of America.” He hoped to build a community of artists and writers who would bring a cultural renaissance to California.

After his death, the seaside resort town was annexed to Los Angeles in 1926. See what happened to Abbott’s dream in the “Lost LA” series by KCET, Southern and Central California’s Educational station/affiliate of PBS:

These Streets are Made for Boating


Venice Beach Mural that reads Like a dream I remember from an easier time

Check out the quote on the wall above. Venice has a retro, dream-like vibe that reminds me of a time not only when my kids were younger but also when I was a child, too.

Venice is Bohemian with the Bonus of a Beach.

Venice Beach, California — associated with the Beat Generation of the 50s and artists like Jim Morrison and the Doors in the 60s —is still home to an eclectic mix. It’s bohemian, much like Paris’s Montmartre or Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, but with surfers, skateboarders (the sport was invented here), and Muscle Beach where former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed biceps. The area is artistic and unconventional. The quirk factor is huge, so don’t be surprised if you almost bump into someone, like I did, who is wearing nothing but blue paint. Like the rest of L.A., Venice is diverse … The City of Angels and Land Of Mystics.

Gentrification has displaced former residents. Some live in tents, or in the case of one man we saw, on a couch on the sidewalk. One-bedroom studio apartments rent for $3,000+ a month. On the canals, homes rent for $12,000 – $28,000 a month and sell for $2 – $7 million.

Venice, California is “Little Hollywood.”

Celebrities who’ve lived in Venice:

  • Julia Roberts (now lives in Malibu)
  • Nicholas Cage (moved to Malibu, then to his own island)
  • Robert Downey, Jr. (now lives in Malibu)

Hip like its namesake, Venice births and reflects trends. I’ve never seen so many French Bulldogs! Days after we returned, the American Kennel Club announced they had ousted Labrador retrievers who’d held the top spot of beloved breeds for over 30 years. Having owned two labs, I gasped! but who can compete with fame? My kids told me about Lady Gaga’s dogs being kidnapped. She and other stars — Hugh Jackman, Reese Witherspoon, the Rock — are part of the Frenchie Revolution.

Venice and the Surrounding Area are Film Locations for Movies and Series.

  • John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Grease (1978)
  • Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan in The Doors (1991)
  • Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed (1994)
  • Californication, the Showtime series starring David Duchovny
  • Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach party movies (1963-66), like Beach Blanket Bingo, at Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park

I think this last one sums up why I love the Cali coast. As a kid in the 60s, I dreamed of being a teen and experiencing this…

Venice is minutes from Santa Monica and a Gorgeous Ride to Malibu via The Pacific Coast Highway. It’s Only 14 miles from Venice Beach to Hollywood via Legendary Sunset Boulevard.

Travel Tips to Make Arrival Less Stressful

  • If traveling from different locations, it’s important to coordinate flight schedules for adult family time in L.A. Cole flew from his home in Colorado and met us at the airport (LAX). He suggested using TripCase. When you get the flight confirmation email after booking, you can forward it to the app at The app imports all info and keeps you updated on delays and arrivals of members of your party. It’s also useful for picking up out-of-town family members and friends at the airport when they fly home.
  • When picking up a car at LAX, catch a free shuttle when you exit the airport because it’s too far to walk. Both times we’ve picked up a car the line has been long, but there’s a waiting area to sit in sun or shade outside the rental building and water in vending machines to hydrate after the flight.

What to Do

Day One: Venice Beach for Lunch, Food Trucks for Dinner

Tip: Typically from June – October, Venice Beach temps hover around 70 F. In the winter months, they dip to low 60s. Despite historic snow in L.A. as seen here reported the day before we arrived, we still had mostly sunny skies and temperatures around 55 degrees. Plan on wearing layers or taking a windbreaker whenever you go because it’s breezy on the Pacific.


After an early flight, rental car pickup, and getting settled in, stretching your legs on a walk through the neighborhood and relaxing over lunch is top priority. We wanted seafood — oysters in particular for Taylor and me. Pier House beside the Venice Beach pier was pricey pre-Happy Hour (especially for the small size of the oysters), but celebrating our reunion and week ahead with grilled octopus, calamari, vegan options for Cole, and drinks on the patio was worth the splurge. Also, don’t miss the skateboarding park. (See Insta post above.)

