Today’s Long Beach City Guide comes from Sharon Fain, a SoCal native who thrives in sunshine and maneuvering busy freeways. A Long Beach resident for four years, she loves being able work from home in her fair city as an independent public relations consultant. When not helping her crafty clients and occasionally teaching students PR at a local university, she can be found walking her rescued one-eyed French Bulldog (who is locally famous himself), sipping wine and attempting DIY projects. Today Sharon takes us on a tour of the eclectic SoCal city and throws in some fun facts along the way. Thanks for this wonderful guide, Sharon! — Stephanie
*Long Beach bus sign above by Legacy House Art at Etsy
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
Long Beach sits on the southwest end of Los Angeles County and on the northwest border of Orange County, happily avoiding the Hollywood industry scene and over-the-top OC personas. People who decide to live in Long Beach do so with some risk, knowing their LA and OC friends will gripe about coming a long way to see them. But that’s okay. The friendly and laid-back locals, great weather, charming neighborhoods, connected community and affordable living (for SoCal) more than make up for it.
Many may know Long Beach from Snoop Dogg songs or Queen Mary postcards, but the city is more than a rap video or postcard. You probably also didn’t know that you’ve likely seen more of Long Beach than you realize, as it is often used in film and TV productions, including Dexter, Inception and CSI: Miami.
Many cities claim to be eclectic, but nowhere is this truer than Long Beach. It’s not uncommon to find artists, Buddhist monks, cops and Occupy protesters all sipping a cup of joe in the same spot. Long Beach can thank a bustling port (second busiest in the US after its neighbor, the Port of LA), tourism from events like the Toyota Grand Prix and convention center conferences, collegiate innovation from Cal State Long Beach (second largest in the Cal State system) and a thriving arts scene for helping to cultivate the diversity.
But what unites the city? A disdain for the pretentious and a love for all things anti-establishment (as evidenced by a good selection of head shops). It is home to an active LGBT community with a long stretch of Broadway nicknamed “The Gayborhood.” When looking for a place to throw one back, you will be hard pressed to find anything as hip; the city specializes in dive bars and not trying to be cool.
The city is also quite large, some 50 square miles spread out along the coast. Different decades of population booms have built up the city with mixed architecture and many walkable neighborhoods (more so than Portland per Walk Score). With the significant development during Hollywood’s Golden Era (many stars would make it a second home) and both World Wars, there’s a heavy Art Deco and Craftsman influence the closer you get to the ocean. As you head inland, you will see more of the midcentury modern that cropped up when the university was established.
Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the listings below.
Jongawaard’s Bake ‘n Broil
3697 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, CA 90807 (562) 595-0396
To look at it, you would wonder why there is a line stretched outside this small diner. Its tidy interior and less greasy fare set it apart from the typical diner, but the large selection of cakes is really why you come here. Some have claimed that the diner has the best red velvet they’ve ever had. I will leave it at that.
Open only for breakfast and lunch, Blackbird regulars recommend the Dos Caballeros.
A gastropub that supports the sustainable and local and is always seasonal. More than anything, it’s a community table that offers delicious, fresh food.
Premium and girly vintage finds as seen on the likes of Taylor Swift. Shop is open only on Saturdays or by appointment.
Most toy stores are overwhelming to me. Mainly because they are just huge and jam-packed floor to ceiling with toys. This place is not that. It’s adorable and merchandised so kids can interact with the toys.
Bella Cosa carries eco-friendly handmade and locally produced gifts and housewares. They are a hub for community events, like learning how to make a terrarium and picking up your farm box.
The Paper Crew
Lovers of stationery and paper goods will go bananas in this store. Stop by before your next party to create custom invitations that your guests will adore.
This unassuming store looks like your typical knickknack and gifts shop, but there are many unexpected quirks inside. Whimsically bejeweled vintage doll heads and light covers converted to planters sit alongside well-curated antique linens, handmade soaps and jewelry. It feels like you are browsing your grandmother’s attic.
Orange Ave. Estate, Salvage and Garden
Rummage through rows of miscellany that have been lovingly rescued and curated. From jewelry to salvage doors to hardware, there is a little bit of everything to shop.
