South of Santa Monica is Venice, founded in 1905 by Abbot Kinney who wanted to develop this 2 mile stretch of the Californian coastline in the tradition of the Italian city, complete with canals and gondolas. A handful of the canals still exist today, surviving annexation to the city of Los Angeles, and after being considered a slum in the 1950's, nurturing many artists and creatives in the years since, Venice is still one of the most eclectic places to visit. The boardwalk is still a bit of a circus, and a confronting to some - weed shops, hawkers, hasslers and hustlers, and the homeless - but there is a strong community vibe. The best view is from a bicycle - rent one from the boardwalk, and go for a spin. Watch the skaters, basketballers, dogwalkers...and look out for little hidden bits.
Near the skate bowl, just off the path, is someone's tribute to Kinney's Venetian vision - a busted up Roman statue. It sticks out of the grass, waiting for the riders.
One block over on Abbot Kinney Boulevard you'll find the "new" Venice - young designers of fashion, architecture and home wares, awesome coffee at Intelligentsia, good breakfast at "3 Square", and cruisers parked everywhere. It might be beachy, but Venice ain't sleepy.