SURF’S NOT UP: LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA, HAS NO WAVES BUT PLENTY OF ACTION
Moving into her university dorm room in the foothills of Los Angeles County, an incoming freshman who hailed from Southern California’s Inland Empire asked her new roommate where she was from.
“Long Beach,” the young woman answered.
“Oh, so you live by the beach?” inquired the inlander.
A puzzled look came over the young roomie before she replied, “There ain’t no beach near my house.”
Though it’s the second word in the city’s name, there is no beach in Long Beach if waves crashing into white sand ala scenes from the Baywatch television series are what come to mind. Although surfing in California is believed to have started there in 1911, a 2.2-mile-long breakwater built in 1949 to protect the U.S. Pacific Fleet has halted strong wave action along the Long Beach coast ever since. Shoreline? More like a lakefront.
However, there are large swaths of retail, dining, lodging, attraction and entertainment development facing much of the Long Beach coastline or within a couple of miles of it. This makes the city of Long Beach—a.k.a. “The LBC”—an ideal spot for business gatherings large and small hosted by companies, associations and industry groups, many of which book the Long Beach Convention Center, whose grounds include Long Beach Arena and Long Beach Performing Arts Center, both of which attract national touring acts.
Of particular interest to those booking conventions for shipping, logistics and other supply chain professionals is the nearby Port of Long Beach, which is the second busiest port in the country and, when coupled with the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, a part of the ninth busiest port complex in the world. Indeed, the port and/or its Harbor Commission routinely holds events inside the convention center—and yes, of course, tours of the port facilities make the itineraries.
If you know nothing of Long Beach, California, and perhaps more about Long Beach, New York, you may be surprised to learn that the one on the Left Coast, with its 463,218 population, is about 14 times larger than its East Coast counterpart. As you’d expect of a city that’s bigger than the likes of Minneapolis, New Orleans and St. Louis, this one has its own airport. Indeed, Long Beach Airport (LGB) is far closer and much more convenient than Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). UPS Airlines and FedEx Express serve the cargo side, and Delta, Southwest, American Eagle and Hawaiian Airlines are the passenger carriers. Alas, JetBlue’s long tenure ended in October in a dispute over expansion plans.
The convention center is encircled by the best lodging in town, including The Westin, The Hilton, Courtyard by Marriott, Renaissance Long Beach and the Hyatt Centric The Pike. But those who are tired of the usual corporate suite should look to the other side of the Los Angeles River from the convention center. There you will find the Latin-inspired, waterfront Maya Hotel, which is set within 14 acres of tropical gardens. The Hilton/Double Tree property features an open-air patio restaurant and pool deck with fire pits and cabanas that let you unwind from a day of breakout sessions. If you’re worried about being too far from the convention center action, the Maya is just a five-minute walk from water taxis bound for downtown Long Beach.
Also on that side of the river channel is perhaps the most unusual hotel around: The Queen Mary. Construction began on the former RMS Queen Mary in 1930, and after retiring as a luxury liner in 1967, the ship docked at its permanent location in Long Beach Harbor, where its staterooms now serve as hotel rooms. The cruise-ship spirit is maintained with fine dining, parties on the decks and an actual, uniformed captain. And according to legend: ghosts!
Other attractions include the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Belmont Shore district and The Pike, which opened as an amusement park in 1902 and was famous for its Cyclone Racer roller coaster that ran on tracks over pilings that were built on the water. The coaster closed in 1968, but it has since been replaced by a tamer version that looks retro but actually meets strict California safety regulations. The Pike area includes more shops, stands, restaurants, a comedy club and an outlet mall, making it a great place for long strolls and people watching.
Food choices abound in Long Beach, whether you seek the tried and true or the one-of-a-kind. Many of the latter can be found on Second Street, Retro Row (Fourth Street) or tucked away all over town. (Assignment: Get yourself to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.) If you have access to the company credit card or want to impress a client, here are three recommendations:
Fuego, 700 Queensway Drive, Long Beach. At Hotel Maya is this restaurant serving scrumptious Latin-style seafood. It’s better to eat outside because of the equally stunning setting and views of the downtown skyline. However, indoors is also an option that you will especially want to take up if it is a chilly night or the rare time it rains. You can’t go wrong with the Crab Cakes, Lobster Mac or Lamb Chops, but do consider a later flight if you are leaving Sunday so you can return to graze at Fuego’s five-star brunch.
Michael’s on Naples Ristorante, 5620 East Second Street, Long Beach. Given the number of awards, accolades and smash reviews the Italian restaurant has picked up since opening in 2008, you might assume it’s a button-up, fine-dining establishment. Actually, the vibe is casual and, if you desire (and you really should), al fresco. Over in the kitchen, ingredients are farm-sourced and everything is made from scratch, whether it’s the pastas and sauces or the mozzarellas and gelatos. Michael’s also has on Naples Island a pizzeria, which Zagat rated as the nation’s best in 2013, as well as Michael’s downtown that is a hybrid of the ristorante and the pizzeria. Even if you’re hotel/convention-bound downtown, you’ll want to make the trip because Naples has canals that are lined with quaint (multi-million-dollar) cottages. You can pass by them on foot, but it’s better to see them from the water on a rented kayak or paddleboard. You can even hire a gondolier.
Parkers’ Lighthouse, 435 Shoreline Village Drive, Long Beach. Years ago, my wife and I decided in the early evening of New Year’s Eve to grab a quick bite inside the steak and seafood restaurant, partly because their hot and silky New England Clam Chowder is to die for, partly because of the endless options from the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner’s two-story wine cellar, and mostly because of the spectacular views. We got a table for two on the top level, right up against the glass on the lighthouse side facing Rainbow Lagoon, which is cradled by another must-experience: the Shoreline Village shopping, dining and entertainment area. Little did we know we were in for a motorcyclist practicing before his nationally televised jump over the water at midnight. We got home in time to watch the successful feat. Talk about a rocking during a New Year’s Eve!
Wait . . . I forgot about dessert. Any night out should be capped with a stop at Long Beach Creamery, 4141 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach. Warning: The decision between the Whiskey Vanilla, Burnt Caramel and Midnight Oolong ice creams is impossible. And there ain’t no beach near Long Beach Creamery.
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