Long Beach may not be first on your LA bucket list of places to visit, but the underrated beach town has way more to do than meandering around the Aquarium of the Pacific. In fact, it’s full of history and culture that’s worth exploring -- it doesn’t hurt that the city streets are lined with picturesque palm trees and scenic ocean views. Whether you’re a foodie or an art enthusiast, check these items off your weekend list of things to do.
This Chinese Festival Is Like 'Frozen' Come to Life
Don’t let the Travelodge sign fool you -- while The Breakfast Bar looks like it’s practically attached to the hotel, this mom-and-pop restaurant has no affiliation to the chain. Sit on the dog-friendly patio and start your morning off with one of the restaurant’s signature Bloody Marys, like The Queen Mary (go big, or go home, right?): a house Bloody mix, LB jerky (a locally sourced jerky), and a ton of other toppings. Or you can stick to coffee and try the Mocha Muchacho or any of their spiked coffees (another reason why we love this place). And whatever you do, don’t leave without trying Uncle Marcee’s Omelet Casserole -- a recipe that has been passed down for three generations and is comfort food on a plate -- bread, cheese, milk, and eggs soaked for 24 hours, then topped with spiced sour cream drizzled on top.
OK, OK, so maybe this isn’t Naples, Italy but it’s the closest thing you’ll get in Southern California. Reserve a one hour gondola ride for you and your SO or make it a group date while an Italian gondolier named Fabio (who went through 2 months of training!) dressed in a navy-striped tee and straw boater hat rows the boat down the canals of Naples Island whilst Italian love songs are playing in the background. Gawk at the million-dollar homes along Belmont Shore and the Peninsula, including a house built in 1906 which once belonged to the Hershey’s family (as in Hershey’s chocolate). You can BYOW and cheese or pre-order an antipasti platter through Gondola Getaway.
The best way to explore the street art of Long Beach is on two wheels. Rent a bike (there are 50 peppered throughout the city) at one of the Downtown bike-share kiosks and start off at The Varden Hotel, where you’ll find a Tristan Eaton mural on the side wall near the parking lot, called “James Jean” (if the artwork looks familiar, it’s because her work is also all over the Arts District in Downtown LA). Then bike over to Berlin Bistro to spot the whimsical, cartoon-like mural of a young skater boy painted by Bumblebee Loves You. Directly across the street from the bistro, in the alley, you’ll find another mural by the Barcelona-based artist, Cinta Vidal. The Hotel Royal, Aquarium of the Pacific, and the Queensway Bridge also have colorful murals from various artists that are worth adding to your bike adventures that have all emerged from the week-long festival called POW! WOW! The initiative, which originated in Hawaii and has since expanded globally, was inspired by the Native Americans and meant to bring the art community together with local and international artists painting installations all over cities around the globe.
If you want to step into a time machine, just walk along Fourth St (between Cherry and Junipero) and you’ll immediately feel like you entered another decade -- vintage shops stocked with your favorite childhood games (Battleship!!), a '50s-style barbershop, a shop called Third Eye Records that's stocked with independent and rare records, and mid-century modern furniture stores that eerily resemble a set of Mad Men (no surprise: the set designers regularly frequented this block).
Get your afternoon pick-me-up at this new-ish, airy artisanal shop along Ocean Blvd and then head to the courtyard-style patio to leisurely sip on your espresso, European-style. The coffee bar has an assortment of cold brews, pour-over, or flavored coffee options in addition to teas, fruit smoothies, and light breakfast and lunch bites if you’re on-the-go. And if you like to nerd out on how things are made or always find yourself asking “What’s an Americano again?”, make sure to study the giant flowchart posters plastered around the shop that give you the lowdown on coffee 101 and the brewing process.
This inconspicuous, casual fish grill is just begging for your attention. You can order from a laundry list of fish and have it prepared in a burrito, plate, tacos, or po-boy sandwich with the seasoning of your choice and one scrumptious side dish all for $12 or less. The side dishes are so good, you’ll want to come back here just to order one of everything (pro tip: start at the OMG fries and the fried cauliflower). The best time to go is before a movie at the AMC right next door, during happy hour from 3-6pm, so you can enjoy half-off wine, beer, and appetizers (poke for $4.50?!) or Taco Tuesdays for the $2 Tecate beer and tacos.
The historical oceanfront Breakers Hotel-turned-mostly-vacant building (for now) is a Long Beach landmark and boasts some of the best 360-degree views of the city from its 15th floor art deco-style restaurant and nightclub, The Sky Room, where you can get a fancy surf and turf dinner while listening to live music (on the weekends). Then, head upstairs to Cielo, a Mexican-themed speakeasy craft cocktail bar on the rooftop, and try a mezcal flight or any of the specialty margaritas or signature cocktails.
If the answer to the question “What’s your favorite bag of chips?” consists of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, then this cheesy dish at The Attic is the answer to all your snack prayers. You can choose from one of four different versions like the Hey Shorty, which is mac n’ cheese topped with three different cheeses, slow braised short rib, crumbled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and green onions. Mind blown yet? Yeah, hurry up and get over to the 1920s Craftsman Bungalow serving up all kinds of Southern comfort, but not without your Tums.
This massive old WWII troopship (larger than the Titanic), named after King George V’s wife, has boarded celebrities and royalty alike. At one point, it sailed the Atlantic Ocean, with the capacity to transport up to 16,000 troops before being retrofitted into a passenger ship -- but set sail for its final cruise in 1967, where it has since called Long Beach home. Today, it’s a tourist attraction, museum, and a hotel -- so you can actually book a room and see if tales of it being haunted are true.
Spend a day at the museum exploring a variety of modern and contemporary art including the current exhibit Ironic Icons: The Art of Valentin Popov, which features over 60 pieces by the Ukrainian artist. The exhibit merges America’s popular superheroes with images of early Christian iconography, like the golden-clad piece entitled St. Superman.
Pick up a NY-style pastrami sandwich from Brix at the Shore and then plant yourself on the green at Marina Park for a picnic overlooking the water. The park is attached to the Colorado Lagoon, currently being restored tentatively planned to re-open in February, but has been used as a swimming site in previous years. Also, Fido is allowed as long as he’s on a leash.
Passed down from family recipes to the kitchens of Long Beach, Lola’s makes everything from scratch and takes pride in seasonal ingredients to create a farm-to-table menu centered around traditional Mexican cuisine, including savory cuetes, which are bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cheese, beans, and guacamole, which are just as good as they sound. For an extra kick, dip them in the addicting green salsa that you’ll want to bottle up (or um, just get a few to-go).
For an easy, breezy bike ride with the Pacific Ocean in the background, the two 6ft lanes of the Shoreline Bike Path are your best bet. The 3.1 mile scenic route extends from Alamitos Ave to 54th Place so you’ll get to enjoy views of the Queen Mary, Palos Verdes and even catch a glimpse of the San Gabriel River.
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Leila may or may not have taken a gondola ride by herself at Naples Island. See for yourself on Instagram and Twitter.