Those gorgeous, sunny Southern California beaches filled with mingling people from all walks of life are enough to make millions of Americans and foreign tourists alike yearn for the feeling of the California sun soaking into their skin. What better way to enhance that warm-and-fuzzy feeling than the perfect beach date along one of So Cal’s most famous bike paths: The Marvin Braude Bike Trail, better known as The Strand. While many cyclists choose to head from the Santa Monica area all the way south towards Redondo Beach, our romantic bike journey will take cyclists of all levels on a shorter, much more leisurely ride to where the fun really happens: at Venice Beach.
Whether you’re a tourist staying briefly in the Santa Monica area or are a tried and true beach comber that knows the neighborhood, following our Beach Cruisin’ Bike Date path will surely bring you pleasant surprises full of plentiful opportunities for romance. Starting in Santa Monica on historic Main Street, you can rent a bike at street address 2400: the home of the Bike Attack bike shop, which also does bike rentals. Why go to Bike Attack when there are so many other local shops, you ask? Well, for a few reasons: not only do the Bike Attack owners go way back in cycling to where they truly know their cycling nitty gritty and can recognize decades-old bike models and cycling celebs, but they also don’t take your ID from you at the time of rental or require that pay in cash after having put down your rental deposit on a credit card, as many of the other local bike shops do. In my experience, having your ID handy at restaurants even for a light drink is crucial, and paying cash at a bike shop these days, especially when your credit card is already on-file with them for the rental period, is simply inconvenient.
Who needs to worry about stopping at the ATM during their bike date just before they return their bike? Not you, that is, if you head to Bike Attack, where they’ll cheerfully accept your credit as both the deposit and payment for the romantic rental of a Phat Cycles beach cruiser bike model that’s appropriately called the Sea Breeze Deluxe, available in both men’s and women’s versions (and both versions are appropriately sporting a red paint job that’s just the thing for lovers). If your date already has a bike and you don’t, or vice versa, or if both of you are novice bicyclists just looking for an easy-breezy slow ride down the concrete bike path, then renting bikes makes a whole lot of economical sense, especially when you consider that an included bike lock is another convenient part of your rental. For only $25.00 for an eight-hour weekend day-ride, or even better, only $35.00 for a 24-hour rental that would allow you no worries about how late into the evening your bike date goes, Bike Attack will rent you one of their Beach Cruisers that’s all set, checked over, and ready to go.
Before you set foot on that Beach Cruiser pedal though, you’ll want to be sure that you and your date are equipped with the essential gear that will make your ride even more enjoyable. Consider bringing or buying your favorite bike basket or bike pannier bag to carry your wallet and personal items, including a water bottle, absolutely essential sunscreen, a bike light for night riding, and for the ladies, perhaps that foldable brush-and-mirror thing you use to do the occasional hair check when riding in such swift beach breezes. One smart reminder about bike path rules is that there are no glass bottles or containers allowed on the beach or on the path for obvious safety reasons.
If either you or your romantic partner is such a beginning cyclist that the possibility of a fall is present, consider whether you’ll need to borrow or buy some elbow and knee pads for the ride too. Bike Attack can rent you gear like helmets or even Boombotix speakers that work with your iPhone or iPad. Imagine playing that romantic mix compilation you made for your special someone while riding along the bike path where everyone around you is inspired by your musical confessions. Perhaps Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” or the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” would be the perfect song to have spilling from your speakers as you cruise along side by side.
Headed south to the Venice Beach Boardwalk from Main Street in Santa Monica, you’d join up with the adjacent bike path and turn left (south) for an approximately 1.6 mile bike ride. From Bike Attack, head two blocks west, walking your bike down Hollister Avenue to the beach or head north one block to Strand St. where you can ride in the bike lane the two blocks west it takes to get to the ocean, where the bike path is on the beach itself. For this starry-eyed day, don’t get frustrated by expecting to make quick gains along the bike path—it’s riddled with other riders and pedestrians crossing over the path. Instead, set your mind on the idea that sightseeing on a slow ride is the “name of the game” for today’s perfect date. And since even a slow ride with several stops from Santa Monica to Venice can certainly be completed in less than a half hour, you’ll want to do some shopping and eating along the way or upon arriving at your destination. (Venice Beach has some of the best eclectic shopping found in Southern California!)
