Update! In February 2020, I took a journey to what I thought was the original Gold’s Gym America in Venice Beach, then wrote an article about it. As it’s 2023, I have decided to revisit the article and revise some of the content to ensure I did this trip justice.
I first visited Los Angeles in 2009 and one of my biggest regrets was not visiting the original Gold’s Gym. But as I was on a tight budget and with a friend who couldn’t get over his gym anxiety or general dislike of lifting weights, I didn’t visit.
However, in February 2020, I returned to LA all alone and decided to do a few things I hadn’t the first time around.
Visiting the iconic Gold’s Gym in Venice was one of them!
Really Chris…? You travelled over 5,000 miles to visit a gym?
I did indeed! Being a fitness writer and general weight-training nut, I simply had to visit the best gym in the world. (Sorry Swansea Leisure Centre… you knew it wasn’t you).
A short history of Gold’s Gym America
For those who aren’t aware, Gold’s Gym is a global fitness institution.
The first Gold’s Gym America was opened by former US marine Joe Gold in 1965. The original gym was located at 1006 Pacific Avenue in Venice, California.
In 2023, this building is now a house, which is a bit of a shame. It should have been converted into a Gold’s museum or something! Still, a cool video I found shows some guy visiting the building back in 2012, so you can at least see what it looked like.
Anyway, Gold’s moved from Pacific Avenue to 1452 2nd Street in Santa Monica in 1976. Then in the 1980s, it again moved to 360 Hampton Drive, where it is located today, just a few blocks in from the famous Venice Beach.
This world-famous gym has a colourful history.
As I explain in my book, the Bluffer’s Guide to Fitness:
‘The opening of Gold’s was highly anticipated by the bodybuilding community, with one keen journalist writing, ‘This is going to be a gym for men. No fancy rugs or chrome – just plain old-fashioned weights and the greatest apparatus you ever saw’. While the lack of fancy rugs may have put some people off, Gold’s soon became home to some of the most famous bodybuilders of all time, including Frank Zane, Franco Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger (the likes of whom were featured training at Gold’s in George Butler’s 1977 docudrama Pumping Iron).‘
Since the sixties, Gold’s Gym America has expanded and now boasts around 400 locations across the USA and 20 other countries around the world.
However, it is the oldest Gold’s that interested me. While the original is long gone, the Gold’s on Hampton Drive is the closest to the original that anyone will get now – so that’s where I headed!
Did I visit the *original* Gold’s Gym?
As I just mentioned, it took me until 2023 to realise that I hadn’t visited the original gym. The Hampton street location is not the original. However, it is still an iconic gym and is a landmark in the bodybuilding world.
The reason I wanted to visit this gym was that I wanted to use same benches as Arnie, the same dumbbells as The Rock, and the same treadmills as Pierce Brosnan (accepted he’s not a fitness superstar, but my favourite 007 nonetheless).
On that note, would I see any celebrities at Gold’s?
In addition to bodybuilders and fitness legends, it’s a popular gym with the A-listers of LA. There was every chance I’d be rubbing shoulders with Mark Wahlberg or Helen Hunt. More on that later (spoiler alert: I didn’t meet Helen Hunt).
My journey to the (not quite) original Gold’s Gym!
It took me a bit of time to find Gold’s on Hampton Drive. Any normal person may have taken an Uber or bus, but I decided to walk all the way from Santa Monica, along Venice Beach.
This did allow me to pass Muscle Beach, which is another cool location if you are interested in bodybuilding heritage.
Anyway, I eventually cut up from the beach into the more urban part of Venice and, after a few blocks, found Hampton Drive and Gold’s.
Now, the cost for a session at Gold’s in 2020 was an eye-watering $40. That’s around £32 in the UK – a far cry from the usual £5.95 I’d pay for a session at my gym. I have no idea how much it costs in 2023, but I can imagine it is over $40 now.
Still, my session was worth every penny.
