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Long Beach

General Information
City of Long Beach: www.longbeach.gov or @LongBeachCity
Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.visitlongbeach.com or @VisitLB

Overview
The birthplace of the silent film industry, Snoop Dogg, and Sublime, Long Beach holds the distinction of being one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States. The first silent movie studio--Balboa Studios--was located here, and today numerous television shows and feature films continue to be shot in the area. These days, perhaps the city's biggest claim to fame is the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest port in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Despite the great earthquake of 1933 destroying many buildings, Long Beach has managed to successfully retain much of its charm, as evidenced in the Art Deco architecture along Ocean Boulevard. A massive downtown revitalization aimed at attracting a young, artsy crowd with new lofts, cafes, and theaters has also helped to develop the city.See more.

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The city is divided into pocket neighborhoods, each as different as the next. Belmont Shore is the quintessential beach community, with narrow streets and open-minded residents. Belmont Heights and Bluff Park are where the former residents of Belmont Shore go once they have kids and want a yard. North Long Beach is a residential working-class neighborhood near the 405 Freeway. Bixby Knolls is suburbia near the beach, with the usual lineup of ranch homes and minivans. Shoreline Village is a tourist's paradise, with shops and restaurants on the north end of the 11-mile beach.

How to Get There
Although it sits only 21 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, the roads to Long Beach are often congested and fraught with delays. Find your way to the 405 or the 5 and head south, taking either freeway to the 710 S. The 10 also intersects with the 710 east of Downtown LA, so that's a viable option as well.

You can also take the Metro Blue Line to downtown Long Beach from either the 7th Street/Metro Center stop or the Pico Boulevard stop (near the Los Angeles Convention Center) for a round-trip fare of $3.50. The train makes several stops in Long Beach, including one at the Transit Mall on 1st Street, between Pine and Pacific. 800-COMMUTE; www.mta.net or @metrolosangeles.

Once you've arrived, Long Beach Transit (562-591-2301, www.lbtransit.com or @lbtransit) offers several services, such as the Pine Avenue Link and the Passport, that shuttle visitors all over town from the Queen Mary to Pine Avenue and Belmont Shore. Fares are reasonable at $1.25, $65 for a monthly pass, with discounted rates for seniors, disabled riders, and children. In the warmer months, another transportation alternative is the AquaBus. This 40-foot-long water taxi costs just $1 and will ferry you to a number of Long Beach's coastal attractions. There are stops at the Aquarium, the Queen Mary, Catalina Landing, Shoreline Village, Pine Avenue Circle at Dock 7, and the Hotel Maya. The AquaLink water taxi is another option for nautical travel, but while it's faster and bigger than the AquaBus, this boat costs $5 to ride and only makes stops at Alamitos Bay Landing, the Queen Mary, the Aquarium, and Belmont Pier. 800-481-3470; www.lbtransit.com/Services/ Aqualink.aspx.

Attractions
Catalina
The Catalina Express ferry service currently monopolizes the seaways in the 22 mile stretch between mainland California and Catalina Island. The boats leave Long Beach for Catalina from a variety of ports and on a variety of schedules depending on the season; the best thing to do is check times and locations directly with the Catalina Express by calling 800-481-3470 or going online at www.catalinaexpress.com. Tickets cost $74.50 for a roundtrip, or you can go for free on your birthday. Take sunscreen, a beach towel, and Dramamine--the ride is often a rough one. Reservations are recommended.

You can also opt for a quicker route (15 minutes) via the Island Express Helicopter Service for $250 round trip per person (but if it's the off season, you might be able to snag a discounted rate). For just a little bit more, Island Express offers daily packages at $280 per person that include flight, taxi, and two Santa Catalina Island Company Discovery tours. 800-AVALON; www.islandexpress.com or at @islandexpress1.

Whether by air or by sea, once you land you can take advantage of all the leisure activities the island has to offer, from renting a golf cart to snorkeling and parasailing--all with that kitschy ski resort town feel...minus the skiing.

There's camping available on both sides of the island: Avalon has restaurants within walking distance or a trolley shuttle ride away, while sites at Two Harbors come with fewer tourists, but also less running water, for the more rugged camper. www.catalina.com or @catalinadotcom.

Queen Mary
Once a vessel that ferried WWII troops, movie stars, and heads of state across the Atlantic Ocean, the Queen Mary has since retired and is now a floating hotel and museum available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and rubber stamp conventions--for real. In all seriousness, the ship is awesome in scope and historical significance. The Queen Mary offers something for the tourist in you--from brunch and hotel stays to ghost tours and comedy shows. A popular filming location, the liner boasts cameos in Arrested Development and Pearl Harbor, reminding us that Hollywood is just a hop, skip, and a freeway away. 562-435-3511; www.queenmary.com or @TheQueenMary. Check the site for special offers, particularly off season.