La Linda/Los Cerritos Subdivision
A neighborhood of “mansions” that has been used for several Hollywood films including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Donnie Darko and a couple American Pie films.
To call it a mini Amoeba Records would be an injustice to the originality and personality of the place. The collection of music is lovingly curated with an eye for the unusual with books and CDs as well as vinyl. It also does double duty as a music venue. Big names come through and play here (usually for very cheap or free), but the store doesn’t do much promoting, so you’ve got to keep a close eye on their newsletter. M. Ward, Fitz and the Tantrums and Dave Grohl have all stopped by.
Downtown Darling Salon & Boutique
A fun boutique with many vintage and specialty items that also does hair.
Congregation Ale House
The concept might be a bit overwrought, but there’s no “sin” (ha!) in enjoying a cold one and sausage at this church-themed establishment. The beer and wine are decently priced, and the variety of gourmet dipping sauces is impressive. If this was located in LA you would easily pay 50% more, and if it was in OC it would easily be 50% douchier.
Zephyr Vegetarian Cafe
Veggie fare beyond salads and greens. It is tasty and filling. The hibiscus iced tea is refreshing.
Berlin by Portfolio Coffeehouse
Located next to Fingerprints, it is a sister cafe to Portfolio, but its food menu is totally different. It is the second restaurant on 4th to get a parklet, so grab a chair and soak up the SoCal sun.
A place as cute as its name, Shortnin Bread offers artisan baked goods and ice cream made from scratch.
Our most notable port resident has been docked here since 1967 when she retired from service. Though you won’t physically travel anywhere, you’ll feel as though you have traveled back in time when staying aboard this floating hotel. If you enjoy history and are fond of all things Art Deco, I suggest you stay. If you are afraid of ghosts, this may not be the place for you, as the ship is reportedly haunted.
The Maya Hotel
It’s tucked away in a somewhat random location on the way to the Queen Mary, but if you’re a tourist or local and looking for a great view of the harbor in a fun setting away from it all, this is the place. The decor is “modern Mayan,” and although it was recently renovated, the hotel does show a bit of age.
The Varden Hotel
A European-style boutique hotel located in a renovated historic building. It’s no-frills and the rooms are small, but what it lacks in size and luxury it makes up for in charm.
The Observation Bar on the Queen Mary
Fancy yourself an old-timey soul? Treat your inner flapper to a drink in the Queen Mary’s bar, which has a lovely view of the harbor. The ship is open to the public, so getting aboard is no charge. There is a lot where you will pay for parking, or you can take the Passport from Downtown for free.
The Fuego Bar at the Maya Hotel
Smartly decorated space with a patio that has a great view of the harbor. Drinks aren’t bad, either. It’s slightly out of the way, but because of that and its spaciousness, it makes it a great place for groups and parties.
MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Art)
The very modern exterior is not what you would think of when you think Latin American Art. But this is the only museum in the United States exclusively dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American art. Be sure to check out the gift shop. It’s filled with more than just your typical folk tchotchkes (though there are those, and I do love them).
Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum
Blink and you might just miss it. But how could you miss a Polynesian-style building in the middle of the street? Literally, it’s in the “middle,” where Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and Alamitos merge together. A short hop over to MOLAA, this museum is tiny but very well maintained.
Aquarium of the Pacific
Feed a bat ray and pet a tiger shark at the most eco-friendly aquarium in the US. The aquarium exhibits not only focus on conservation and preservation, but the building itself practices what it preaches. They offer special night “dives,” typically in the summer, that feature live music, DJs, lectures and adult beverages. Try to avoid weekends in the summer unless you like doing battle with strollers.
It seems like most downtowns these days have an art walk, but Long Beach’s local art scene does shine here. Catch it the second Saturday of every month.
Even if you can’t stay the night on the ship, take a tour of the grand lady to see her restored glory or a ghost tour if you’d like something spookier. If you feel like exploring yourself, the ship is open to the public, though some areas that the tour will show you may be off limits.
Though Southern California may be notorious for bad public transportation, Long Beach outshines most of the area in this matter. The Passport is a bus system that is dedicated to the more touristy and commercial areas of the city. If you ride it within downtown, it’s free!
