Southern California isn’t my favorite region of my adopted home state.
But after a trip there earlier this year, I’m loving Long Beach.
And it’s so not L.A.!
Here’s a plan for a “three night stand” that will let you savor the flavor of Long Beach enough to leave you almost sated, but hungry to come back again.
Day 1: Arrival
While you can fly to Los Angeles International Airport from many cities, and travel the 20-odd miles from there to Long Beach, try instead to catch a flight into the smaller, less congested, and more “user friendly” Long Beach Airport, 15 minutes or less from downtown.
After reaching your Long Beach lodgings in mid-to-late afternoon, toss your luggage in your room and—unless you’re staying there—chart a course toward the Pacific Ocean and Hotel Maya.
The hotel architecture looks like it was patterned after ancient ruins near Cancun, but the setting will make you think you’ve sailed across the sea to Hawaii instead just making a short road trip across town.
Have a drink and a nosh, walk along the beach to the pool, explore the art inside of the hotel and its funky lobby.
Saving “The Queen”
Brits may say “God Save The Queen!” when they raise their glasses in a toast, but it wasn’t them nor any deity that saved one “queen” from “death”: The Queen Mary ocean liner.
You’ll find this grand old monarch of the sea restored in “Bristol fashion” and docked just down the street from the Maya Hotel.
You can even bunk where British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and military leaders planned construction of the artificial harbors used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in the suite’s bathroom.
But even if you’re lodging elsewhere in Long Beach, have dinner in “Sir Winston’s,” the ships high-end dining room named after the cigar chomping English parliamentarian.
The menu includes items straight out of the days when the Queen Mary last sailed, such as Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Wellington, and Dover Sole Meuniere, as well as more up-to-date cuisine like Free Range Chicken, Petaluma Duck, and Seared Ahi Tuna.
Day 2: Water Day
Morning Chow Down
Before embarking on a big day on and along the water, fuel up at The Breakfast Bar at 70 Atlantic Avenue in downtown Long Beach. Owners Josh and Pamela Beadel say that “most of our dishes are recipes that come from our family traditions and family cookbooks.”
The fare includes Breakfast Style Guacamole (hardboiled eggs, ground country sausage, pico de gallo, black beans and cheese, topped with sliced avocado), Chicken & Waffle Sticks (Country fried chicken wings and waffle sticks served with sausage gravy and apple cinnamon cheese spread), and Hung Over (Eggs scrambled with cheese and sausage served over French fries and smothered with Nana’s sausage gravy with house pico de gallo & spiced sour cream).
Alas, you can’t sail away aboard the Queen Mary but you can get a waterborne view of her aboard a tour boat from Harbor Breeze, a twenty-minute, one mile walk-off-your-breakfast stroll from The Breakfast Bar.
You’ll likely see a cruise ship docked near the famous ocean liner, container and other large merchant ships that come and go in this important commercial seaport, pleasure craft and with luck, a California Sea Lion or two.
Ship to Shore
Parkers’ Lighthouse is a relaxing venue for lunch with a view of the marina and downtown.
Something’s Fishy in Long Beach
Finish up your day by spending the afternoon at the Aquarium of the Pacific, near where you set off on your harbor cruise after breakfast.
The Aquarium of the Pacific exhibits cover three principal areas of the Pacific:
- Southern California and Baja
- The North Pacific near Japan, Russia and Alaska
- The Tropical Pacific, featuring the coral reefs of Palau
There are plenty of interesting critters to see, including penguins, sharks, and sea dragons.
If you’re a certified SCUBA diver, you can go on a two and a half hour dive in the aquarium’s 350,000-gallon “Tropical Reef Habitat.” For a tamer adventure, participate in a two-hour “Animal Encounter” with aquarium biologists and help feed the animals, or go on one of the facility tours.
If seeing all of those sea creatures at the aquarium has you hankering for a seafood dinner, stroll a half-mile back in the direction of The Breakfast Bar to the Pier 76 Fish Grill where the food is very, very good, and the prices are very, very reasonable.
