By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
From the Hilton Long Beach windows, container shipping ports loom over the shore. There’s more to the nation’s second busiest container port than industry
Long Beach is vibrant, with a wealth of museums, murals and a relaxing waterfront. After a 5 1/2-hour drive, all we wanted to do was chill by the beach and listen to the seagulls.
This isn’t Los Angeles or San Diego, it goes much deeper than that.
From eclectic neighborhoods to sandy beaches, Long Beach is home to a 1930s ocean liner, adorable sea lions and fun ocean animals.
Where to stay
Hilton Long Beach
333 E. Ocean Boulevard
Within 5 minutes of being at the Hilton Long Beach, I had already made a fool of myself. Heads up: You have to use your room card to access the elevator’s controls. Otherwise, the elevators close on guests. Don’t worry, you won’t get trapped.
Anyway, public service announcement aside, the modern-looking Hilton Long Beach allows visitors to see every side of the city. A selection of the 469 guest rooms and 31 suites overlook the marina and tranquility of the Pacific Ocean. It is mere blocks from beaches, shopping, theaters and bistros.
Insider tip: Talk to the servers during Sunday brunch. They’re knowledgeable about the city, spewing tips here and there about what out-of-town guests should visit.
The hotel is pet-friendly.
Sights to see
The Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way
The Aquarium of the Pacific features more than 11,000 animals in over 50 spectacular exhibits. The facility may not be fancy like OdySea in Scottsdale, but it gets to the point. The courageous can mingle with sharks and rays, or check out jellyfish. (I was stung by a jellyfish when I was 9 and it traumatized me, but this was still cool.) The world’s largest ocean aquarium boasts a replica life-sized whale hanging from ceiling.
The behind-the-scenes tour is a must, but so is the gift shop, where the trinkets, T-shirts and penguin umbrellas (yes, it’s a thing!) are affordable. We came home with bags of souvenirs from the aquarium. Travel there on the last day of your trip, so you can save a little cash for the rest of the stay.
Harbor Breeze Cruises
100 Aquarium Way Dock 2
We knew we were in good hands and the captain pointed out Parker’s Lighthouse, a recipient of Wine Spectator’s award of excellence. It’s known for its mesquite-grilled fresh seafood and spectacular views. (More on that later.) Beyond that, we explored Long Beach’s coastline, while our apt host schooled us on the harbor’s history and the skyline. But more importantly, we saw California sea lions up close on buoys. The adorable mammals seemed just as interested in us as we were in them. The cruise also gives an idyllic view of the Queen Mary, an art-deco ocean liner in its 41st year in Long Beach. Docked alongside it was Carnival Inspiration, the closest I’ve ever been to a fantasy class cruise ship.
The Queen Mary
1126 Queens Highway
We were whisked back in time to the days of art deco ocean liners, men in tuxedos and women in flowing gowns on The Queen Mary. Celebrating 41 years in Long Beach, The Queen Mary is a top attraction with historic tours and special exhibits. While we were there, The Queen Mary housed a Princess Diana exhibit that was bound to make even the most heartless person weep. The ship has 347 spacious staterooms with elegant suites, fine restaurants and Sunday brunch, a spa, shops, ocean views and meeting facilities aboard and alongside for 20 to 5,000 guests.
The Museum of Latin-American Art (MOLAA)
628 Alamitos Avenue
Founded in 1996, The Museum of Latin American Art is a cultural gem. The only museum in the United States dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American art, the MOLAA is stunning, as is the 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden. The gallery hosts works from the likes of Tamayo and Matta to Cruz-Diez, Los Carpinteros and Tunga.
Michael’s Downtown Italian Kitchen
210 E. Third Street
Michael Dene has a must when traveling to Long Beach. The restaurateur found the perfect way to wood-fire pizza with freshly made mozzarella. That’s nothing new to Dene, as he and his staff take locally sourced ingredients and create stellar dishes like Bolognese with tagliatelle pasta with prime hand-grown beef, pork and veal sauce; and gnocchi served in a gorgonzola sauce that was impeccable. The appetizer was king here: braised beef, veal and pork meatballs smothered in red sauce that were flavorful. Also, on the menu are salads, grain bowls and, of course, great wine to pair with meals.
70 Atlantic Street
Breakfast Bar serves breakfast and lunch, along with an assortment of wines and beers, in the heart of downtown Long Beach. Family owned by Josh and Pamela Beadel, who have both worked and lived in downtown Long Beach for more than 10 years, the Breakfast Bar’s tasty menu abounds with special dishes from their family traditions and recipes.
The menu is as special as it is personal. For example, a Breakfast Bar favorite is Uncle Marcee’s Omelet Casserole, which is individually baked and served with a potato pancake and fruit.
Because I’m a plain Jane, I tried the French toast, thick-cut sourdough French toast served with two eggs cooked anyway (I had scrambled) and a choice of two bacons, two sausage links, two turkey sausage or one sausage patty.
The guests at the table next to us were from Boston and delightful. The husband had meatloaf steak and eggs and it smelled amazing. It was house-spiced and thick-cut meatloaf made with beef, pork and soyrizo, and topped with two eggs cooked any way. It was served with potato pancake and house rosemary bread.
The long and short of it is Long Beach is more than Sublime, bike-friendly streets and the ocean. It’s a respite from the Arizona heat and a place to put our feet up.