Ticket prices vary depending on what package you want; there are a variety of options including historical tours and special exhibits, but tickets start at $25 for adults and $14 for kids.

Directions: The Queen Mary is located at 1126 Queens Highway, at the south end of the 710 Freeway.

Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific opened with much fanfare--and a massive PR campaign--in 1998. Don't expect to see Atlantic salmon or Maine lobsters here--this aquarium lives up to its name by focusing solely on the Pacific Ocean's three regions: Southern California/Baja, the Tropical Pacific, and the Northern Pacific, emphasizing interactive education over entertainment. 562-590-3100; www.aquariumofpacific.org or @AquariumPacific.

Admission: Prices start at $28.95 for grown folks, $14.95 for kids, and $25.95 for seniors. (Online booking sometimes entails a discounted fare.) Additional options include a Behind-the-Scenes tour and an Ocean Experience tour for a few extra bucks. The aquarium is open every day from 9 am until 6 pm. It's closed on Christmas and for the entire weekend of the Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is usually in April.

Directions: Take the 405 S to the 710 S, and follow the signs to Downtown Long Beach and the Aquarium. The Aquarium is located at 100 Aquarium Way, off Shoreline Drive. Parking is available at a municipal lot located just a few feet from the Aquarium. The cost is $8 if you scan your parking ticket at the Aquarium or pre-pay at a ticket window.

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center
Located at 300 East Ocean Boulevard, this complex is home to an eclectic assortment of events. The Terrace Theater hosts a variety of plays and musical performances, the Convention Center includes a large ballroom that serves as the site for many a senior prom, and of course, there are conferences, expos, and competitions galore. 562-436-3636; www.longbeachcc.com or @LBConventionCtr.

Directions: Take the 405 S to the 710 S and head for the Downtown exits. The 710 turns into Shoreline Drive. Follow this to Linden and turn into the parking lot.

Shoreline Village
Designed to look like an old-fashioned fishing village, Shoreline Village is a collection of shops, restaurants, and amusements that might best be described as "quaint." Don't get us wrong--there's great stuff here (cough cough Skee-ball). The area also caters to more athletic pursuits such as rollerblading, bike riding, and sailing, as well as offering a number of great restaurants and tasty snack shops. 562-435-2668; www.shorelinevillage.com or @ShorelineVillag.

Directions: Take the 710 S and follow signs for the Aquarium. Continue past the Aquarium and Pine Avenue, and turn right onto Shoreline Village Drive. Make sure to get your parking validated.

Hours: Shoreline Village is open seven days a week from 10 am until 9 pm, closing an hour later during the summer months.

The Pike at Rainbow Harbor
Today's Pike at Rainbow Harbor is in many ways reminiscent of the celebrated Pike of yore. Over 100 years ago, the Pike was one of the most famous beachside amusement parks on the West Coast with rides, a pier, movie houses, shops, and cafes. The new Pike at Rainbow Harbor includes modern-day incarnations of commercialized fun, including dining options such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Smoothie King, a 14-screen multiplex, and an antique carousel. The Pike, covering 18 acres of downtown waterfront, is located smack-dab between the Convention Center and the Aquarium. www.thepikeatlongbeach.com.

Directions: Take the 405 S to the 710 S and head for the Downtown exits. The 710 turns into Shoreline Drive. Park anywhere between Pine and Chestnut Avenues, or in Shoreline Village, and then walk a few steps north. There's limited free parking with validation, but beware of the sizable lost-ticket fee.

Toyota Grand Prix
For one weekend every April, Long Beach turns into Daytona Beach and the sound of revving car engines echoes throughout the usually subdued downtown area. The real draw of the Grand Prix is the Pro/Celebrity Race, where the likes of Patrick Dempsey, William Shatner, Martina Navratilova, and Frankie Muniz get fast and furious with the best of the pros. Tickets are available online at www.gplb.com, or by calling 888-82-SPEED.




         


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On Our Radar:

Posted By:  David Horvitz
Photo:  David Horvitz

Terminal Island
Terminal Island is a total trip. It’s one of those place where you wish you could just take LSD and walk around all night and day. It’s an artificial island located between Long Beach and San Pedro, and only accessed by bridge. I highly recommend taking the St. Vincent Thomas Bridge coming from San Pedro. The LA Harbor occupies most of the island, so imagine thousands of trucks, boats, giant cranes, large metal crates with Chinese characters, marine industry machinery, and everything else associated with water transport. There’s also a Federal prison on the island. And before all this, a community of Japanese-American fisherman before they were shipped off to camp in WWII. I highly recommend just driving around aimlessly and looking at the machinery. Since there isn't much to do for the public, there isn't really that much public parking. But if you look hard, you’ll find spots. This is a perfect place to walk around and take photographs. It’s seriously another world.



