When husband Rob and I signed up for a Coastal California Princess cruise embarking at the San Pedro pier in Los Angeles, it was logical to visit nearby Long Beach. This pretty oceanside city in the shadow of LA is a great pre-cruise, post-cruise or anytime destination.
The $1 billion Long Beach pumped into its waterfront has transformed it to a delightful daytime playground and nighttime entertainment center. For our April visit, brilliant purple Jacaranda trees greeted us. Water, greenery and colorful blooming flowers were everywhere. After checking in at Hyatt the Pike Hotel, we did a walking tour.
The Pike area, once a 1920s-era amusement park, today is made up of the Aquarium of the Pacific, Rainbow Harbor, several hotels, a bevy of eateries and eclectic shops.
When our feet were tired, we rode a free red Passport bus from the Aquarium of the Pacific past trendy waterfront areas, through downtown, past the mass transit center and out to the Queen Mary ship attraction. The bus stopped at Shoreline Village, a pretty waterfront area with an eclectic mix of trendy shops, locally owned and chain eateries as well as dozens of photo ops. The free Passport buses have served conventioneers, tourists as well as locals for 12 years. Drivers are friendly, considerate and compassionate.
After a delicious dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, we walked back to the hotel over an attractive pedestrian bridge. A relaxing swim in the Hyatt the Pike’s heated rooftop pool was a fitting end to a beautiful day.
The next morning we did a self-guided tour of the Aquarium of the Pacific, where school groups interacted with volunteers at the tidal pools and touch tanks. A highlight was three divers feeding fish in giant glass-fronted tanks. The popular penguin exhibit and an outdoor lorikeet (colorful miniature parrots) feeding station captivate all ages. More than 11,000 inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean call the aquarium home (www.aquariumofpacific.org).
We lunched at Parkers’ Lighthouse Restaurant, which is surrounded by stellar 360-degree views of the lighthouse, marina, yacht basin, downtown buildings and seaport.
One of Long Beach’s most recognized attractions is the Queen Mary. Launched in 1936, she was considered the grandest ocean liner ever built. When World War II began, the Queen quickly transformed into a troop ship. Known as the Grey Ghost, she carried 800,000 troops by the war’s end.
Retired from active service in 1967, the Queen Mary was purchased by the City of Long Beach as a floating hotel/restaurant and conference center. Hear fascinating stories on the guided tours: Behind the Scenes, World War II, Ghosts & Legends — or do a self-guided Scorpion submarine tour (queenmary.com).
To celebrate our anniversary, we took an evening sunset cruise through the scenic canals of Naples Island, an affluent neighborhood known for its multimillion dollar waterfront homes. Gondola Getaway features authentic Venetian gondolas rowed by costumed gondoliers. Along with singing “Arrivederci Roma” under a bridge, Erick, our gondolier, pointed out the watercraft belonging to the homeowners. He said the Christmas season is magical with all the colored lights and festivities (www.gondo.com).
After sundown in Long Beach, LED lights turn on. The sprawling convention center is surrounded by 125 restaurants within an eight-block radius. Nightclubs, live music and artisanal bars line the city’s downtown, up and down Pine Avenue, the Promenade and Broadway.
Shutter bugs will find fantastic photo ops of the Long Beach skyline, the majestic Queen Mary and seal-covered buoys on a narrated 45- or 90-minute harbor cruise with Harbor Breeze Cruises. Board the boat in Rainbow Harbor. Three-hour whale watching tours are available during the whale migration season (www.2seewhales.com).
Art aficionados can explore two floors of galleries at the Long Beach Museum of Art on a scheduled tour (www.lbma.org). A great beginning to a sunny Long Beach day is the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Gardens, with a tour of the waterfalls, tea house, Zen Garden and Koi pond (www.csulb.edu/~jgarden).
Long Beach’s mild year-round climate is conducive to events and festivals. More than 200,000 racing fans flock here each year to witness the nation’s biggest race through city streets, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
In addition to being a busy container shipping port, Long Beach also is a cruise ship port. The Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration are home ported here and do short cruises to Mexico. Carnival Miracle also sails seasonally to Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti and Fiji.
Remember the 1958 song “26 Miles (Santa Catalina)” by the Four Preps? At Catalina Express Landing in Long Beach, board a speedy catamaran for a trip to Catalina Island, one short hour away. Arrive in Avalon, hike the hills, or glimpse the world below the waves on a classic glass-bottom boat tour. Other options include deep sea fishing, kayaking, snorkeling or simply lying on the beach watching the waves roll in (www.catalinaexpress.com).
Incorporated in 1888, Long Beach is 22 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, 10 miles southwest of Anaheim and 90 miles north of San Diego. This beautiful seaside city of 466,000 boasts 5½ miles of sandy beach, which rarely is foggy because it faces southwest.
Ten minutes from downtown, Long Beach airport underwent a $140 million modernization with a new concourse and upgraded concessions. Alaska Air, Delta, JetBlue Airways and US Airways/American serve the award-winning airport (www.lgb.org). Los Angeles World Airport is 25 minutes north (23 miles).
In addition to Catalina Island, nearby attractions include Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure, Universal Studios, Hollywood, Getty Center, downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Most of these places can be reached by public transit from downtown Long Beach.
Wherever we went in Long Beach, locals were helpful and friendly. For more Long Beach information, visit www.visitlongbeach.com or call 800-452-7829.
Author bio: A widely published travel writer, Pat Woods lives in Sun City West.