Veni, Vidi, Venice
Teagan CliveThe Best Places for Bodybuilders to Visit in Southern California’s Quirkiest Community
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.