If you’re not quite ready for a full meal, make your way across the street from Pier 76 Fish Grill to SIP in the Marriott Renaissance hotel on Ocean Boulevard and opt for some “Bites” like “Bacon Caramel Popcorn” or “Sea Spice Kale Chips” and a cocktail or glass of wine. But I warn you that like a siren of sea who lures sailors to her, Executive Chef Janine Falvo will use her tasty treats to tempt you to staying for a complete dinner.
If you cast a line from either Pier 76 Fish Grill or SIP you’d snag it on the BO-Beau Kitchen +Roof Tap an eatery with a “bohemian industrial chic” design in a 1930’s art deco building. The main floor “Kitchen” serves an eclectic array of what it calls “California-French comfort food.”
The second floor open-air roof deck has a bit more limited menu than downstairs and taps that serve 50 beers, two that feature home-made cocktails, and two more that pour select wines.
If beer’s your favorite beverage, take a five minute walk from BO-Beau back toward Ocean Boulevard and try Beachwood Brewing BBQ (“Where The Fork Meets The Pork”) and wash down a serving of Baked Mac and Cheese, Tater Tot Casserole, Pulled Pork Sliders, or “Lena’s Famous Fried Pickles” with beer or wine.
Whether or not the moon’s in the sky like a big pizza pie hanging over Long Beach, you can scarf up pizza and other Italian dishes at Michael’s Pizzeria on the Downtown Promenade near these other restaurants.
DAY 3: Bikes, Art, and an Italian Boat Ride
You could be pedaling your brains out along the beach later this morning, so start out with a hearty breakfast indoors or on the patio at The Attic, a 1920’s craftsman-style bungalow-turned-eatery on Broadway, 2.5 miles south of downtown Long Beach.
The paved bike and pedestrian path that parallels the long, wide stretch of sand that angles south from Long Beach is an ideal place to try out an electric bike from Greater Long Beach Pedego Electric Bikes.
Those 16 years and older can rent a bike by the hour or day and the company will bring it to where you’re at in the Long Beach area, including your hotel. Or you can opt to go on a 3-hour guided “Fun Foodie E-Bike Tour” that includes lunch and drinks and takes you to several Long Beach locations mentioned in this story.
Before setting out, I tried out two of the company’s bikes and settled on a “Step-Thru Interceptor” which I found easier to mount and get rolling.
You can pedal the Pedego bikes, rely solely on the motor, or combine pedal power and engine power to cruise along. While some of my companions decided to pump their legs up and down to propel themselves along the beach’s bike path, I chose to be an “easy rider” and used the motor on my bike to scoot ahead of them at the top-end speed of 20 MPH.
Art For Art’s Sake
Two of the most popular art museums in the Greater Los Angeles area are the Getty Center near Santa Monica (45 minute’s or more drive north from Long Beach) and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades (about an hour’s drive north along the coast from Long Beach).
But I prefer enjoying art in smaller, less crowded, and more intimate venues, so I found the modest-sized Long Beach Museum of Art just the right size with just the right amount of art on display to view during a relatively short visit
If, like me, you ended your electric bike ride at the southern end of the beach, you’ll be just a hop, skip and a jump from the museum. From downtown, it’s a short 1.5 mile drive or a half-hour plus walk.
The museum is located in the landmark 1912 Elizabeth Milbank Anderson house and adjacent carriage house. You can probably do a “walk-through” in about an hour or so.
If that big breakfast you wolfed down before your electric bike ride has long since been forgotten, you can lunch al fresco at Claire’s at the museum.
Even on a Saturday afternoon, traffic along the street shouldn’t be too heavy, so if the weather’s pleasant, enjoy your meal at a street-side table.
