The Venice recreation area opened on July 4, 1905. Venice came to be known as the “Coney Island of the Pacific.” By mid-January 1906, an area was built along the edge of the Grand Lagoon patterned after the amusement thoroughfares of the great 19th and 20th century expositions. It featured foreign exhibits, amusements, and freak shows. Trolley service was available from Downtown Los Angeles and nearby Santa Monica. Visitors were dazzled by the system of canals complete with gondolas and gondoliers brought in from Venice, Italy. There were ornate Venetian-style businesses and a full-sized amusement pier. Around the entire park, a miniature steam railroad ran on a 2 12-mile (4.0 km) track. Kinney and some of the nearby residents were aghast at some of the low-class shows that Venice began to offer, but it was considered the best collection of amusement devices on the Pacific Coast, and made a handsome profit.

Eventually, Kinney gained control of city politics and had the name changed from “Ocean Park” to “Venice” in 1911. Kinney was also allowed to build a 60-foot (18 m) breakwater to protect his facilities from storm tides.