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Neighborhood Tour: Revolutionary Rose Avenue

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You may think that Venice's Rose Avenue is just the latest example of glam-hippie-style gentrification ... and you'd be right. Much like Abbot Kinney before it, the formerly gritty street leading to the beach is undergoing a transformation; it's now home to destination eateries like Superba Snack Bar and Café Gratitude, a renowned wine shop, one of those fancy flagship Whole Foods stores, and the kind of boutique shops that invite you to linger.

But there's a little more going on over there. You see, some well heeled bohemians know that there's more to life than just biodynamic wines and handmade feather earrings; at least that's what I discovered when I poked my nose behind the rustic storefront of Matt Winter's interior design studio at 542 Rose Avenue and discovered a garden planting in progress. Volunteer Finian Makepeace filled me in on the Venice Victory Gardens project, a local "biological farming" effort to restore carbon to the planet's topsoil, thereby growing healthier crops. The garden I stumbled upon is a bit of a practice run for the organization: its yield will supply nearby restaurants like Café Gratitude and Oscar's Cerveteca, meanwhile generating publicity for the cause as they prepare to expand to larger garden spaces.

Another neighborhood spot notable for its altruistic nature is the original outpost of Groundwork Coffee at 671 Rose Avenue. Founder Richard Karno started roasting his own beans in this turn of the century brick building in 1990. By the time he opened his first retail store in the same location a few years later, Groundwork was one of the only organic coffee roasters in the U.S. Seven cafes later, the company still embraces its fair trade and organic ideals.

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One of the prettiest places on the street is Big Red Sun at 560 Rose Avenue, a landscape design studio and nursery that specializes in succulents and native plants. The welcoming indoor/outdoor retail space encourages exploration: there are so many beautiful plants, pots, fountains and miscellaneous decorative garden items on display. The boutique inside features the usual assortment of candles, vases, and gift-y home décor items, along with crystals, seashells and even wasp nests. You may be able to find a plant elsewhere at a better price, but I guarantee the ambiance won't be as nice.

The stretch of Rose between 5th and 7th Streets has also become a respectable dining destination as of late. If I'm in the area at dinnertime, I always seem to end up at Superba Snack Bar at 533 Rose, mostly because I don't ever stop craving its transcendent crispy Brussels sprouts in dashi broth. Well-regarded neighborhood favorites Venice Beach Wines and Oscar's Cerveteca are right next door to Superba. For lunch (or sometimes just dessert), I'm drawn to the vegan and raw food mecca Café Gratitude at 512 Rose Avenue. While its woo-woo menu items names ("I Am Grounded," "I Am Transformed") may be off-putting for some, the food's damn good and healthy. A few blocks to the west at 220 Rose is established neighborhood favorite Rose Café. Open since 1979, the huge converted industrial space features an art gallery and boutique, as well as a bustling take-out counter for the bakery and a full-service restaurant with a pleasant patio.

Rose Avenue may soon be just as overrun with pricey boutiques and bars as Abbot Kinney, but for now, the neighborhood still retains just enough of that genuinely funky Venice Beach vibe to feel authentic. Go enjoy it now before its too late.

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