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One of the massive tanks at the Aquarium of the Pacific
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Aquarium of the Pacific

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Aquarium of the Pacific
Head to Long Beach to visit Southern California’s largest aquarium

Located along Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor, the Aquarium of the Pacific is Southern California’s largest aquarium and a must-do Long Beach activity for all ages. Home to more than 11,000 animal exhibits, the aquarium explores three distinct waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

Start in the Southern California/Baja Gallery where you’ll find the 142,000-gallon, three-story high Honda Blue Cavern that features ocean inhabitants found off the coast of Catalina Island. You’ll also want to visit the Seal and Sea Lion Habitat and the Ray Touch Pool. Highlighting habitats in and around the Bering Strait, the Northern Pacific gallery features a collection of graceful jellies, four playful otters in the Sea Otter Exhibit, and the largest species of octopus in the world, the giant Pacific octopus, which can be more than 20 feet long.

Then head to the warmer waters of the Tropical Pacific Gallery and the largest exhibit in the aquarium—the 350,000 gallon Tropical Reef Habitat, which can be viewed from three locations and holds thousands of colorful fish, coral, sea turtles, and two kinds of sharks. Don’t forget to stop by the seahorse and sea dragon exhibit to see if you can find these camouflaged creatures hidden among the seaweed.

In addition to the three main galleries, the aquarium also features outdoor exhibits, including an interactive Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest aviary, penguin habitat,  and a horseshoe crab touch lab.

If you’re looking to dive in further, the aquarium offers many educational, exclusive, and behind-the-scenes experiences. You can get up close and personal with animals such as stingrays, sea lions, and penguins, or dive right into an exhibit (certification required). If your kids have dreamed of staying overnight next to a gigantic fish tank, you can do that too.

The latest addition to the aquarium is Pacific Visions, a wing that helps aquarium visitors better understand the challenges the ocean faces and the opportunities it holds. The expansion, sheathed in a striking blue-green biomorphic shell, includes a state-of-the-art interactive theater, a larger exhibit gallery with live animals, and an art gallery.

Sign up for the annual Aquarium of the Pacific 5K in October to run (or walk) past the aquarium and other Long Beach sites on a flat, scenic course. Bonus: All participants get a $5 voucher for admission to the aquarium.

Insider tip: Check out the Aquarium of the Pacific website for upcoming events, hours, ticket prices, and information on discounted tickets.

 

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Ron Thomas/Getty Images

Spotlight: Long Beach

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January
Average (°F)
Dec - Feb
67°
High
47°
Low
Mar - May
72°
High
54°
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June - Aug
81°
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64°
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Sept - Nov
77°
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57°
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Just half an hour from Los Angeles, Long Beach is an oceanfront gem you’ll want to add to your California itinerary. The city offers beautiful beaches and marinas along with a busy dining and shopping scene that perfectly blends urban sophistication with beach town fun.

Tour the Queen Mary, the legendary, permanently docked ocean liner, or relax with a drink in the ship’s Observation Bar—for truly unique accommodations, you can even stay overnight in one of the staterooms or suites. Visit the Aquarium of the Pacific, Southern California’s largest aquarium and home to playful sea otters, Magellanic penguins, and a 350,000-gallon tropical reef habitat, which holds thousands of colorful fish, coral, sea turtles, and sharks. If you’re in the mood for retail therapy, find designer favorites at The Pike Outlets or search for the perfect retro find at the vintage boutiques along Long Beach’s Fourth Street.

With 11 miles of sandy shoreline, waterfront adventure is central to the city’s charm. Visitors can enjoy the waves from dry land at one of the family-friendly beaches like Alamitos Beach and Marine Park, or rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, Duffy electric boats, and other watercraft in Rainbow Marina. Try your hand at kitesurfing on Long Beach’s Belmont Shore, one of the best places in the state for beginners to learn the sport. Hop aboard a vessel and venture out to sea on a whale-watching tour from Harbor Breeze Cruises, a sailboat through Sunglow Charters, a point-to-point ride on the high-speed water taxis, or a romantic excursion on a Venetian gondola.

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Ron Thomas/Getty Images

Waterfront Activities in Long Beach

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Waterfront Activities in Long Beach
Take advantage of the city’s beachfront and unique waterways with these fun water activities

With more than 11 miles of sandy shorelines and sparkling bays, Long Beach is the perfect place to enjoy time both in and on the water. From standup paddleboards to sailboats, harbor cruises to romantic gondola rides, Long Beach offers waterfront activities for everyone.

Family-friendly beaches

Thanks to a protective breakwater built by the U.S. Navy during World War II, Long Beach’s sandy shores are a great choice for families. Protected from major waves and without riptides, shorelines like Alamitos Beach, Marine Park (aka Mother’s Beach), and Belmont Shore Beach provide plenty of space for sunbathing or sand castle building and calm waters for families with small children to enjoy the beach without the worry of wipe-out.