Other Seafood Options

We didn’t want to drive anywhere and it was too windy/chilly to sit on a rooftop, but these restaurants get good reviews, too:

Fishbar, located on Manhattan Beach 15 minutes by car south of Venice Beach

Across the street from Pier House is The Venice Whaler. The menu is similar to that of Pier House. They do have a rooftop area and a takeaway food window. I love that they have a Rumi quote, too.

Dinner and a Movie

When we met our host at the rental home, he told us we had arrived on a perfect day — First Friday — and that we could walk to the food trucks where locals gather monthly for dinner. We’re fans of food trucks and movies, especially when needing to relax on a travel day. I highly recommend these guys. When you find your favorite food truck at home or in LA, you can stalk it here. What’s your favorite app for finding street food? Please tell us in the comments.

Other Food Truck Options

Two neighborhoods south and north of Venice have smaller, weekly food truck events. Marina Del Ray’s Beach Eats runs from late May to early September and Food Truck Wednesdays happen at Santa Monica’s California Heritage Museum.

For Foodies:

Restaurant Week in Santa Monica

Dine LA Restaurant Week

Organic Eating in Venice

Santa Monica has some of LA’s finest farmers markets. Cole found Erwhon, an organic grocery store just around the corner where we could eat local. Loved it. We also loved the breakfast Cole cooked for us.

pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream, bacon

Movies to Stream

  • Before exploring Griffith Observatory: See Rebel with a Cause and La La Land.
  • After driving in LA traffic: Watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to let off steam. (Warning 1: Tarantino isn’t for everyone — usually he’s too dark for me. This one I like because I was obsessed with Sharon Tate and the Charles Manson murders as a kid and it’s set around LA. Warning 2: You might be tempted to get back in the car to check out filming locations.)
  • For adult family time in L.A. with lots of laughts, take home movies with you on a jump drive. If you live in the Nashville area and haven’t converted home movies from videotapes to digital, I highly recommend The Transfer Lab.

Day 2: Walk of Fame, Hollywood Hills, Griffith Observatory

We drove off-interstate from Venice through Melrose to Hollywood. I always prefer the scenic route but do be aware that L.A. drivers are notorious for being aggressive and not signaling, partly because there are no protected left turns.

We had a great lunch at It’s Pho, Vietnamese and Thai Fusion, located at 1821 North Cahuenga Boulevard, LA, CA 90028.

Dish at It's Pho Vietnamese and Thai FusionHollywood LA California

Much has changed since we were in Hollywood in 2009. Then, Michael Jackson had died the week before. I was writing for Examiner and was determined to get a shot of his star despite the mass of people blocking the way. My kids still tell the story of watching me crawl on my knees, then disappear into the fray. When I crawled out, my favorite sweater that was tied around my neck was gone, never to be found again. In 2008, Heath Ledger died and The Dark Night was released. Michel Jackson and Joker impersonators were out in full force.

Hollywood 2009 Michel Jackson and Heath Ledger

This time, we were there just before The Oscars. The Red Carpet was being changed to champagne.

We couldn’t get near The Chinese Theater because of the preparations, but I found stars of celebrities Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials will recognize.

Stars on Hollywood Walk 2023

Capitol Records Hollywood LA

Hollywood isn’t just about actors. Recording artists are also aplenty there. If your people are into vinyl, adult family time in L.A. should include a stop at Amoeba Music, one of the largest indie record stores in the world. Formerly located on Sunset Boulevard/now on Hollywood Boulevard, their free live events have Stevie Nicks, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Costello, Nancy Sinatra, and newer artists my kids know but I don’t. 🙂 Amoeba also has shops in San Francisco and Berkeley, California.

City of Angels mural Hollywood LA

Tip: A photo opportunity with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop is on the terrace outside the food area of Target.

Day 3: Bikes, Boats, and Basketball

Marvin Brand Bike Trail (The Strand)

I love riding bikes around Denver and Boulder when visiting Cole. I’d read that the Marvin Brande Bike Trail runs for 22 miles and is a great way to see surfers, hang gliders and street performers from Venus to Santa Monica and beyond. I’d envisioned renting bikes in Santa Monica on an all-day pass. I thought we’d ride a couple of hours to get exercise and have time for photos and lunch. However, also on our agenda was walking the Venice Canals and seeing a Clippers Game. So we rented electric bikes nearby in Venice Beach for an hour instead.