Rising high above the skyline along Shoreline Drive and Ocean Blvd., this stunning building was designed in the French chateau style and completed in 1929. “The Villa” has survived as luxury co-ops, operating as a hotel and now being “own your own apartments.”
Long Beach Convention Center and Arena
If you are in Long Beach, you are likely at the Convention Center. There you can see the world’s largest mural, Planet Ocean, displayed on the arena and painted by famed ocean-life artist Wyland.
The grand ship is easily visible from most points in the harbor area and is spectacular when lit up at night.
A collection of shops and restaurants that’s got just enough kitsch to make this tourist “trap” charming.
You could easily write about nearly every shop on Retro Row, the patch of vintage, thrift and retro stores along 4th Street between Junipero and Cherry. This list is focused on the cream of the crop, along with some shops outside Retro Row proper that are also along 4th.
Number Nine/Noodles + Beer
A neighborhood pho shop that is not your typical hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese soup establishment. It features a clean, modern dining room; fresh and sustainable ingredients; and free-range, grass-fed meats. Eight dollars will get you a large bowl of chicken pho, so you will have plenty of money left over to get a lychee iced tea and ginger creme brulee.
While the large TVs on the wall may make you think that the place is some kind of sports bar, the food is anything but sports bar. They call it an American kitchen with Greek soul. I call it delicious. Save room for dessert. The Greek yogurt with fruit and honey is enough for at least two.
Come for Taco Tuesday, stay for the amazing green salsa. Lola’s was the first restaurant on 4th Street to get an outside patio that uses a street parking space called a parklet. Dine al fresco with those tacos.
MVP’s Grill & Patio
3701 E 4th St, Long Beach, CA 90803 (562) 439-0809
It’s “& Patio” because seating is all outside on a covered patio area. No matter. The burgers are likely the best in Long Beach, which are all named after famous athletes.
3734 E 4th St, Long Beach, CA 90814 (562) 433-3292
Dive-y breakfast with a bit of Mexican flair. Locals love the chile verde. Prepare for a line and bring cash (they don’t take card).
Pronounced “Holy Moly,” this is hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint has three locations in the LBC. The beans and rice are delicious and authentic. Taco Tuesday will get you some tasty “street” tacos for a buck, and their mini potato tacos and bean tacos are always 49 cents. The perfect snack after you’ve been drinking. Luckily they are open late.
Art du Vin and 4th Street Vine
Few neighborhoods, let alone streets, can sustain two wine bars, but that just speaks to residents’ commitment to both alcohol and small business. Though 4th & Vine and Art du Vin are physically close, aesthetically they are quite different. Art du Vin’s tiny interior is augmented by a decent-sized patio. It is the wine lover’s bar of the two. 4th Street Vine is more like its younger, hipster brother (with $3 wine on Thursdays!). However, like all good Long Beach watering holes, both feature laid-back atmospheres and friendly bar staff.
Viento y Agua
Peace, love and organic coffee? Viento y Agua is for you. As the name indicates, there is a hippie vibe. Live music Saturday nights and sometimes during the week. Friendly staff.
Long Beach is a dive bar paradise, but even with heavy competition, The Pike stands out. Drummer Chris Reece of Social Distortion fame owns and operates this neighborhood staple. They serve food, which is mostly average, but the fish and chips are tasty. Live music and DJs every night.
The Stache Bar
There’s pool and a slightly more-biker-than-hipster crowd. Enjoy a Moscow mule with housemade ginger beer — delicious!
The V Room
918 E 4th St, Long Beach, CA 90802 (562) 437-4396
Another dive bar with all the accoutrements: juke box, pool table, bar games, a motley crew of locals and cheap, stiff drinks. Bring cash (no cards). Enough said.
The sign says it’s been voted the #1 best coffee house in Long Beach, which is saying something, as there are quite a few. Their Mexican mocha has probably had a lot to do with that. They host regular open mics and live music, which draws a nice crowd. Aside from coffees and teas, they also offer a smattering of food items, mostly salads, sandwiches and paninis. Oh, and they are super friendly.
