3 Days in Venice Beach

Day 1 in Venice

Lunch at Tocaya

It’s hard to find a restaurant that screams “LA” more than Tocaya (except maybe Cafe Gratitude). The food is Mexican in intent, but organic and “extra” enough that it still feels very LA—plantain chips instead of tortilla chips, guacamole topped with pomegranate arils, and customizable protein and cheese choices for every taco, including vegan options. 

What I appreciate most about Tocaya—besides the ever-friendly service and the air of health—is that the spice here is actually spicy. I split the street corn side with a friend and it was so perfectly seasoned we couldn’t stop eating it, but so spicy we couldn’t finish it even between the two of us. 

Dinner at Gjelina

Gjelina is one of the most venerated restaurants in Venice. Since opening in 2008, it has attracted a foodie following for its excellent pizza and romantic charm, achieved by dim lighting and a rustic outdoor patio. It’s loud, good for small groups or date nights. Almost every table has a pizza, several bottles of wine, and multiple people roaring with laughter. It’s like an ad for good times as an upper-middle-class beautiful person in LA.

Maybe we just did Gjelina wrong, but I was underwhelmed by almost everything we tried. Read my full review of Gjelina.

If you can snag a reservation a month in advance, dinner at Felix seems like a much more rewarding way to drop some serious money on a fancy meal.

Day 2 in Venice

Breakfast at Cafe Buna

Cafe Buna is nothing special in a sea of impressive, high-end restaurant options. This little cafe in Marina del Rey serves your standard comfort food in a small strip mall. There are over 100 items on the breakfast menu. I never trust a menu that long. 

I was pleasantly surprised. Because I was heading out to hike in Malibu, I needed something quick and light, and Cafe Buna fit the bill. The smoked salmon avocado toast was a delight. It tasted like the essence of sushi in the form of avocado toast—soy sauce, black sesame seeds, and lightly pickled cucumbers cut through the creamy avocado, making for a substantial breakfast that still felt light.

smoked salmon avocado toast

Skip the biscuits and gravy here. The gravy obviously came from a packet and the biscuits were bland.

Lunch at The Malibu Cafe

The Malibu Cafe is all about the ambience and the experience. It’s a beautiful, highly Instagrammable space, perfect for weddings and special events. There’s cornhole, life-size chess, an outdoor bar, space for live music, and even a small lake.

I was fortunate enough to visit in the middle of a huge birthday party, when The Malibu Cafe seemed to be at its peak. The grounds were alive with people running around, playing games, posing in the photo booth. Acoustic guitar music, people talking, and children shrieking filled the air. It seems like how the cafe was meant to feel.

This is a great place for an aperol spritz and a charcuterie board on the patio. Partly a destination for the food, but more so the location, it’s an ideal spot for those who want to embrace that carefree, day-drinking-outside LA vibe.

Dinner at Abbot’s Pizza Company

Sometimes, after eating lots of pretentious, expensive LA food and walking up and down Abbot Kinney Blvd, peeking into restaurants and getting discouraged by 90-minute waits, you just want something easy and familiar.

If you love pizza and bagels (and pizza bagels?), Abbot’s Pizza Company is your spot. Customize any pizza crust with free add-ons like onion, poppy, or sesame seeds. Just when you think you’ve finished the best part of the pizza, you hit bagel! I loved it.

They’re famous for their salad pizza (which, from what I can tell, is a bunch of romaine on a pizza crust, but everyone reassures me it’s so much more than that). The wild mushroom pizza was so satisfying. Rich, funky, cheesy, and truffly while retaining a hint of natural sweetness and brininess from the olive tapenade pesto.

Day 3 in Venice

squid ink calamari at Scopa

Brunch at Scopa Italian Roots 

I was excited to learn that Scopa is owned by none other than Chef Antonia Lofaso (Top Chef contestant and guest judge on Cutthroat Kitchen).

The ambience is just as good as the food. Exposed brick walls and pipes give it that industrial feel, but the marble counter lining the long bar makes it elegant. A nice dress and a fancy brunch don’t seem out of place here, where the vibe is modern but the food is old-school Italian.

I had the ricotta crostini and the fried rice ball, both famous at Scopa. My favorite was the squid ink calamari. Not because of the ink, but because the breading was so light. Underneath the crisp exterior, I could see the squid and taste it in every bite. It was served with just a squeeze of lemon, which is all I needed (though they do offer lemon aioli for dunking your calamari, too).

More eating in Southern California:

grilled orange kabocha squash, pomegranate arils, mint pesto

Gjelina

The most famous restaurant in LA’s Venice Beach has lost some of its luster.

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