The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is already celebrating its 20th anniversary and is well into expansion mode — and I didn’t even know it was there.
The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, a Smithsonian affiliate, is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the work of contemporary Latin American and Latino artists — and I didn’t even know it was there.
Gondolas glide up and down the canals of the Naples neighborhood in Long Beach, reminiscent of Venice, Italy — and I didn’t even know it was there.
Perhaps you are as ignorant as I was, in which case I have this advice: It’s time to re-think Long Beach.
You know, that place you’ve passed on your way to Los Angeles that once was known solely for its commercial port, the military and oil. All these are still going concerns, but there’s a whole lot more to today’s Long Beach.
The skyline is changing daily in this often overlooked city of 500,000, only 90 minutes north of North County. In the last two decades, there’s been a transformation that is creating new spaces and exciting places for tourists and residents alike.
“Long Beach was all about the naval station and the ship yard since about 1918,” explains Long Beach native Bob Maguglin of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The evolution began in the mid-to-late ‘90s. The Queen Mary (historic cruise ship) and Shoreline Village arrived, and it was a start but not enough.”
More recently, the city has pinpointed the three Ts — trade, tech and tourism — as economic drivers. Leaders realize that “they must make the downtown a great place for millennials,” Maguglin says. “In the last two years, we’ve added thousands of residential units and 3,000 are under construction. (Add to that) a new port center, library, hotels and a civic center.”
New industries are replacing the old, and even North Long Beach, known for years as “poor, crime-ridden and desolate,” is changing. The area now has the new Michelle Obama Library, a $10 million fire station, a community center undergoing revitalization, and investors looking to build restaurants and retail stores.
And for visitors looking for a two- to three-day family or couples getaway?
They’ll discover a beautifully landscaped, 5-mile, waterfront path for hiking, biking and rollerblading; sparkling beaches and picture-perfect views; whale- and dolphin-watching excursions with Harbor Breeze; the Aquarium of the Pacific (take the Behind the Scenes tour and ask for guide extraordinaire, Kenny); Shoreline Village for shopping, bike and watercraft rentals, a carousel, and dining (Parker’s Lighthouse has an excellent menu with harbor views to match); waterfront lodging like the Hotel Maya on Rainbow Harbor, with beautiful coastal views, a private beach, family amenities and the Fuego restaurant (dine al fresco with an illuminated Queen Mary in your sightline); and Retro Row and Naples, off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods that offer curious boutiques and gondola rides respectively.
And should you just have to visit Los Angeles, leave the car and hop the Blue Line, an arm of the LA Metro. You’ll be there in 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your destination.
And did I mention that Long Beach is a mere 90-minute drive north?
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E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.