In hindsight, Venice Beach rentals cost more and the bike route on a Sunday is too crowded. Families and couples stroll there to avoid the crowded Boardwalk. I was all smiles below at the start of our ride, but after breaking constantly and almost taking out a toddler whose parents allowed him to walk into oncoming bikers, I was traumatized. (The child and parents ambled on unfazed).

The Venice Canals were more romantic than I imagined. (Also see the video above made on a sunnier day). They are one of the U.S.’s best-kept secrets. They’re tucked away so well that we missed them in 2009. Thanks to scenes with Ashton Kutcher and George Lopez filmed on them in the movie Valentine’s Day released in 2010 (and scenes of the Marriott Del Ray where we stayed), I was determined to see walk the canals this time.

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, seeing the LA Clippers is fun. I enjoy the high drama of the NBA. One day we want to see The Lakers, but the ticket prices were too much when we were there.

Biking is a great option for adult family time in L.A.

A Clippers game is a great way to spend adult family time in L.A. Thanks for the tickets, Ben!

Tip: When traveling with people you love, communication (just as it is in all things relationships) is key. My kids say I’m the Energizer Bunny on vacation and need to chill. I am an early riser and love to plan. But I also like exploring with no agenda. By serendipity, we make wonderful discoveries that way.

Traveling solo and leading educational tours is very different from adult family time in L.A. We all have different interests, energy levels, and pace preferences. I enjoy finding options. I ask family members for their must-sees and must-dos so we can try to make them happen. I learned on this trip that it’s also important to discuss details — as in the case of biking (Day 3) and driving up the coast (Day 4) — how far we want to go, where we want to stop, and at what pace. This is especially important if you have an event or dinner reservation. My plan for Day 3 was probably a bit too ambitious given a late start and game tickets that night.

Day 4: Coastal Drive to Malibu and Neptune’s Net

Drive up Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) from Venice Beach to Malibu for some adult family time in L.A.

California Playlist on Spotify

We debated other road trips (see below), but in the end, we took the nostalgic route to Malibu. Photo on the left: 2009. Photo on the right: 2023

We really enjoyed Neptune’s Net which was Taylor’s suggestion. The oysters are BIG. All the seafood great is great. We sat at picnic tables watching waves and talking with locals. 5 minutes down the road is Leo Carrillo Beach where Grease and Karate Kid were filmed.

We’ve changed a bit over 14 years….

But not really ….

Be Sure To Stop Where We Didn’t…

We ended up exploring past Malibu. Inland and around the US Naval Base in Ventura County we saw farmland and the largest fields of rose nurseries I’ve ever seen. We didn’t make it to the Getty Villa Museum on the way back, but it is high on the NEXT TIME list for adult family time in L.A.

Other Road Trip Options from L.A.


Solvang is a village 2 hours north of Malibu built by Danish settlers in 1911. With only 5,000 residents, it not only looks like a European village but also feels like one.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is an hour south of Venice and a great location for whale watching. 20 minutes south of Newport is Laguna Beach featured in the reality show, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.

Day 5: Farewell Walk Along Venice Canals, Italian Lunch, Vintage Shopping in Santa Monica

If you’re an early riser and value morning quiet time, take a solo walk on the Venice Canals. All you’ll hear are hummingbirds chattering, bees humming, and water parting as ducks glide by. You might meet a resident walking to work, pushing a stroller, or walking a dog. But mostly, you’ll experience in solitude a beauty break for the soul. I remembered again why God created the perfect world as a garden.

The architecture and landscaping of each home on the Venice Canals are unique. If your idea of heaven on earth is gathering with friends and family in an outdoor space under blue skies … if you love the smell of citrus and colorful blooms… if you smile at succulents and palm trees twitching in the breeze … this is your place for escape and inspiration to create your own outdoor space.

