Having moved to LA for a job located in Venice, CA (formerly known as "Venice of America"), I was familiar with Southern California canals.
The canals of Venice, of course, have famously been paved over, and those that remain are flanked by million-dollar bungalows.
But I only recently found out that there are other canals in the Southland region—in a tiny area of Long Beach, known as Naples.
I've been obsessed with going there—mostly because they offer gondola rides. So imagine my excitement when the mystery excursion on my birthday this year turned out to be sailing with the folks from Gondola Getaway at Alamitos Bay!
As we pulled up and parked the car, I gasped and said, "I see gondolas..." And that's not something you see—or say—every day in LA.
We arrived to their dock during the honey glow of a late September Magic Hour...
...while a wedding party was busily gathering to set adrift for a couple's impending Neopolitan nuptials.
The sky and water were still blue at that point, and the palm tree fronds green against a darkening backdrop.
Some of the more modern, American-made gondolas in the fleet can hold up to 14 people...
...but we cozied up in a vintage gondola from Venezia, built for two passengers.
Our gondolier, Giuseppe (real name: Joseph), promised to give us as much alone time as we wanted while he rowed from the back. Of course, as always I had so many questions to ask, so I didn't exactly let him off the hook.
Traditional Venetian gondolas are almost 40 feet long and built asymmetrically, so they can be rowed with a single oar and fórcola, which acts as a fulcrum.
But in these canals, the newer gondoliers start off by rowing one of the custom-built vessels—at 25 feet in length, they're shorter, symmetrical, and are rowed with an oar in each hand.
When I asked Giuseppe if he could sing, he obliged with a stirring rendition of "O Sole Mio" under one of the many concrete bridges designed by the partnership of structural engineer Edward Leodore Mayberry Jr. and architect Llewellyn Adelbert Parker (who also designed some LA theatres, including the building that became the recently renovated Teragram Ballroom).
Although people do live along the Naples and Rivo Alto canals upon three distinct islands, and their docks, boat launches, and boats are privately owned, the water here is actually public.
That means technically you could swim in it—though it's only ankle-deep in some parts of the bay. Other areas of the canals can go as deep as 25 feet.
This little-known area was completed in the 1920s—and rebuilt after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake—by developer Arthur Parson as the "Dreamland of Southern California," though its Mayberry & Parker design is primarily Italianate.
Arthur Parson was to Naples in 1903 what Abbott Kinney was to Venice in 1905—but the gondolas have gone from Venice (save for the sculpture at Windward Circle and the one hanging from the ceiling in Danny's).
The Long Beach version of Napoli may not be as authentic as actually being in Italia; but true to its name, it sure is dreamy.
And as the sun sets into a pink horizon, the palm trees flutter in black silhouette. The gondola skims silently along a rippling course, propelled by one paddle that breaks the water surface but never touches the bottom.
Gaze forth, the gondolier behind you and out of sight, it seems that all you really need is a dream—and the wind—to carry you all the way to serenity.
Photo Essay: Venice (Beach) Canals
Photo Essay: A Venice Without Canals
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