This summer, the popular seaside town is more of a magnet than ever. What really draws people is the boardwalk, officially called the Ocean Front Walk, that runs the full length of the beach. Here, the free-wheeling spirit is in touch with the mood of contemporary fashion. There is a feeling that anything goes, of boundaries melting and cultures merging.
Tight Lycra-stretch shorts and swimsuits are still the order of the day for the roller-skaters who swarm over this neighbourhood. But those who prefer to walk are moving in a different direction. They wear loose, lightweight summer dresses, sleeveless and button-front, with small floral prints or in pristine smock white. Legs are bare; hair is long and loose or sometimes in pigtails.
The grunge spirit lives here, mixing floaty feminine fabrics with touches of workwear, particularly in footwear. Dresses are worn with clogs or heavy, rubber-soled combat boots. Cut-off denim shorts are worn over tights. And everyone has a tattoo, real or temporary.
Others ignore the early summer heat, wearing layers of black lace or velvet waistcoats and white ruffled shirts loose over black tights. Sunglasses are small and round this summer - John Lennon specs, worn with floppy hats or berets.
Venice was originally built by a tobacco magnate who wanted to mirror the original city. But the canals have long since been filled in. Since the late Fifties the town has become the haunt of eccentrics, exhibitionists and young Californians who want to play at being bohemians. A man plays the guitar upside-down, his shoulders balanced on two chairs. Stallholders urge you to sign petitions for the legalisation of marijuana ('Hemp, hemp, hooray]'). Bodybuilders with more muscle than sense flex their biceps on Muscle Beach in the hope of winning gleaming plastic trophies. The local gangs of boys stroll around looking for trouble, but steering clear of the police who look even bigger than the ones in Los Angeles and just as nasty.
A man in a dazzling white turban and smile to match skates over, strumming Hendrix on an electric guitar: the amplifier is attached to his waist. He is one of the regulars of the beach, his image immortalised in a giant mural with Botticellian waifs blowing him forward. You pay him dollars 1 for his picture because, in Venice, everyone wants to be paid for everything. Venice has felt the recession as much as nearby Los Angeles.
Saturday lunchtime is the busiest period of the week. It is slow-moving on the boardwalk, where the crowds are heaviest. There are queues outside the Sidewalk cafe where you can turn on, tune in and drop out to Timothy Leary salads.
The most fashionable denizens of Venice avoid the boardwalk at this time. Market Street, running parallel 100 yards inland, is where they go to eat in the shade and shop. The new fashion store that dominates the street is Giorgio Armani's A/X, a range of clothes and stores found solely in the United States. The Italian designer wants to compete directly with The Gap, although I thought the simple, casual A/X clothing was overpriced by comparison.
Better to wander the bargain stores, where I found bell-bottoms selling for dollars 12-dollars 20 as well as the most hideous piece of clothing I have seen in years: denim shorts with stretch lace legs. No one was wearing them on the boardwalk, at least. Even Venice does not get that crazy.