JBefore moving from New Orleans to Los Angeles nearly three years ago, I mostly heard bad things about life there. The traffic is terrible, the cost of living is ridiculously expensive and people spend their lives complaining about the traffic and the cost of living.
What nobody told me is that 24 miles south of Los Angeles there’s a town where it’s slightly cheaper to live, the traffic isn’t as terrible, and the people are friendly and seem to really enjoy where they live.
This town, Long Beach, has become my home and is the latest selection in our bi-monthly series on underrated destinations, It’s Still a Big World.
If you’re like me, your main Long Beach reference is to Snoop Dogg. For one thing, he was born and raised there. For two, you might remember that episode of George Lopez’s talk show where Cameron Diaz said she bought him weed when they were attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School.
Well, it wasn’t until I took a day trip from LA to the Port City two years ago that I learned there was so much more to Long Beach than Snoop and Cameron. And after a second visit to Long Beach last year, I actually moved there. It’s only been five months, but it’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time.
Sure, it’s a much smaller town than its more popular neighbor, LA. But that’s what I love about it. It’s fairly easy to navigate, unlike much of LA, although I did end up getting lost on my first visit to Long Beach.
One Saturday morning, I got off the Metro Blue Line stop at 1st Street with my bike. I was supposed to walk to the beach and then take the Shoreline bike/walking path as far as I could go. Then I kind of took a wrong turn, but that turned out to be a good thing because I could see more of the city.
I walked down the Broadway Corridor, a three-mile stretch of East Broadway between downtown Long Beach and the Belmont Shore neighborhood.
The rainbow crosswalks at a few of the intersections immediately caught my eye. I also noticed that many of the shops along this particular stretch of busy street had rainbow flags hanging from the windows.
Apparently, I had ventured into the city’s gay district, which was the first area of Long Beach to feature these crosswalks. It was nice to see hints of LGBTQ friendliness in the city, and it meant that when my cousin and his partner visited, we wouldn’t have to go all the way to West Hollywood for gay-friendly spaces.
The corridor is mostly lined with trees. But they weren’t all of the palm tree variety, which I thought was the case for every street in Southern California before I moved there. Gay bars and liquor stores are just a few corners down the hall. Restaurants, sex shops and small apartment buildings lie in between.
This particular part of Long Beach seems to have not been affected by gentrification as much as other parts of the city. Downtown Long Beach, for example, has clearly been gentrified, with its posh apartment buildings and coworking spaces like WeWork.
But along the Broadway corridor, some of Long Beach’s old buildings still stand after all these years. Hot Stuff, a novelty store that sells games, books, jewelry and sex toys, has been on Broadway since 1980. The hot pink and black awning and triangular tile near the entrance make the store hard to miss .
I don’t consider myself a prude at all. But my eyes weren’t prepared for what I saw when I entered the store. Greeting cards with pictures of people having sex on the covers and dominatrix gift selections abound. If that’s your thing, Hot Stuff is the place to visit when you’re in town.
And then there’s Wine Mess Liquor, a Long Beach staple that’s been around since 1935.
The mom and pop shop is not unlike your typical liquor store, with an assortment of liquor, soda, and snacks. But the mural on the side of the building is definitely the one I’ve never seen before. What appears to be the interior of a pirate ship features a drinking pirate, two dancing cats, a woman playing the violin, a man playing the piano and a vintage scroll letter that reads: “A Wine Mess is a place where warriors go to eat, drink and rejoice.
After walking the three-mile stretch of the Broadway Corridor, I finally made my way to the Shoreline Pedestrian/Bikeway. The trail is 4.1 miles long and runs along the beach for most of its length. It also offers direct access to the Pacific Ocean.
It was a perfect sunny day (like most days in SoCal), which explains why the beach was so crowded. There were people in tracksuits walking their dogs and ladies in biker shorts and sports bras roller-skating and biking with me. Others were lying in the sand or playing in the water. Even with everyone on the beach that day, it still didn’t seem as crowded as the beaches of Venice or Santa Monica.
Plus, the views of the beautiful Palos Verdes in the distance provided a nice backdrop for the ride. Basically, just a day trip to Long Beach solidified my decision to move there.
When I started thinking about where I wanted to live, I knew I wanted to be as close to the beach as possible, and one of the great things about Long Beach is that no matter what neighborhood you find yourself, the beach is only a short drive away. Even if you’re in North Long Beach neighborhoods like Bixby Knolls, you can still get to the beach in about 15 minutes.
If you are, for example, in North Hollywood, getting to the nearest beach can take a lot longer.
(I’m just saying.)
But it’s not just the proximity to the beach. It’s all you can do and see near the water in Long Beach.
Not too far from the beach is the Aquarium of the Pacific. A giant metallic blue bean, it’s the fourth busiest aquarium in the United States and boasts over 12,000 animals and over 100 exhibits that celebrate the Pacific Ocean.
Initially, I found myself overwhelmed with all the exhibits and didn’t know where to start. In the end, I started my aquarium journey in the Tropical Pacific gallery, which features the most gorgeously colored coral reefs. The coral reef exhibit turned out to be my favorite, finding myself spellbound by the mesmerizing brightly colored living corals. The bright colors come from pigments that act as a form of sunscreen for the corals. Corals also need sunscreen! Who knew?
After getting my fill of coral reef history, I ventured to Shoreline Village, which is located right next to the aquarium. It holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my boyfriend took me on our first date. It’s a nice place to shop and eat, or just wander aimlessly like I sometimes do along the boardwalk.
If you get good outdoor seating at any of the restaurants, you’ll get a great view of Rainbow Harbor. Highly recommend visiting closer to sunset. I’ve only eaten at a few of the restaurants in Shoreline Village, and there’s not one that particularly stood out to me. But I’m from New Orleans. Nothing compares to my beloved NOLA when it comes to food.
To be fair to restaurants in Long Beach, however, I didn’t eat out much.
I cooked at home more than ever in my life. (Thanks, COVID.)
What I do a lot is spend time in nature.
When I was a kid in New Orleans, I rarely wanted to do anything outside because it was often too hot or there were too many mosquitoes. So imagine my surprise when I moved out west and started enjoying the great outdoors.
So far I’ve mentioned what it’s like to be near the water in Long Beach, but there are things to do in other parts of town that are more inland. lands.
Much of Long Beach’s east side is residential and home to Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College. El Dorado Nature Center, a 105-acre park and sanctuary for animals and flora, is also on this side of town and well worth a visit.
There is a 2 mile loop trail that is well shaded and has plenty of room to spread out even when the trail is crowded. You won’t get steep hills or gorgeous city views like at nearby Signal Hill, but El Dorado will still help you get your feet wet.
If I had to pick one downside to Long Beach, it would probably be that there aren’t as many hiking trails as I would like. That’s about the only downside though.
In the last five months that I’ve lived in Long Beach, I still haven’t managed to do everything the city has to offer. I’m really excited to visit the Queen Mary ship, a major landmark in the city. At its peak, it carried 2.2 million passengers. But since it was docked in Long Beach, 50 million people have visited the liner. Not only can visitors tour the ship, but they can also spend the night in one of her 367 cabins.
Unfortunately it is closed for much needed repairs. But when it comes back, it will be first on my list of places to visit.