When it’s time to invest in myself, when my cup runneth empty and my spirit needs a spark, when I’m so weak you can knock me over with a feather, I go to Venice, California. Venice has the power to restore; it puts out plenty. Here you’ll find wide sunny beaches and a network of canals that sport all manner of flesh and faces’often pierced, branded or surgically modified’along with the best gyms and some of the most celebrated minds, muscles and personalities in the world. Add to that lots of restaurants that cater to a bodybuilder’s need for extra protein, and you’ll see that in heaven there’s paradise, and on earth, there’s Venice.
Venice’the end of the New World, the final frontier, where the hot, flaky desert meets the sleek blue sea and where folks come to saunter, skate, bake, cycle or just plain chill to the sounds of the crashing surf and scores of street musicians. It’s where bodybuilding was born and continues to grow, where the father of Gold’s Gym, the late Joe Gold, requested his ashes be sprinkled in the waters. This is Muscle Beach. Want to heighten your senses, lower your defenses and get a little more global? Take a walk on the wild side on the Boardwalk, the Venice Beach side, where old-money L.A. types in boat shoes mingle with bohemians in worn-out flip-flops and gangstas shop for new tattoos alongside mothers pushing newborns in jog-strollers.
Like any big-city attraction, Venice can get a little rough after dark, but don’t let that stop you. Pack a light bag, book a cheap room and come’preferably for the IRON MAN Pro bodybuilding contest to be held on February 19, 2005, in nearby Pasadena in conjunction with the FitExpo. (Warning: Experiencing the posedown in Pasadena, along with a visit to Venice, is a one-two punch that can hit your training button so hard you might never want to leave.)
Muscle Beach Venice
1800 Ocean Front Walk
Venice, CA 90291
Hours: 8 a.m.’about an hour before sunset Monday’Sunday; closed during bad weather
Slap on the sunblock, pull up your shorts and hit the beach. Not to be confused with the original Muscle Beach, which is in nearby Santa Monica, Muscle Beach Venice is a modern outdoor playground offering an abundance of adult attractions: heavy-duty weights neatly arranged in the rubber-matted area muscleheads call The Pit; a medley of bars, rings, beams and climbing ropes mounted in a great sandbox; and a hodgepodge of courts for handball, paddleball and basketball. There’s even a wall where you can practice your tennis strokes while watching the sun set. The Pit itself charges $5 for a day pass. All the rest is free. Like any gym, The Pit has its rules, so be sure to read them and bring a towel and closed-toe shoes with you. On many holiday weekends promoter Joe Wheatley stages bodybuilding and powerlifting events on an impressive cement stage. The events include the Strong Man and Mr. and Ms. Muscle Beach competitions.
360 Hampton Drive
Venice, CA 90291
Hours: Monday’Friday, 5 a.m.’10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m.’8 p.m.
Cost: $15 for the day; includes free parking.
Circus, zoo, freak show: Call it what you will, pal, it doesn’t give a rat’s rump, as long as you think of it come training time. Gold’s Gym is the largest coed gym chain in the world, now 3 million members strong. The fact that the flagship gym is located on the fringe of gangsta territory further amplifies its rage-against-the-machine image. ‘We’re the Harley-Davidson of the fitness industry, and we’re not going to go away,’ promises Derek Barton, senior vice-president of marketing, who’s been working to make the chain ‘a classic’ since 1985. Those who love Gold’s love it absolutely. I lived in Venice for more than a decade, mostly out of fondness for Gold’s. It’s an all-you-can-lift smorgasbord that inspires you to shape your soft tissues. Besides every possible piece of weight-training equipment, Gold’s has a staff of instructors who lead body conditioning classes like yoga, Pilates, salsa dancing, boxing, karate’you name it. The butt stops here.
3223 Washington Blvd.
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Hours: Monday’Friday, 6 a.m.’10 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m.’8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.’8 p.m.
Cost: Tell them Teagan from IRON MAN sent you, and your first day’s free.