If you don’t mind traveling a few blocks away from the beachfront for exquisite lunch or dinnertime reservations, make a divergence from the bike path when you’re about halfway to Venice Beach, at the start of Ocean Front Walk. Take Rose Avenue, walking your bike east (away from the ocean) about five short blocks (just past 5th Street) to experience fine dining at its best (according to the locals who know these things) at the Hostaria del Piccolo restaurant at 512 Rose Avenue. An authentic Italian experience in a recently remodeled suite, Hostaria del Piccolo’s Venice location has the kind of menu (with dishes named in authentic Italian verbiage) that will pique your curiosity: what is Venetian-style salt water eel anyway and how would a sauce-less pizza with roasted butternut squash, gorgonzola, sage, and mozzarella taste?
Of course, if you’re not into straying off the bike path very far, you can always take in the diverse array of multi-cultural food fare and street performers (bring some $1 bills for tips!) along the Ocean Front Walk, which is a promenade running parallel to the beach that starts about halfway along your bike ride to The Venice Boardwalk. The most well-known and long-standing café (touting 25 years of service) along Ocean Front Walk is the Sidewalk Café, known as the best people-watching spot in L.A., with live acoustic music in the evenings and a “hippie history” in their building, which once served as a crash pad in the early 1960s for original beatnik poets like Jack Kerouac.
Once in Venice, be sure to at least ogle for a moment at the famous Muscle Beach, where you can tell your beau or lady how much more impressed you are by his or her physique than those seen at Muscle Beach (wink, wink). Street performers in Venice never cease to amaze the eye, while shopping along the Ocean Front Walk will bring you everything from hand-made goods found nowhere else to high-end items you’d usually find in upscale malls.
As the afternoon fades away and your sun-soaked hours holding hands and stealing kisses on the beach begin to make you wish you really were a beach bum, revamp your romantic evening by heading back towards Santa Monica on the bike path in order to behold the world-renowned beauty of the Santa Monica Pier when it’s lit up like a spinning circus at night. Built in 1916 by amusement park pioneers, Santa Monica’s “Pleasure Pier” contains all the ingredients necessary for a romantic evening. Photograph your lady-love on one of the 44 hand-carved horses of their historic carousel, pick up some Native American-inspired fry bread and fill your kisses with the sweetness of flour and sugar, or get the greatest view in the county when you ride the Ferris wheel, lit up in the night sky like a beacon of merriment. And if all that state-fair-style food hasn’t soured your stomach, try a spin on their roller coaster, which is also lit up at night, or try challenging your sweetheart to a few arcade or fair-style games. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be the one this time to wonder how you’re going to transport such a large stuffed bear prize in your bike basket. And while you can’t literally ride your bike on the pier itself, you can certainly use that bike lock that came with your bike rental to lock it up at the pier’s entrance and enjoy the best part of your romantic evening: a long, slow walk down the Santa Monica Pier, with many convenient spots to stop and gaze into each other’s eyes and out at the wild ocean, with plenty of intimate bundling up together required due to those cool California night winds.
Whether you’ve rented your bike for the day and must return it by the 6pm closing time at Bike Attack’s shop, or you’ve taken the wiser route and rented your bikes for 24 hours, your Santa-Monica-to-Venice-Beach bike ride will become one of the most memorable recollections to be had in your love affair. If only you stop and take the time to absorb the sights, soak up the sun, feel the wind in your face as you slow-ride on your bike, and feel the sand between your toes after eating some of the best food in So Cal, you may just be named the best date-planner ever known. (We won’t tell if you don’t.)