Here's a southern California getaway designed with little travelers in mind: small towns, animals, beach fun, and gentle surf.
Long Beach, the city by the sea, embraces the charm of a bustling waterfront with an upbeat ambience of urban chic. Just 20 miles south of Los Angeles, it’s the ultimate year-round playground for seafarers and landlubbers of all ages. The warm temperate climate is perfect for strolling and pushing a stroller. With older children, there’s jogging, rollerblading, or pedaling down the sprawling paths that wind along more than 5 ½ miles of sandy beaches.
It’s a great place to bask in the sun, take a dip in the gentle ocean waves, or get your feet wet with a round of windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, catamaraning or kayaking. Don’t worry if you left your gear at home as everything from rollerblades to wetsuits, jet skis to windsurfing equipment, can be rented at various places along the beach.
A Wealth of Attractions
For family adventure, no trip to Long Beach is complete without a visit to the legendary Queen Mary (800/437-2934). Discover the historic ocean liner and World War II troopship with tours that begin in the lower decks at the engine room, and conclude atop the ship in the wheelhouse. Those so inclined to a more eerie perspective should latch onto the interactive special effects attraction called “Ghosts & Legends,” probably best for ages 8+. Enjoy an array of casual-to-elegant waterfront restaurants, and even plan to spend the night in one of the luxury liner’s 365 Art Deco staterooms.
Dive into the mystique of one of the Cold War’s hottest weapons, the Russian Foxtrot Submarine – Code Name: Scorpion (562/432-0424), moored alongside the ship. It is rugged, spartan, cramped and shrouded in secrecy. Adults who are not claustrophobic will feel the chill of 300 feet of Cold War menace; little (and big) boys will be very impressed.
For those who fancy themselves history buffs, Rancho Los Cerritos (562/570-1755) is the ideal place to delve into the lifestyle of 19th-century Long Beach. Once part of an early Spanish land grant, the two-story adobe was built in 1844 by John Temple as headquarters for his cattle ranching operations. The home was remodeled in 1930 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and is now a National, State and local Historic landmark where you can walk in the steps of its original owners on the Living History tours, or celebrate the changing of the season with a guided tour of its lush grounds.
The Aquarium of the Pacific (562/590-3100) appeals to all ages. Discover more than 12,500 animals, representing nearly 500 different species, as you explore the local waters of Southern California and Baja, the cold waters of the Northern Pacific, and the warm clear waters of the Tropical Pacific. Everyone will get closer than they ever imagined at the new “Dazzling & Dangerous” exhibit of venomous creatures. Get to meet some of the surprising creatures behind the fangs, stingers and spines from lionfish and waspfish to snakes and fuzzy spiders. Come face to face with large sharks, such as sand tiger, nurse and whitetip reef, and even touch gentle sharks such as zebra, epaulette, and bamboo at the Shark Lagoon. Step inside the Lorikeet Forest aviary where more than 100 enthusiastic lorikeets fill the trees. Purchase small cups of sweet nectar and just hold them in outstretched hands to feed these friendly birds from Down Under.
Those drawn to ocean views and the arts will love the Long Beach Museum of Art (562/439-2119). Perched atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the museum is set inside an historic 1912 craftsman-style mansion. Art exhibits are easy to view and appealingly displayed. Stroll the lovely gardens and take your time browsing through the gift shop. Be sure to enjoy a delicious brunch or lunch at Claire’s, the museums award-winning cafÃ©. Additionally, MoLAA – The Museum of Latin American Art (562/437-1689) is among the most intriguing art venues in the western United States. It showcases paintings, sculpture and multi-media created by contemporary artists, Latin luminaries, and the fiery imaginations of rising talents from throughout the Spanish speaking world.
“Island Hop” Around the Area
The Rainbow Marina, one of Long Beach’s top waterfront destinations, will have the whole family taking off in different directions. The Pike, with its turn-of-the-century carousel and classic Ferris wheel, is the area’s newest attraction. It’s a cornucopia of popular restaurants, a 14-screen theater venue and one of the largest GameWorks entertainment complexes. For added fun, don a helmet and step onto a self-balancing, two wheeled Segway human transporter that’s easy enough for teens and older to handle.
Be sure and bring cameras to the Harbor’s Shoreline Village, a waterfront collection of bright jewel-colored shops that add local flavor. The thrill seekers in the family will love the Rainbow Rocket, a high speed boat that goes past the Long Beach Breakwater and into the open waters of the Pacific, blasting through waves at top speed. For those who crave a calmer adventure, a narrated leisure harbor cruise would be more welcome.
Experience the sizzle of European-flavored Pine Avenue, rimmed with cafes, lights and pulsating music. The eight-block area has emerged as “Restaurant Row,” with over 100 quality eateries. Drop in for creative samplings of savory dishes from hot wings to kid-pleasing haute cuisine, while enjoying the sights and sounds of the Pine Avenue Entertainment District.
Did someone say shopping? The effervescent area of Belmont Shore is best known for Second Street, an eclectic 15-block stretch of trendy boutiques and bookstores. Non-shoppers can people-watch over a cafÃ© latte or espresso at one of the many outdoor coffee houses. Avant-garde “Funky Fourth” is a vintage shopper’s dream. In addition to clothing and furniture, antique shops are plentiful. In the whimsical East Village, renovated lofts set in historic 1920 buildings as well as warehouses have turned the area into an Arts district. Galleries featuring local artists, used book stores, cafes, tea and coffee houses dot the area.
Designed around an extensive canal system, Naples Island enjoys its own classic character. Take a Venetian-style gondola, or pack a box lunch and take turns at the helm of a Duffy electric boat meandering through the canals of Naples Island. Even your youngest can pilot these craft. Enjoy the beautiful homes, boats and yachts, arched bridge and calm waters that create this breathtaking landscape.
Getting here is easy because you can fly directly into centrally-located Long Beach Airport on American Airlines, America West, Alaska Air and JetBlue. If you prefer to fly into Los Angeles International Airport or John Wayne/Orange County, Long Beach is just a short 25-minute drive from either airport.
The Hyatt Regency Long Beach (800/233-1234) at the edge of Rainbow Harbor is an ideal homebase. The 17-story waterfront hotel has 522 guest rooms and suites that look out over the water, the city skyline or the mountains and are furnished in simple, chic California Coastal decor. The Tides restaurant is completely family-friendly with a fun kids’ menu.
If you don’t want to get in and out of the car all the time, The Passport local shuttle service offers complimentary transportation to all of downtown Long Beach’s most popular attractions. For just 90¢, the Passport can transport visitors down to Belmont Shores and Naples. Private transportation and tours can be arranged through Sunseeker Tours (562/331-1230). In addition, water taxi service offered by The Aquabus can transfer you across the water to Shoreline Village, the Aquarium or the Queen Mary. The Aqualink is a high-speed catamaran water taxi from downtown to Alamitos Bay.
For more information about coasting into Long Beach, visit Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/452-7829).
Photos by Mel Greenberg
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