Water sports and tours

Always wanted to learn how to kitesurf? That same breakwater that makes the shoreline safe for little ones also makes Long Beach’s Belmont Shores one of the best places for beginners to learn the sport. Try out a 90-minute Discovery lesson with SoCal Kitesurfing or jump into a three-hour group lesson with Captain Kirks. Visitors can also rent standup paddleboards, kayaks, Aqua bikes, Duffy electric boats, and other watercraft in Rainbow Marina.

If being on the water is more your vacationing style, a guided 45-minute harbor tour from Harbor Breeze Cruises will help you get your bearings in town and learn about the history and marine life of the Long Beach waterfront. Or choose one of their three-hour whale-watching tours. Look for gray whales December through April, the mighty blue whales June through October, and an endless supply of dolphins, sea lions, and other marine life all year. Make reservations online for the best deal. Looking for something even grander? Charter a sailboat through the Harbor Yacht Club or Pacific Sailing for a day or overnight trip to Catalina Island.

Also along the waterfront, sign up for the annual Aquarium of the Pacific 5K in October to run (or walk) past Rainbow Harbor and Queensway Bridge on a flat, scenic course. Bonus: All participants get a $5 voucher for admission to the aquarium.

Romantic getaway

For a little romance on your visit, take a Venetian gondola ride with Gondola Getaway. The one-hour gondola rides take groups of two to six passengers through the canals of Naples with views of million-dollar homes, luxurious yachts, and bridges arching over the canals. Pack your own appetizers and wine to enjoy on the boat (they’ll provide glasses and an ice bucket!) or book a Brunch or Pizza Cruise. Larger groups in town for weddings and other events can hire multiple boats at once or the larger “Carolina” that holds up to 15 people. If you’re lucky, you might even get serenaded by your gondolier.

Get around town

The Long Beach waterways are also a great way to get around the city without getting in your car. From Rainbow Harbor, visitors can hop on the Aquabus, a 49-passenger boat that travels between Rainbow Harbor, the Queen Mary, Hotel Maya, and the Catalina Landing, or the AquaLink, a 79-passenger high-speed catamaran that travels between Rainbow Harbor, the Queen Mary, Vet’s Pier, and Alamitos Bay.

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Queen Mary

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Queen Mary
Long Beach’s legendary ocean liner gleams with Art Deco splendor and Old World sophistication

Pay homage to the rich heritage of trans-Atlantic travel with a visit to the Queen Mary, a luxurious passenger ship that made the Titanic seem like a bathtub toy. At 1,019 feet long and 81,000 tons (310 meters and 73,500 metric tons), the Queen Mary was one of the largest and most elegant ships of the early 20th century. The ocean liner made 1,001 crossings between New York and England beginning in 1936. Now permanently stationed in Long Beach, the Queen Mary is not just a floating museum—the ship also offers top-notch dining, dazzling city skyline views, overnight accommodations in original first-class staterooms, and a full calendar of performances and events.

You can explore some parts of the iconic vessel on your own, but guided tours offer a more in-depth experience. The Glory Days tour delves into the ship’s construction and her time in military service during World War II. The Haunted Encounters tour reveals why the Queen Mary made Time magazine’s “Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America” list.

While onboard, be sure to enjoy a meal in one of the Queen Mary’s three award-winning restaurants. Sip a chic cocktail while you savor the sunset view from the Observation Bar (formerly the ship’s first-class lounge) or spoon up a bowl of chowder at the Chelsea Chowder House & Bar. For a luxurious evening, enjoy five-star dining, unmatched service, and an extensive wine list at Sir Winston’s Restaurant & Lounge. At the Royal Sunday Brunch, champagne flows freely and banquet tables overflow with 50 unique dishes from around the globe. This weekly feast has been featured on the Travel Channel and lauded in Condé Nast Traveler.

For a uniquely nautical experience, spend the night aboard the Queen Mary in one of the ship’s 346 original staterooms and suites. Choose a stateroom on one of the three decks (all above sea level). No two rooms are alike, but many have Art Deco–style built-in cabinets, original wood paneling, and artwork.

Throughout the year, the Queen Mary’ssocial calendar overflows with performances and events, from comedy nights to wine-tasting dinners to local live music performances. One of the biggest annual parties is the ScotsFestival and International Highland Games held in February, which celebrates the big boat’s heritage—it was built in Clydebank, Scotland—with traditional Highland dancing, piping, drumming, Celtic harp concerts, and even falconry and sheepherding demonstrations.

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Dining in Long Beach

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Dining in Long Beach
Find everything from romantic waterfront restaurants to kid-friendly cuisine

With hundreds of restaurants to choose from, Long Beach offers a diverse selection of dishes to satisfy any palette. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly restaurant that will be good for the kids, a romantic dinner with a view, or the perfect spot for brunch, Long Beach offers visitors an array of flavors, venues, and price ranges. 