As soon as you enter the dated building, you can feel history oozing from every corner. Gold’s is a real lifter’s gym. Everything was dented, scratched and mismatched. Tons (literally) of equipment, all added over decades and used to death.
Walking around, it felt a bit surreal, considering the amount of times I had seen the gym in action on screen.
Yet, I wasn’t there to gawp (well, I was, kind of…) – I was there to PUMP SOME IRON! 💪
What I did in my session
I made my way to the treadmills towards the rear of the building. On my way, I passed popular vegan bodybuilder Brian Turner. At least I think it was him. Regardless, I had no urge to say hello, mainly as I couldn’t remember his name at the time. Still, it was cool to see a ‘celebrity’ right off the bat.
I didn’t really have a training session planned that day. So, after some light jogging to warm up, I decided to do some upper body work.
I began with incline bench press. It was here that I had my first glimpse of some beastly bodybuilders. Full of ‘juice’ and biceps bigger than my head. Cool.
Next, I moved to the yard, where I did a couple of sets of pullups on the bars in the glorious LA sunshine. I could get used to this.
Back inside, I did some sets on the low row station. I noticed a huge chap on a calf raise station next to me. I glanced to my right and confirmed my suspicions – I was sitting next to Big Show, pro wrestler and film star! Awesome.
However, I let him get on with his workout and didn’t make any attempt to chat at that point – I would catch him after the session if I could find him. Although at 7ft and 400lbs, it would be genuinely hard to miss him.
The rest of the morning was less structured. I just hopped around, training on whatever took my fancy. Gold’s is absolutely packed with equipment – half of which nobody other than pro bodybuilders would have use for. I used as much of it as possible, just for the hell of it.
After some tire flipping in the yard, I decided that my body had had enough!
In total, I was at Gold’s for around three hours, making that my longest ever gym session. Again, it was well worth it.
As I mentioned, I had spotted Big Show earlier and decided I would say hi. After all, when else would I be able to say I hung out with a real WWE wrestler after training at Gold’s Gym in America?
Probably not that often…
So I grabbed a vegan protein shake from the fridge and then went over and had a chat with Big Show. He was sitting in the lobby eating almonds, so sat next to him, introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes. I recall that we discussed my home country, Wales, and his visit to the capital city Cardiff.
What a lovely guy. Absolutely massive, with hands the size of dinner plates.
After this, I used the upstairs changing room to wash my face. The showers looked a bit worse for wear, so I bypassed them and instead used a lovely refreshing wipe before leaving.
As for other celebrities that apparently use (or at least used) Gold’s Gym in Venice, here’s the list I found:
- Jessica Alba
- Jodie Foster
- Morgan Freeman
- Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
- Jim Morrison
- Keanu Reeves
- Hilary Swank
- Tiger Woods
- Sylvester Stallone
- Billy Crystal
- David Hasselhoff
- Jean-Claude Van Damme
- …and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Many more names probably train at Gold’s too, so who knows who you may bump into.
However, my advice is to go there to see the building and have a good training session. Don’t just go to spot celebrities. After all, these people want to work out, not have selfies and sign autographs.
You’ll remember that I left Big Show enjoy his workout before I went over and said hello!
My final thoughts about my Gold’s Gym trip
After more than three hours in the gym, I was probably beginning to look a little strange. I therefore decided to purchase a t-shirt and make my way to the exit.
Not without getting a photo of me by the famous sign of course. I had my Instagram-friendly double-biceps pose outside the front of the building.
Then I went into a nearby shop and bought a homeless guy a pack of ‘Lunchables’, because he asked so nicely and I was in a good mood. After that, it was back to my hotel in Santa Monica, my dream morning at Gold’s Gym complete.
Is it worth visiting Gold’s Gym in Venice?
I’d say 100% yes. If you are into fitness and are in LA, Gold’s Gym is a must-see.
It’s not the original location as I first thought, but this gym has been around since the 1980s and is iconic. You are guaranteed to have a great workout and if you hang around long enough, you will probably rub shoulders with a celebrity.
Until next time…