City by the Sea

September 9, 2004
Filed under Destinations

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Long Beach, California, has the endearing sense of a gangly teenager who is rapidly growing
out of his shoes and sassy tweed suit, and eager to spread his wings and strut his stuff.
It is a city caught between its small-town origins and the bustling megametropolis that
Southern California has become. For RVers, the contradictions mean there are attractions
galore. Vivacious and energetic, yet also remarkably sophisticated, Long Beach is busy
finding itself and creating its own original city style, an enthusiastic mix of California
casual and easy living. RVers can spread their wings and indulge themselves in this
oceanside destination by enjoying a whopping 345 days of sunshine, cozy neighborhoods and
little traffic in terms of Southern California standards, where the freeways often seem
more like parking lots full of frustrated drivers permanently attached to their cell
phones. Traffic aside, free public transportation is available, a colossal bonus in this
part of the world. Although the city is often overlooked by RVers meandering through
Southern California, Long Beach can hold its own with the best of Los Angeles. Conveniently
tucked smack dab in the middle of the dynamic Southland action with easy access to Catalina
Island, Los Angeles and the booming Orange County entertainment corridor (anchored by the
Disneyland Resort), Long Beach gives RVers a perfect homebase from which to enjoy the
fabled lure of California amusement. Visitors to Long Beach quickly discover that the city
is justifiably proud of its glorious Rainbow Harbor waterfront area, an attractive iconic
centerpiece, and of the city’s namesake, Long Beach Harbor. Cyclists, joggers and folks out
for a swim or a stroll in the sand take immense pleasure in this 5 1/2-mile-long
uninterrupted beach running along the south and western rims of the city center. Located
close to the water in downtown Long Beach, Golden Shore RV Resort (800-668-3581) offers a
convenient home base for visiting RVers. At the west end of Rainbow Harbor stands the
Aquarium of the Pacific, a living celebration of the planet’s largest and most diverse body
of water. Opened in June 1998, the aquarium features 19 major habitats, 32 smaller exhibits
and more than 12,000 ocean animals. Despite these imposing figures, the Aquarium is not
overwhelming; rather, it’s perfectly designed for a walk-through to boutique-laden
Shoreline Village, and leaves enough pizazz for a stroll through the small boat harbor,
past yachts and sailboats anxious to ditch their anchors and set sail to parts unknown.
Overlooking the harbor at Shoreline Village is the high-energy, award-winning Yard House
restaurant, featuring American and European fusion cuisine and, for beer aficionados, one
of the world’s largest selection of draught beer, with 250 taps and 180 flavors. Suds
aside, the seaside setting is spectacular and free-spirited with friendly servers imprinted
with permanent smiles. Nearby, the canals of Naples Island are lined with expensive homes,
complete with their own boatslips. RVers can leave their rigs in dry dock and indulge in a
romantic one-hour gondola ride in authentic Venetian gondolas through the extensive canal
system, all the while enjoying a basket of goodies and the serenades of the gondoliers or
music by Pavarotti. Located near Naples Island is Mother’s Beach, at the north end of
Alamitos Bay. An ideal beach for families with small children, it is also a great place to
see the busy marina boat life. RVers can stock up at the lively Farmer’s Market on the
promenade from Ocean Boulevard to 3rd street, each Friday from 8am to 4pm. The market is
lined with food booths, arts and crafts, and has a live band to keep your feet moving.
Touring the Neighborhoods Visitor-friendly, and with spirited Mayor
Beverly O’Neill leading the way, Long Beach claims some 3,000 residents living downtown,
many in ocean-view condos. Along Pine Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and 6th street there
are a dazzling six-blocks of restored art-deco buildings, 17 restaurants with outdoor
seating perfect for people-watching and snazzy nightclubs offering everything from Flamenco
to jazz. The feel along Pine Avenue, noted as the heart of the city, is a crazy melange of
New Orleans’ energy mixed with surfboard Southern California and a bit of Hollywood glamour
– just what you’d expect of that gangly teenager, still trying to decide who to be. Not to
be upstaged, Belmont Shore is the quintessential trendy California beach neighborhood, with
more than 35 dining choices, specialty shops, galleries and pubs, lined up brick to brick
along a 15-block stretch on 2nd street, while the East Village Arts District is brimming
with Art Deco buildings and galleries. The acclaimed Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA)
on Alamitos Avenue is the only museum in the Western United States exclusively featuring
contemporary Latin American art. Adjoining MoLAA is the attractive Viva Café patio
restaurant serving unusual specialties from south of the border. Open for lunch Tuesday
though Sunday, 11am to 3:30pm, Viva Café is easy to get to on the free downtown Tour D’Art
shuttle service. A mix of the old and new, the city fades back in time and offers important
insights into its own early days in the museum, home and gardens of the two-story, adobe
Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site at 4600 Virginia Road (dating to 1844), and Rancho Los
Alamitos at 6400 Bixby Hill Road, also noted for its splendid home and award-winning
gardens. Admission to the museum is free. But for many, the joys of Long Beach come
together when walking the decks of the historic Queen Mary, which offers a splendid view of
the skyline from the top deck, and is adjacent to a new Carnival Cruise Line terminal.
Launched in 1934, the Queen Mary is a floating work of art designed with 56 different types
of wood in the ship’s paneling, and extensive use of bronze, hand-cut glass, alabaster and
marble throughout. One of Long Beach’s biggest attractions since her arrival in 1967, the
ship is bursting at the seams with an exciting history, an award-winning Sunday brunch,
shops, restaurants and a self-guided tour. Recently added is a ghost tour designed after
numerous sightings by employees and guests of a “presence” throughout the ship. The ghostly
presence has been described in countless ways, ranging from a sea captain to a precocious
child, implying that there may well be myriad characters that have found a permanent
hangout on the Queen Mary. Ghosts or not, the Queen Mary and Long Beach will keep you
coming back for more.

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