Italian style vila and gondola on Venice Canals LA California

red and green succulents in a garden in Venice LA California

Outdoor living area of a home on Venice Canals in California

Foxtail fern in a garden on Venice Canals LA California

Ferns and Lavender garden Venice Canals LA California

Palm trees and lemon trees in a yard in Venice California

Home  with balconys on Venice Canals LA California

Terrace with lemon trees Venice California LA

Venice Canals California
Walking the Venice Canals is a Great Way to Spend Adult family time in L.A.
home on Venice Canals California with ivy and suuculents

European style home with cobblestone fence and flowers on Venice Canals California

Venice Book Exchange on Canals in Venice California LA

yellow Moroccan homes on Venice Canals LA California

Italian For Lunch

I loved the Malloreddus at Ospi — Beef Cheek Ragu Napoletano with thyme and Toscano. Everyone was happy with the Spicy Rigatoni, Spaghetti, and Spicy Eggplant, and Zucchini. Cocktails and a Super Tuscan Red were yummy, too.

Vintage Shopping

Taylor and Ben found some cool bargains on Santa Monica Boulevard (sing it like Sheryl Crow) at the Goodwill Southern California and Crossroads Trading on 4th. One street over is the hub of downtown retail at 3rd Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place. And if you’re not into shopping, there’s fun in the sun at Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Restaurants for adult family time in L.A.:

  • Masilla for food from France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Happy Hour is 11 AM – 6:30 PM Monday-Friday with 50% off craft cocktails and wine
  • Manchego has California-Spanish tapas and wine. During weekend brunch, they have bottomless sangria and mimosas.
  • Fig, a popular Mediterranean- inspired bistro located in the Fairmount Miramar, is a favorite local Happy Hour Spot. During Fig @ 5 – 5 to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday — most of their menu is half price. If you want to get fancy for Mother’s Day Brunch, during DineLA Restaurant Week April 28 to May 12, or for a private event, this is the place. Georgina Jones, who built the original Miramar with her husband, was a botanist who planted the hotel’s first fig tree and dispensed herbal tonics from what is now The Potting Shed, a space for special dinner parties.

Cole spotted Coco wheeling down the street — a robot that delivers food that was created by two young men when they were students at UCLA. I can’t wait to share this with my university students who write business plans and Kickstarter and social media campaigns for their present and future business projects.

Takeaway from L.A.

I’ve been in the classroom — as a student and educator — since I was five. NOTHING inspires me to be a lifelong learner more than travel. When we expand our horizons with people we love we build stronger relationships. We’re energized by adventure, beauty, and new ideas. Travel inspires critical and creative thinking.

Abbot Kinney’s story is inspiring. He was born in New Jersey. His family moved to Washington, D.C. where they became involved in politics. At age 16 he went to Europe for his education and became fluent in six languages. While there, he visited Venice, Italy. Years later, he would create a New Venice in California with the goal of bringing a Renaissance of art, health, and education to the area. His asthma improved in California, so he wanted others to experience fresh ocean air.

No doubt Kinney enjoyed privileges many people don’t have. He made money with his brother in tobacco. But he also used his education and resources to benefit others. The man who wanted to bring a Renaissance to the Sunshine State was a Renaissance Man himself. His path to building Venice was long and not linear. First he…

  • Served as a Member of the Maryland National Guard and U.S. Geological Survey Team
  • Mapped the Sioux reservations of the Dakotas
  • Served on a survey team in Yosemite Valley
  • Traveled to Egypt, Macedonia, India, New Guinea, Australia
  • Chaired the California Board of Forestry
  • Partnered with fellow conservationist John Muir to establish the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve
  • Reported poor living conditions that led to the Mission Indian Act of 1891
  • Established the first forestry station in the U.S. in Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. One project was a study of eucalyptus trees that had been introduced to the region.

In 1905, a marshy area was reborn as a town of canals called “Ocean Park.” It would take him six more years to get the name officially changed to Venice. Kinney imported gondolas and gondoliers from Venice, Italy. Residents of downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica rode trolleys to experience the Venetian-style shops, carnival rides, and an aquarium. He brought in professors and writers to deliver lectures. Sadly, few people took advantage of this free education.

Today only a remnant of the canals remain but are protected as part of the Venice Historical District. Kinney’s story reminds me of a line from a familiar quote often attributed to Mother Theresa: “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”

Apparently, the author was Dr. Kent Keith in 1968 while a young student leader at Harvard. It was on a poster in my classroom in Nashville for many years:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Thanks, Abbot, for Venice. Thanks again, Cole, for an unforgettable time away.