Waterfront dining

With 11 miles of shoreline and more than two dozen waterfront restaurants, there are lots of ways to enjoy upscale waterfront dining in Long Beach. Head down to Shoreline Village for mesquite-grilled seafood, sushi, steaks, and more at Parkers’ Lighthouse, including its award-winning, two-story wine cellar. Or stop by the east bank of Alamitos Bay to enjoy the open-view kitchen and bayside views of the Boathouse on the Bay. Don’t want to break the bank for a water view? Grab breakfast or lunch at Plunge or lobster bisque and a cold brew at Belmont Brewing Company. After a long day of exploring, enjoy a walk down the Pine Avenue Pier and dinner at Gladstone’s. Splurge big with fine dining aboard the Queen Mary at Sir Winston's or head 14 stories above the city to The Sky Room atop the Breakers Hotel for a romantic dinner or a cocktail on the rooftop UP Lounge to catch the sunset. 

Kid-friendly cuisine

Families with young kids will find plenty of options to keep young visitors happy and best of all, full. For delicious chips and salsa, and an array of Mexican favorites, head to Lola’s Mexican Cuisine in the Bixby area or on 4th Street for kids’ menus and available high chairs. Or try brunch on the outdoor patio at Restauration on 4th Street that gives kids room to roam. Families will also enjoy kid-friendly chains like Famous Dave’s BBQ and Bubba Gump Shrimp, both conveniently located near the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Second Street eats

Eating your way down Second Street is the perfect way to spend a Long Beach day. In between bites, you can browse boutiques, catch some live street corner music, people watch, and soak in some Southern California culture. Start with a quick breakfast burrito from Sacho’s Tacos and a cup of Joe from Polly’s Gourmet Coffee, or enjoy a leisurely brunch of Surf & Turf Benedict or a Ratatouille Omelet at The Attic. At noon, stop by Tavern on 2 for craft beers and a bowl of their famous spicy chicken tortilla soup. Then finish off your Second Street eating extravaganza with homey Italian dishes at La Strada or a seasonally inspired dish from Saint & Second, including creative cocktails like the Chipotle Pineapple Collins.

Creative cuisine

With a nod to the city’s shipping industry, try out SteelCraft, an urban outdoor eatery in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood or sample the innovative vegan eats at Seabirds Kitchen on 4th Street. Constructed out of 40-foot shipping containers, SteelCraft has restaurants offering artisan burgers, pizza, Hawaiian shaved ice, handmade chocolate, Japanese ramen, Steelhead Coffee, Smog City Brewery, and even gourmet waffles.

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California Dream Eater visits The Attic in Long Beach
The only thing California Dream Eater loves more than mac’n‘cheese is mac’n‘cheese topped with crushed, flaming-hot Cheetos.
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Shopping in Long Beach

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Shopping in Long Beach
Where to find the best vintage, bargains, and luxury goods in Long Beach

Named as one of the Most Walkable Neighborhoods in America by WalkScore.com, Long Beach is the ideal location to stroll and shop. With a variety of distinct shopping areas to explore, everyone from vintage lovers and bargain hunters to outlet lovers and luxury shoppers can satisfy their itch to shop.

Retro Row

Vintage lovers rejoice! Known as Retro Row, the growing retail area along 4th Street between Walnut and Junipero is a three-block collection of eclectic shops boasting kitschy collectibles, vintage threads, and retro finds. Hit up Moxi Roller Skate Shop for lessons and sweet wheels. Browse through vinyls at Third Eye Records or vintage apparel at Meow. Find a souvenir at Songbird Boutique or just grab a drink at one of the area’s many pubs and coffee shops and enjoy the people-watching. 

Pike Outlets

Thanks to a $65 million update in 2015, Long Beach’s Pike Outlets offer even more shops and restaurants for visitors to enjoy in a pedestrian-friendly setting. Located next to the Convention Center and Aquarium of the Pacific, The Pike Outlets satisfy shoppers with retailers like Restoration Hardware Outlet, H&M, Nike, Gap, Converse, Columbia Sportswear, and others. The outlets are even a great destination for an evening out in Long Beach: Start with a stroll along the waterfront, grab a pint at the Auld Dubliner Irish Pub, and then enjoy a night of standup at the Laugh Factory. The outlets also host a range of events throughout the year, including the Urban Hive farmer’s market every fourth Friday of the month.

Second Street

Second Street and its 15 intersecting side streets make up the charming business district of Belmont Shore. Running parallel to the Pacific Ocean, Second Street offers shoppers a mile and a half of retail therapy opportunities. From well-known retailers like Banana Republic and The Body Shop to boutique shops specializing in everything from swimming and surfing apparel and accessories to the latest European clothing and jewelry designs, Second Street is a shopper’s paradise.