If Gold’s is a Harley, then World Gym is a smooth, quiet and efficient BMW. Both were founded by the late Joe Gold, but World is where you want go when you need to train without distractions. No overflow crowds or loud music will divert your focus. World is about pure, solid weights, stable benches and the finest handmade cable pulleys. Mike Uretz, World Gym CEO, who franchised the gym and since Joe Gold’s recent passing has also managed it, is always seeking ways of improving his ever-changing flagship. ‘We’ve got a big rep to uphold,’ he explains. Although you won’t see paparazzi, many celebs do train here, including Lou Ferrigno. Even Arnold pops in to shoot the breeze and catch a little cardio with friends. Expect to get a bit distracted after all. ALL Hotels
Marina Pacific Hotel & Suites
1697 Pacific Avenue
Venice, CA 90291
$89’$189 per night; includes continental breakfast
$9 per night parking
Just steps from the sea and the Boardwalk, the Marina Pacific Hotel is a bargain. It’s clean, relatively quiet and very well managed. Recently remodeled, the rooms are a pretty pale yellow, and all have miniterraces overlooking a variety of views (if you’re a light sleeper, choose the south side of the top floor to avoid street noise).
Amenities abound, including high-speed Internet access and a laundry room with coin-operated machines. The suites are positively humongous, with fully equipped kitchens. The staff is courteous and helpful. Free coffee is always available downstairs. There’s even underground gated parking’a rarity in Venice. I’ve spent months at a time at this place, and it’s always been a very pleasant experience. Gold’s Gym members receive special corporate rates and even better rates between the months of January and April. Call well in advance if you want to book during the summer.
Rooms for Rent
For longer stays check the local paper, The Argonaut, for a current listing of rental and lease accommodations.
Food and Drink
Across the street from the Marina Pacific, on the corner of Windward and Pacific avenues, you’ll find Caf’ Collage (1518 Pacific Avenue, Venice), a popular coffee shop with outdoor seating. Behind it is Windward Farms (105 Windward Avenue, Venice), an organic-food market. A few yards south of that bustling intersection, nestled between vintage clothing shops and tattoo parlors, is Mao’s Kitchen (1512 Pacific Avenue, Venice), a rustic little eatery that serves mountainous platters of ‘proletarian’ Chinese food. Here you can pick your own protein (beef, pork, white meat chicken, shrimp, sole or smoked tofu) to create supersized vegetable-based dishes for less than $10. On weekends the kitchen closes at 3 a.m. After training at Gold’s, you can follow the trail of bodybuilders to The Firehouse at the corner of Main and Rose (213 Rose Avenue, Venice), a no-frills caf’-bar best known for its breakfast-of-champions: six egg whites, three pancakes or oatmeal and a six-ounce chicken breast or steak for $10.25. If you’re on a tight budget, you might do better at Koo-Koo-Roo, just across the street from The Firehouse (255 Main Street, Venice), crowned by a giant sculpture that indeed looks like Pinocchio in a tutu.
The Rose Caf’ (corner of Rose and Hampton) is a superb choice for light bites. Here you can have a bowl of oatmeal, a side of fruit and a fat-free muffin for breakfast. Follow it with a poached salmon salad for lunch. The coffee and croissants are legendary, as is the art-and-music ambience. A word of caution: ‘Rose’ pastries are the real deal and almost irresistible. They’re made from scratch using pure butter, eggs and sugar. If you want to sit with Hollywood types, you’ve got to get a table in the restaurant area in back. Buck up and watch them eat tiramis’.
During your obligatory stroll through the artsy-craftsy-kooky part of Venice, be sure to stop at Hal’s Bar & Grill (1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice) for an American meal to remember. The hamburger and fries here are flawless, as is the Cobb salad.
Smokers will appreciate dining at Schatzi (3110 Main Street, Santa Monica), where smoking is encouraged on the picturesque patio. Prefer cigars? Try to reserve a table for Cigar Night, when owner Charly Temmel designs dishes like bacon-wrapped filet mignon of wild boar. The prix fixe menu includes two cigars, live entertainment and shoe shines (just in case you dropped some ashes).
Finally, a must-see for caffeine lovers is Groundwork Coffee Company (671 Rose Avenue, Venice), a tasting room for hundreds of different coffees. Barrels and gunnysacks filled with roasted beans line the walls of this rustic warehouse. Just inhaling the aroma of so many brews gets you feeling kind of bouncy. If not, try a cup of Bitches Brew or Black Gold. Also consider taking home a bottle of Java Juice, 100 percent coffee concentrate, to spike the drinks of, say, a listless training partner.
Editor’s note: The IRON MAN Pro and FitExpo take place February 18, 19 and 20 in Pasadena, California. Venice is just a stone’s throw away, so make your vacation plans now for a get-fit getaway you won’t forget. Teagan Clive helped make Venice Beach famous by flexing in the music video ‘California Girls’ with David Lee Roth. She likes visiting the Boardwalk on Sundays. Write her at [email protected]. IM