It opened as a silent film theater, and though its single screen now shows talkies, the theater maintains an “old soul” by playing many classic films for special screenings. Saturday nights they hold regular showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Haskell’s Prospector Steakhouse and Saloon
Catch a show. Grab a drink. Don’t eat the food. The name hints at the decor and the equally scruffy locals occupying the bar. Some good LA-area bands come through here and Wednesdays, and Friday nights is typically karaoke. Also, technically it’s on 7th Street, but it’s close enough.
Twig & Willow
This name alludes to the clean and natural aesthetic of the store. Great women’s clothing, but also gifts and accessories.
Specializing in the feminine, with a good selection of dresses. Mostly new with some vintage. The decor is adorable, and you might just find your favorite rom com projected on the back wall while you shop.
Get your hip kid duds here. They are most known for their old band shirts turned into onesies and toddler tees. They also feature handmade and local specialty items.
The Feed Store
The Feed Store is a vintage boutique on Retro Row in Long Beach. They sell items that have all been lovingly donated. All the proceeds go toward Grateful Hearts, a nonprofit that exists to feed, clothe and provide household and hygienic items for over 4,500 clients all over Southern California.
Though the clothes and accessories inside are pretty well curated for a vintage shop (though slightly pricey for “used”), you won’t want to miss the monthly Style in the Pile where you can sort through their giant pile of vintage clothing in the back and get everything from $5–$10. You just gotta be willing to dig through some old clothes. You could spend your Saturday worse ways.
This looks like a dude’s place (the cash wrap is a bar with beer taps), but they also have ladies clothing (new and vintage). The men’s clothing is all new. They also sell some accessories.
2240 E 4th St, Long Beach, CA 90814 (562) 439-4444
Actual birds are in this store. But that is far from the only thing that makes this store unique. It really specializes in gifts with personality, many made by locals, that have a rockabilly edge.
Specializing in American and Dutch modern pieces, the store is floor-to-ceiling furniture. They are often hit up by Hollywood prop masters, and some of the items have been featured on Mad Men.
It’s the largest store on the block and features a huge selection of vintage furniture, housewares, knickknacks and art. Some fashion, records, books and vintage “smut” are also thrown into the mix. The store prides itself on being a well-curated representation of what Retro Row has to offer.
Long Beach Trading Company
Men’s and women’s clothing with a classic American feel. Mostly new items.
Moxi Roller Skates
Get your skate on with the help of friendly staff and a great selection of gear. It’s a hot spot for the local ladies roller derby crew, but you don’t have to be pro to go. They carry their own brand of skates that’s animal friendly and handmade in the USA. You can also rent skates by the hour or day, and they offer free outdoor skating lessons to kids.
The creative window display will bring you in, but the large selection of used books will keep you browsing for a while. Don’t come with an agenda, and enjoy the fun of discovering a new book! They also feature graphic novels and comics.
Give Something/Take Something Closet
4th Street between the Assistance League and the New Being Project Building
The embodiment of Long Beach’s freegan ways, this closet is where you can drop things off you no longer need or pick something up if you are in a bind. Items vary, but it’s mostly clothes.
Between Junipero and Wisconsin, and 4th Street and 3rd Street, is a collection of Craftsman bungalows with small parks dotting the neighborhood. It was Long Beach’s first planned subdivision.
BELMONT HEIGHTS/BLUFF PARK
Lasher’s: An American Restaurant
There aren’t many white-linen restaurants in Long Beach, but this one has a down-to-earth feel, so we will forgive its white-linen ways. Steak is the main attraction here, and they also do a pretty great brunch.
3400 E Broadway, Long Beach, CA 90803 (562) 438-9381
An almost obnoxiously tiny Mexican dive that serves up reasonably priced food. Surprisingly good for a spot that gets its name from the bar next door (the Reno Room).
Fantastic breakfast and brunch in a cafe setting that is out-of-the-way so you aren’t battling with tourists and foot traffic. Hours are weird, so make sure to check ahead of time.
Claire’s at the Museum
Stop by after a tour of the Long Beach Museum of Art. The food is nothing to write home about, but they do a great happy hour that is only augmented by a spectacular view of the ocean.