The area is better known as “Retro Row” and here’s how it’s described on the Fourth Street Website:
“Kitchy and hip and always hospitable, 4th Street features vintage & contemporary clothing, furniture & accessories, art, antiques & collectibles, books, roller skates & skate boards as well as a locally owned restaurants, coffee shops and wine bars. We also boast salon and health & fitness services, too. Adding to the retro vibe of the street is the restored 1920’s Art Theatre, which hosts a mix of first-run and art films, live concerts & comedy and other unique events.”
I’m usually not a die-hard shopper when I travel, but “window shopping” on Retro Row made me feel that I was strolling around Berkeley near my San Francisco Bay Area home, and far, far from the madding crowds in the L.A. area.
O Sole Mio!
While I’ve seen gondolas being poled through the “canals” of that un-real Las Vegas hotel, The Venetian, and on the canals of “the real Venice” (the one in Italy), I never actually rode in one at either place.
So my “virgin voyage” in one of those oar-propelled craft ended up taking place on a sunset cruise from The Gondola Getaway around “Naples Island” in the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach, about 4 miles from downtown or 1.5 miles from Retro Row.
This isn’t some cheesy, fake gondola ride. It’s about as real a gondola experience you can get without flying thousand of miles to Italy.
The company has been in business since 1982 and has the largest fleet of gondolas in America. Each year it sends a contingent of its gondoliers from Long Beach to Venice to race against its Italian counterparts.
The Last Supper
The Boathouse on The Bay offers live music every night, so it’s your last chance to dance off the calories you’ve consumed over the past two days and three nights and reduce your waistline enough to fit in one final “just” dessert.
If you go
Long Beach Airport (LGB) is served by Alaska, Delta, Jet Blue and US Airways. You can get to Long Beach area locations by taxi or public transportation, or rental cars from Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National/Alamo. There’s beverage and meal service, and free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal and concourse.
If you are driving your own car, Interstate 710 from Interstate 405 will (depending on traffic) lead you into downtown Long Beach.
Amtrak doesn’t have a Long Beach train station. You’ll have to take an Amtrak bus from another Los Angeles area train station to a bus stop (with no shelter or facilities) at 601 Long Beach Boulevard (adjacent to a Denny’s Restaurant) in downtown Long Beach.
Where to Stay
I bunked at the modern Marriott Renaissance Long Beach Hotel on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Long Beach. In addition to SIP, the hotel has café and a Starbucks coffee shop. It’s within walking distance or a short taxi/bus ride to some of the locations mentioned in this story.
The Hotel Maya is located near the Queen Mary on Queensway Bay, about two miles from downtown Long Beach. Some rooms have bay and downtown city views, as does the pool and floating cabana area along the beach. There is an on-site restaurant and poolside bar.
The Queen Mary puts up guests in 346 First Class staterooms and suites where you can enjoy a seasick-free stay aboard a classic ocean liner and use it as your dockside base of operations for exploring Long Beach. The ship offers a number of dining options, including Sir Winston’s where I dined. Be sure to take one of tours of the ship during your stay.
Where to Eat
Although I’ve given you several suggestions on where to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, during your stay, the visitor’s bureau has additional restaurant listings.
If you don’t have a rental car, you can walk or take the free “Passport” shuttle service to many of the locations mentioned in this story. More extensive bus service is provided by Long Beach Transit.
Taxis and limousines are available. Uber’s Los Angeles service area includes Long Beach. The Sidecar ride sharing service operates in Long Beach as well.
What To Do
If you follow my suggested itinerary, you’ll have little free time to do anything else. But the Long Beach Visitors & Convention Bureau Website has a list of even more ways to amuse yourself shopping, experiencing nightlife and art and culture, or engaging in sports and recreation.
When to Go
The weather was warm during my visit to Long Beach at the end of May. Like most of California, it’s cooler and damper in late Fall and Winter in Long Beach, and warmer in summer. But the weather is pleasant nearly anytime of the year with over 300 days when no rain falls.
If you want to time your trip to catch (or avoid) specific events, check the monthly calendar of events on the Long Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau Website.
Tales Told From The Road editor, Dick Jordan, followed this exact itinerary during a visit to Long Beach in May of 2014 as a guest of Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.