Venice Beach: a counterculture carnival on the West Coast

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Daily Dose on July 25, 2016

This past spring I returned to Venice Beach, California, for the first time since my spinal cord injury. Being landlocked in Denver, Colorado through a cold winter encouraged me to venture back to the town I once lived, this time as a full quadriplegic in a power chair. I stayed at a joie de vivre hotel called the Hotel Erwin, a small boutique hotel perched on the boardwalk in Venice overlooking the ocean. As an able-bodied patron, I had frequented this hotel before to the "High" rooftop bar spending many a sunset with the warm ocean breeze, listening to cool beats by a local DJ sipping a refreshing cocktail watching the sun drift into the ocean. It was the spot to be on nice days. And so it seemed appropriate that I return to a favorite place in California to check out its handicap accessibility. The question remained… Would it be just as good?

The rooms are small and marginally appointed for a person utilizing a power wheelchair, although I was able to manage with a few inches to spare. They have two rooms that are technically handicap accessible, accommodating a wide wheelchair needing a role in/out shower, with balconies garnering a type of heavy plastic as the guardrail. Precautions must be taken not to roll off the balcony being on the fourth floor. The rooms overlook the street side, rather than the ocean side, making for a noisy existence at night; although this is expected in Venice as the counterculture style beach town abounds with activity, especially in the evenings. They have a small ramp at the front door of the hotel and a small sidewalk that can accommodate a power wheelchair again with a few inches to spare, but one must take tremendous caution using sip and puff technology for one wrong sip and puff and a catastrophic face plant would ensue. A small elevator manned by an elevator attendant navigates to your respective floor with a pleasant guide assisting as they did in elevators of past, a nice touch.

The beds are comfortable and the pillows are plush. There is a minibar plentiful with drinks, alcoholic included, with your typical minibar snacks including a small jar of seven-dollar M&Ms. A highlight of the hotel is the room service from their adjoining hotel restaurant Hotel Barlow, a handicap friendly neo-California cuisine style restaurant and bar just outside the front door of the small surfer chic lobby. The menu includes a variety of options including lamb sliders, roasted Brussels sprouts, truffle fries and the ever-delicious chicken and waffles– quite convenient when a day on the boardwalk finds you worn-out.

Navigating such a new environment takes teamwork, from my caregivers to the hotel staff; we all worked seamlessly together to make the trip a positive reacquainting with the California coastline. The hotel staff, including the various hotel managers, was extremely kind and accommodating to every need especially since they had never seen a sip and puff power wheelchair in their midst, or in the hotel. Even with some room changing snafus, the staff was exceedingly welcoming always having a smile on their faces – I even ended up with a free bottle of wine and a nice note by the manager left in my room welcoming me to their hotel.

The Venice boardwalk is conveniently located on the backside of the hotel overlooking the gorgeous coastline with a view of Santa Monica and Malibu to the north and the South Bay beaches to the south. The boardwalk, only a few feet from the hotel, is smooth and accessible aside from small dunes of sand blown in from the ocean wind. A famous renowned locale, the Venice boardwalk provides a myriad of people watching opportunities including bikini-clad beachgoers, ratty skater dudes, medical marijuana dispensaries, kitschy sunglass and T-shirt beach shops and entertaining buskers galore. There is even a Venice beach freak show summoning potential victims where you would find the famous bearded lady, sword swallowing man and Electra the electric lady, amongst others. There is a constant smell of incense wafting in the air and a carnival style atmosphere that never disappoints.

All and all, I would highly recommend a trip to this exciting and beautiful place and the Hotel Erwin is a great spot to spend a weekend. The answer to my question was… Yes, it was just as good and more, especially experiencing it with new eyes from a power wheelchair. I will be back.

Keep on keeping on,


The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.