Olives Gourmet Grocer
A boutique food store with deli and hot bar. A great place to pick up sandwiches and salads for a picnic or a day at the beach or gifts for the foodie in your life.
A large selection of Mexican home accessories including crosses, sugar skulls and other Day of the Dead items, plus incense, Mexican blankets and clothing, and some Asian-inspired home goods. They also have a small selection of furniture and gifts that have nothing to do with Mexico or Asia.
You’ll know it by the stuffed camel parked outside. It is “harem chic” specializing in Middle Eastern clothing styles. A good spot for unusual accessories and costumes.
The prominent “Gaytonia” sign marks the spot that once was a hotel-style apartment building for Naval officers. The name has nothing to do with LB’s love of the LGBT but is for owner and contractor George T. Gayton.
Long Beach Museum of Art
Did you know that Long Beach was the worldwide hub for video art in the ’70s through the ’90s? Neither did I, until I came here! Small but great rotating collections and gift shop.
There’s a good-sized community that comes out (generally on weekends) to do yoga on the bluff. Gentle enough for beginners!
You could easily occupy a weekend shopping and eating on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore, but you should venture over the bridge onto Naples Island for equally great food, gifts and entertainment.
Known well beyond the Long Beach border but don’t be confused: there are two locations only a couple doors down from each other, but you will need to make separate reservations for each. Order the fried potatoes, which are buttery and garlicky. If you don’t, your neighbors will and you will be sad when you smell the deliciousness.
Forget fro-yo — Danish ice cream is where it’s at. It’s served up looking like gelato, but is much airier, which means fewer calories! All ingredients are natural (no high-fructose corn syrup), and there are even vegan options. The salted caramel will blow your mind.
La Creperie Cafe
The Parisian decor will have you singing “Lady Marmalade.” The Parisian (crepe) and Al Mare are delicious. They also offer plenty of non-crepe items.
Tavern on 2
Small gastropub with a cozy patio and great bar. Staff is welcoming. The oxtail poutine is pretty amazing, and I hate poutine (and yes, I’ve had it in Canada). Menu items are made almost entirely from organic, all natural and sustainable ingredients. There’s also a nice rotation of craft beers.
“Serving the Shore since ’54,” Domenico’s is the oldest restaurant in the neighborhood. Its made-from-scratch pizza is a favorite with the locals, though I’ve known some people who travel great distances for a Domenico’s slice. If there’s a wait, no problem! Pull up a table with a checkers board and start a game.
Cute like a cupcake shop should be, with a selection of delicious flavor combinations like nutella buttercream with royal white cake.
Almost like a mini Anthropologie that specializes in gifts, though there are clothing items. They also have some pretty great kids’ clothes and gifts (Blabla Dolls in particular). They redo the decor often, and it’s beautifully done!
Flower shop with beautiful arrangements.
Granted, there are several Buffalo Exchanges sprinkled across California and the US, but each used-clothing shop is different (obviously), and this one often has some good finds.
Pussy & Pooch
Your dog or cat has never looked so good. Good selection of accessories with lots of personality. There is also a bar where your pet can get a freshly prepared meal or snack. It’s definitely not your average pet store.
Gift shop that has a nice selection of beautifully prepared floral arrangements ready to go.
Chef and family owned, Kitchen Outfitters offers cutting edge gadgets, fine cutlery and cookware for the home chef. They often host demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes from local Long Beach and Orange County Chefs.
As has been mentioned, Long Beach is one of the most (and soon to be THE most) bike friendly cities in the nation. To facilitate this, there are bike racks all over the city, but they are done LB style with shapes that reflect the neighborhood (like a carrot outside a vegan cafe and glasses outside an optometrist’s office). You can see many of these along 2nd Street.
Naples Island is a manmade oval island with a canal separating it from the mainland. Tour the canal and see the gorgeous seaside homes in style with a Venetian-style gondola ride.
Another way to tour the canal, this time self-guided and fairly inexpensive.
