Leave Your Worries Behind in Long Beach

A family-friendly southern California city

Bicycle rentals
Bicycle rentals | Larger

Long Beach is Southern California's fifth largest city but it has the ambience of a cozy, visitor-friendly town. It is a perfect place for a family vacation. Most of the restaurants have children's menus and there is easy access to a majority of the city's attractions. The downtown area is bustling with a myriad of exciting family-orientated attractions, and all located within a few square miles.

I climbed aboard the Passport shuttle and enjoyed complimentary transportation to all of downtown Long Beach's most popular attractions. And for just 90 cents, the shuttle took me to the nearby area of Belmont Shores. You can also explore the Belmont Shores area by renting a bicycle at a shop along the avenue.

Situated along five and a half miles of sandy coastline, Long Beach is located just 20 miles south of Los Angeles. A 45-minute train ride will take visitors to Los Angeles, but there's so much to see and do in Long Beach, that I never left the city on my recent visit there.

Hilton Hotel
Hilton Hotel | Larger

Staying at the downtown Hilton Long Beach on Ocean Boulevard, I was close to the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach Convention Center, The Pike with its multitude of shops and restaurants, the Queen Mary ocean liner and dozens of retail stores and restaurants.

Visiting the Queen Mary was one of the highlights of my visit to Long Beach. A native of Fort Lauderdale, I have been on dozens of cruise ships but none as majestic as the legendary Queen Mary. Today, there are massive cruise ships, which are patterned after the amenities of the Queen, but the craftsmanship, splendid wood carvings and numerous examples of art deco design are breathtaking to behold.

Queen Mary
Queen Mary | Larger

The Queen Mary made her maiden voyage in 1936 with 2,000 passengers aboard. After 31 years of ocean travel, the city of Long Beach purchased the Queen and in 1971, the ocean liner was tugged to her permanent berth at Pier J in Long Beach. The ship has been converted into a historic hotel and is a major tourist attraction in Long Beach.

As part of an entertainment complex it includes daily ship tours, a 365-stateroom hotel, a number of elegant restaurants and cafes, unique shops, a three-level exhibit hall and 15 banquet salons.

Shop on board the Queen Mary
Shop on board the Queen Mary

I had a gourmet dining experience at Sir Winton's on the Queen Mary. Sir Winton's is the crown jewel of the ship and features superb international cuisine and a breathtaking view of Queensway Bay. A dress code is enforced and reservations are required. There is also a fabulous champagne Sunday brunch served on board which is a popular venue among the local residents.

Ship tours are offered daily by experienced guides who give an in-depth history of the Queen and offer a peak at some of the staterooms and suites inhabited by the rich and famous.

Aquarium of the Pacific
Aquarium of the Pacific | Larger

Kids and their parents were enjoying the hundreds of species of fish, shows and attractions at the Aquarium of the Pacific on my recent visit to Long Beach. The Aquarium takes visitors on a journey through the three main regions of the vast Pacific Ocean including the temperate waters of South California and Baja, the icy Northern Pacific and the warm tropical Pacific. There is a shark lagoon, animal encounters with numerous opportunities to "touch" the Aquarium's residents and behind the scenes tours.

L'Opera Ristorante
The Pike | Larger

It's just a short walk to The Pike from the Aquarium. This is a nice spot to enjoy dining at informal restaurants like Bubba Gump's or a drink at a local nightspot in the area. There is also a GameWorks, with dozens of video games for adults and children.

Long Beach also has a waterfront shopping center called Shoreline Village with many restaurants and shops including The Village Hat Shop where you can purchase just about any kind of cap from a Disney character to a sailor or a pirate fedora. Parker's Lighthouse serves up sushi and great seafood at Shoreline Village.

L'Opera Ristorante
L'Opera Ristorante | Larger

Take a stroll on Pine Avenue, the city's downtown business district. Here, I enjoyed many fine meals at fabulous restaurants. There's King's which offers delicious seafood and dining inside and out. Or L'Opera Ristorante which serves up classic and modern Italian cuisine in a stunning setting.

Sevilla Restaurant on Pine Street has a flamenco show and tango dinner show and Smooth's Sports Grille has some of the best drinks and fries in town with outside tables and friendly waiters.

If you desire to get away from the downtown area, just minutes from downtown is Alamitos Bay, a waterfront dining and entertainment area. The Aqualink is a high-speed catamaran water taxi that will take you from downtown to Alamitos Bay. I had an entertaining evening at Buster's Beach House, a laid-back eatery on the Bay with an extraordinary band playing spirited dance music. You can rent a boat that is simple to navigate and Buster's will provide tasty appetizers and wine for the trip around the bay. The dinner package includes the boat ride, appetizers, wine, dinner at Busters and dessert. It's a great deal and reasonably priced.

Buster's | Larger

Another interesting area was Belmont Shore's with its trendy restaurants and shops. Here, I enjoyed a tasty lobster salad at Bono's, the restaurant of Christy Bono, daughter of entertainer Sonny Bono. The Belmont area offers easy access to the beach with plenty of parking spots available if you choose to drive to a picturesque beach for a dive in the Pacific.

Art buffs will enjoy visiting the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Museum of Latin American Art which contains exclusively contemporary Latin American fine art.

Casino on Catalina Island
Casino on Catalina Island | Larger

I never made it to Los Angeles, but I did manage to break away from Long Beach for a day trip to beautiful Santa Catalina Island. I hopped aboard the Catalina Express, a high-speed catamaran that makes an approximately one hour ride to Catalina. The Casino is located on Catalina Island. Be sure to visit this world-famous landmark. No, it is not a gambling casino but an entertainment structure that housed the famous bands of yesteryear in the 1930's and 40's from Jimmy Dorsey to Woody Herman and Harry James. The 12-story structure also contains an art gallery and museum.

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