Spotlight: Long Beach vc_spotlightlongbeach_hero_longbeach_st_rf_168810310_1280x640
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Spotlight: Long Beach

Spotlight: Long Beach vca_maps_losangeles_9
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Just half an hour from Los Angeles, Long Beach is a beachfront gem you’ll want to add to your California itinerary. It offers beautiful beaches and marinas along with a busy dining and shopping scene that perfectly blends big city 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 ship’s 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.

Looking for some retail therapy instead? Shop designer favorites at Pike Outlets or search for the perfect retro finds at the vintage boutiques along Long Beach’s Fourth Street. Or try your hand at kitesurfing on Long Beach’s Belmont Shores, one of the best places in the state for beginners to learn the sport thanks to the protective breakwater that blocks major waves.

Above all, enjoy eating your way through the city’s culinary delights from the classic waterfront Parkers’ Lighthouse in Shoreline Village to the modern SteelCraft, an urban eatery in Bixby Knolls, to the rooftop Sky Room, an Art Deco bar and dining room, 14 stories atop the Breakers Hotel in downtown Long Beach. Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend, a family reunion destination, or just a getaway with the kids, Long Beach has the food, fun, and sun for your next Southern California trip. 

–Kate Bayless

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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.

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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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 grow 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.

Opening in spring 2019 is Pacific Visions, a brand-new wing that will help aquarium visitors better understand the challenges the ocean faces and the opportunities it holds. The expansion will include a state-of-the-art interactive theater, a larger exhibit gallery with live animals, and an art gallery.

Insider tip: Check out the Aquarium of the Pacific website for information on discounted tickets.

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Queen Mary

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Queen Mary
What to do and see at Long Beach’s famous ship

No visit to Long Beach is complete without a stop at the Queen Mary, a retired ocean liner that offers visitors historical intrigue, award-winning restaurants, stunning views of the Long Beach skyline, and even onboard accommodations. The Queen Mary celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017—she first arrived in Long Beach on Dec. 9, 1967.

Take a tour

While you can explore parts of the Queen Mary on your own, your visit will be enhanced by taking advantage of one of the ship’s many guided tours that provide the historical background and expert insight to make your visit more interesting. Choose from a range of guided tours, including The Glory Days Historical Tour or Haunted Encounters that reveals why the Queen Mary was listed by Time magazine as one of the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America. The Queen Mary also offers combination tour tickets with another historic ship, the USS Iowa, as well as other location attractions, including the Aquarium of the Pacific and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Have a bite

Whether you are just visiting the Queen Mary for the day or staying overnight in one of the ship's staterooms, a meal aboard this Long Beach landmark is a must-do. Grab a classic cocktail (and an amazing view) at the Observation Bar or enjoy a bowl of chowder and a brew at the Chelsea Chowder House & Bar, a contemporary take on the traditional fish house. End your weekend visit right by joining Long Beach locals for the Sunday Champagne Brunch with dozens of breakfast favorites and unique dishes from around the globe—including made-to-order omelets and pancakes, Albondigas soup and carne asada tacos, Asian style ribs, or the carving station, slicing up perfectly prepared prime rib and leg of lamb. (It’s no wonder Condé Nast Traveler named the Queen Mary one of the best brunches in the world!.) Want the full Queen Mary experience? Enjoy five-star fine dining at Sir Winston’s Restaurant & Lounge for a gourmet menu, extensive wine list, and unmatched ambiance and service.

See a show

Throughout the year, the Queen Mary hosts performance and events to round out your visit. From monthly events like Ships & Giggles Comedy Night held every second Monday and Local Band Hangout every third Thursday to Barrel Series Tasting Dinners or the spooky Dark Harbor Halloween special, every month offers new opportunities to enjoy evening events aboard the ship.

Stay the night

For a truly unique experience, visitors can stay 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) that may feature warm wood paneling, Art Deco built-ins or original artwork found on the ship—in fact, no two rooms are alike. Those looking for more space can opt for a suite with separate sleeping and living quarters or a Family Stateroom, with two bedroom areas for added privacy, designed with families in mind.

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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.