Posted By:  Rhea Lewitzki
Photo:  Rhea Lewitzki

{open} books
Open is more than a used bookstore, it's the paragon of its indie genre in Long Beach: there isn't anything this place doesn't do. Okay, maybe not anything, but for a bookstore, they're darn impressive. Of course they sell books (but unfortunately are infrequent about buying or trade-ins), and have one of the better selections in fiction I've seen. They also have a solid section on art, poetry, and "fast fiction." But what makes Open exceptional is their enthusiasm in keeping up the Long Beach art scene. They have an entire area dedicated to independent zines and publications; they host shows for local bands (called "Last Saturdays" a monthly music and art affair), exhibit local art, and most recently have started up "3rd Thursdays," a multimedia night that supports more live music and artists. They even offer workshops once a month where you can go to learn something crafty like silk screening or stitching. Closed Mondays.



Posted By:  Rhea Lewitzki
Photo:  Rhea Lewitzki

I have spent way too many hours lurking on GoogleEarth. Then one day while driving lost on the 405, I ended up at Hilltop Park in Signal Hill, and I haven’t spied from my computer since. You wouldn’t expect this hill to have much of a lookout point, but don’t be fooled by this little guy: it provides an almost 360-degree panoramic view of Los Angeles and surrounding areas. Imagine being able to see the Hollywood sign, downtown LA, Catalina Island, Rancho Palos Verdes, the San Gabriel Mountains, and Newport Beach all from one spot. The most opportune time to gaze is after the Santa Ana winds have blown, but the view at sunset when the city lights are flickering is just as perfect. The spot definitely beats the computer-simulated bird’s-eye view, but makes for one less way to procrastinate at work.



Posted By:  Janet Potter
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Zephyr Vegetarian Cafe
Zephyr may be the only vegetarian/vegan café in Long Beach, and perhaps that’s because there’s a lot to go up against. For example, can anyone else there bake amazing vegan pie? Don’t think so. Choose from either apple or cherry, make it a la mode, and you’ll be so surprised how flaky the crust is, you’ll suspect they’re secretly using butter (they wouldn’t do that, of course). For lunch, try any of the tofu bowls, chicken-less sandwiches, or the Vietnamese spring rolls, which are the size of burritos. Wash it down with one those fancy Synergy drinks if you’re willing to pay five dollars, or have an imported beer. The service is slow, but they must know it, because they have games like dominos and chess to play at the table while you wait. And Zephyr isn’t only a café. They host folk shows regularly, and also provide wall space for local artists to exhibit their work. Obviously no one wants to compete with a place that’s art friendly, animal friendly and pie friendly.



Posted By:  Rhea Lewitzki
Photo:  Rhea Lewitzki

Chen's Chinese Restaurant
Old-fashioned Chinese restaurants are a dying breed. Sure, the newer, more “hip” places are fine, but isn’t the grease and fried goodness, not to mention getting those MSG crazies all part of the fun? Maybe it’s just me, but here’s to Chen’s for keepin’ it real. There’s absolutely nothing about Chen’s that you haven’t already seen: red walls, 1950s décor, lazy Susans, obscenely large portions, questionable pieces of chicken, etc. But for a place that doesn’t tout vegetarianism, they can really whip up the bean curd dishes. The tofu is always fried, but cut into bite-size, guilt-free pieces so easy to lose count of. The sweeter tofu dishes like Lemon (tastes just like lemon pie filling) and Hot and Sour (a blinding, neon red sauce), are made up of fried bean curd cubes nesting cozily on a bed of fried crispies. Double the fried! Imagine how angry I was after receiving the fortune cookie that read, “Improve your exercise routine.”



Posted By:  Rhea Lewitzki
Photo:  Rhea Lewitzki

Acres of Books
Brace yourselves my fellow bibliophiles, the terrible news is here: Acres of Books, California’s largest used bookstore, is being threatened by plans for redevelopment into condos or possibly a Target. This decision to raze the historical landmark has created chaos amongst many of the locals and preservationists: the Art Deco warehouse has been home to over one million books since 1960, with the store’s origins going back to 1934. When I asked if we readers could do anything to help save Acres from becoming another victim of gentrification, I was told it’s probably too late; the city has a firm grip on the place, and picketing, rioting, or hunger striking isn’t going to help. It will be rough saying goodbye to this old gem. Acres has never been the kind of bookstore to go to with a particular book in mind, but rather the kind of bookstore to discover the book you never knew you wanted. It’s a perfect place for getting lost, especially in the backroom where all paperbacks are marked two dollars. It hasn’t been announced when Acres will be obliterated from the literary scene, so get in there quick before it becomes acres of Isaac Mizrahi.




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