Belmont Plaza Pool
This Olympic pool, which hosted the Olympic Swim Trials in 1968 and 1976, is open to the public. They also offer swim and SCUBA lessons, water exercise classes and water polo and diving clubs.
Rosie’s Dog Beach
Pups roam free along the coast; they are Southern Californians too, after all.
More free yoga! This one’s on the beach.
Schooner or Later
A breakfast and lunch eatery on the marina. Great for SoCal sunny-day outdoor seating. Your beer will be served up in a — what else — giant schooner. Quite popular, so be prepared for a wait on weekends especially.
Crack open some crab legs while checking out scenic views of the marina. Good seafood with salty sea decor.
Located in an unassuming shopping center near a Coffee Bean and Trader Joe’s is a family-owned eatery that is delicious, satisfying and unexpected. They offer items that are gluten free, but you would never know (including a great selection of empanadas). The place is small, and ordering to go is recommended.
Southeast Farmers’ Market
Sundays from 9am–2pm with a great selection of fresh and prepared foods.
Though heavily industrial because of airport activity, there are still a few hidden gems worth checking out.
Long Beach Airport (LBG)
There is rarely anything great to say about airports, but LGB is small, with basically no lines. Parking is a dream, and picking up bags is easy — though done outdoors. Did I mention this is a city without frills? Plus, there is some great architecture to check out in the terminal, which was completed in 1941.
Miss Priss Cupcakes
While tasting cupcakes for a wedding, my friend found this place and exclaimed that, without a doubt, these were the best cupcakes she’d ever had in the OC/LA area (she would know). That’s quite a statement!
Heritage Family Pantry
2601 Carson St, Lakewood, CA 90712 (562) 421-1442
The kind of place you expect Guy Fieri to pop out of. While it’s solid diner food, what will really win you over is the accommodating service, the giant portions and unexpected “downhomeness,” like the prayer request box in the bathroom.
Sophy’s Fine Thai and Cambodian Cuisine
3240 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Long Beach, CA 90804 (562) 494-1763
When you first walk in, you see a framed photo of the owner and Matt Damon. It’s this kind of bravado that makes for some delicious food, which is more Cambodian than Thai. Long Beach is home to the largest Cambodian population in the United States, so it makes sense that places like this are doing it right.
The area can sometimes get overrun by college students and the chains they frequent, but there are still some unique and interesting must-sees.
A large park that includes a casting pond, dog park, public golf course, lawn bowling green and lots of picnic space (read: you can get away from your neighbors pretty easily).
Great sushi, fun ambiance and always packed.
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Gardens at Cal State University Long Beach
A small Asian oasis in the middle the university complete with Koi pond, Japanese maples and tea house. Entrance is free, but you will pay for parking.
El Dorado Park
The largest park in the city, at 450 acres, you could get lost here. Plenty of things to do, including archery (free lessons on Saturdays), Frisbee golf course, barbecue and picnic areas, three fishing lakes, nature center, pedal boats and a train for kids and adults.
Because most people leave Long Beach for LA or NYC once they start to get really big (*ahem, Cold War Kids and Delta Spirit*), the current list is more up-and-coming people that I thought would be interesting for follow up.
- Jessica Fife (painter)
- Isaiah “Ikey” Owens of Free Moral Agents (the band originated in Long Beach) and Mars Volta
- Logan Crow (local figure who founded the Zombie Walk and Mondo Celluloid and who works at Long Beach Cinematheque)
- Lint Lady (lint artist)
- Drummer Chris Reece of Social Distortion fame owns and operates The Pike
- Raychel Huff (jewelry designer)
- Avi Buffalo (musician)
- Christy Bono (of Sonny’s first marriage) owns and operates the restaurant Christy’s in LB
From Long Beach but not currently here:
- Snoop Dogg
- Warren G
- Nicolas Cage
- Nate Dogg
- Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine
- Bo Derek
- Jesse James/West Coast Choppers (closed a year or so ago)
- Jonathan Davis from Korn
- Tiffani Amber Thiessen
- Upton Sinclair
- Tiger Woods
*I would like to thank Sandy Nesheiwat for taking so many great photos for this post and all the lovely shop owners who kindly opened their businesses to us.