Hare Krishnas twirled on the boardwalk, reggae musicians hawked their CDs, and graffiti artists sprayed new designs dreamt up during quarantine.
Venice Beach showed glimpses of its old self Saturday, but L.A.’s iconic counter-culture vortex was decidedly more subdued than usual.
With international travel to Los Angeles dramatically down, tourists from Asia and Europe were not there to buy novelty tees or take selfies in front of the “Touch of Venice” mural.
“I would say it’s like 70% less than what this weekend would bring normally,” said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Theresa Skinner, who oversees the department’s Venice Beach detail. “This is wall-to-wall people, normally.”
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Attractions such as Muscle Beach, the pier and basketball courts remained closed.
That thinned the number of visitors, so it was possible to keep a wide berth from one another on the beach, though much harder on the boardwalk. Some protected themselves with face coverings as has been recommended by authorities, but some did not.
Police were educating beachgoers about face coverings rather than citing them. Skinner said she was pleased with the public’s behavior, which she described as “very, very compliant and respectful.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday that city beaches were for active use such as surfing, swimming and cycling along the newly-reopened bike paths. He discouraged sunbathing, but that was clearly on display on the beach.
Joudi Hamed, a Citrus College student from Glendora, was among those who showed up to lounge on the sand.
“It’s usually hella crowded,” Hamed said. “It’s so weird seeing it like this.”
She had not gotten Garcetti’s memo about sunbathing, underscoring how difficult it is to keep up with the ever-changing patchwork of city and county COVID-19 guidelines without a regular “Matrix”-like upload of data.
Hamed said she and her friends were maintaining social distancing from others, but she also recognized there was a risk to being out in a popular public spot. And she was OK with it.
“You’re going to get it at some point,” Hamed said of COVID-19. “Might as well enjoy life.”
The LAPD’s Skinner recognized that allowing sunbathing “might go against the mayor’s order a little bit,” but she said she didn’t have a problem with it if people were social distancing.
“We just ask for voluntary compliance and hope that they do it,” Skinner said.
“Active” users of Venice Beach, such as surfer Marin Brousse, didn’t mind others sitting on the sand.
“You can’t blame them,” Brousse said. “If they don’t have a yard, they just got to enjoy the sun for a little bit.”
Brousse’s friend and fellow surfer Selim Nait said: “As long as they stay far away and social distance, it’s all good.”
Venice resident Joe Murray, though, expressed concern about people congregating on the beaches.
“We’re not supposed to do that,” Murray said. “They’re technically in non-compliance when they’re doing that.”
He said he himself is itching to get back on the basketball and paddle tennis courts once they reopen. But he’s waiting for the all-clear before he goes back on the beach with a lawn chair.
Murray wistfully said he’s been watching his neighborhood start to buzz again, and he enjoyed the “peace and quiet” while it lasted.
For Maurice Miller of West L.A., the sight of crowds was a sweet salve. The retired military veteran said quarantine had made him realize what a social person he was. And as he sat on a grassy spot and gazed at the boardwalk, he said he felt upbeat.
“I’m actually happy,” he said, “because it seems like it might revert back to normal society in a few weeks, I hope.”