If you’re looking for a vacation with the kids in 2015 that has good hotels, restaurants, a variety of activities for all ages, good weather (all year long), art, culture, shopping, and more, I have an idea for you. I just got back from a few days in Long Beach, California, and I have to say it was the ultimate getaway with my tween. Located along five and a half miles of beach, half way between Los Angeles and Orange County, Long Beach offers great food, cultural diversity, waterfront dining and a slew of options for families of all shapes and sizes. In two days, the two of us covered so many attractions, neighborhoods and eateries providing the perfect low-down on what makes Long Beach a great option for your next family trip.
In case you are wondering why I traveled alone with my tween, I’m a huge proponent of spending quality time with each of my children. Last summer I took my son to Palm Springs for a few days, during which time we indulged in his interests and I continue to reap the benefits of the bond that was built on that trip. My daughter’s 11 – the perfect age for a young girl to experience new places, people and things. She’s like a sponge and took everything in using her senses. It was a pleasure to travel with someone so in tune and interested in what we were seeing and where we were traveling. Plus, she loved the warm weather (they have 365 days of sun) and we were both thrilled to leave our winter coats in the hotel room, never to be picked up. She also had no idea she was going to partake in a slate of new experiences like riding a surrey, going on a gondola ride, trying new foods and more.
Where to Stay
Our hotel destination in Long Beach was the Hyatt Pike. It was hands down one of the best city hotels I’ve yet to stay in. Take a Hyatt Regency Hotel, cut in half and you have a stylish boutique getaway – voila, the Hyatt Pike. You also get comfortable, cozy suites with free Wifi, Mac desktop computers, flat screen TV sets, on-site restaurants, big showers, a roof-top swimming pool with a great view, good service and close proximity to good restaurants and shopping. The room had a sleek, modern feel and was incredibly tidy. My tween and I snuggled up late at night after a long day out and watched The Gilmore Girls (yes, we are on a roll) in bed and then drifted into our own separate dreams. Rooms are relatively inexpensive, too. The Hyatt Pike is located at Rainbow Harbor, 285 Bay Street/ Tel: 562-432-1234.
We started off at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, home to more than 11,000 inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean representing some 500 different species. My daughter loved learning about the animals swimming in the Pacific Ocean, including sting rays, sea cucumbers, starfish and more. We went to a sea lion feeding, gawked at penguins, fed parrots, touched sharks and saw hundreds of fish and jellyfish, some neon. The Aquarium of the Pacific is located at 100 Aquarium Way/Tel: 562-590-3100. Children ages 3-11 are $14.95 each; adults 12 and up are $23.95 each.
We then took a Harbor Breeze waterfront boat tour, a 45-minute ride around the harbor, with magnificent views of the beautiful Long Beach skyline, California Sea Lions, the world-famous Queen Mary, large cargo/container ships from all over the world, seagulls, sea lions, a light house and a view of the Shoreline Village. We both quietly took in the beautiful surroundings and really appreciated seeing the city from a different angle. You can pick up the cruise at 100 Aquarium Way, Dock #2/Tel: 562-432-4900. Adults are $12/seniors $10/children 11 and under $6/children 2 and under are free.
The Shoreline Village is a collection of restaurants and souvenir shops on the water. After the boat ride, we walked on its boardwalk while staring at the gorgeous sea and fishing boats before stopping for lunch at Parkers’ Light House.
We then headed toward a completely new experience for both of us: riding a single surrey, rented at Wheel Fun ($25 per hour). The experience was awesome – we rode down the coastline, past sailboats, condos, other bikers. As a bonus, we got a good amount of exercise – pushing the pedals on the surrey was hard work! We needed a break afterwards and the Hyatt Pike was the perfect place to return to.
On our second day, we spent hours exploring the Queen Mary, a historic ocean liner that is now both tourist attraction and 346-stateroom hotel. It was one of the world’s most luxurious ships to ever sail the Atlantic Ocean. We got there at 10am and had an hour to wait before our historical tour of the ship would start, so we headed to an exhibit about Princess Diana (after all, the ship was created by Royalty) and were both mesmerized by royal history for an hour. At age 11, my daughter is really able to sustain and hold attention, and that level of patience continued on our tour (just!). We had the most expressive tour guide on the planet, which made for a very interesting tour. You can also learn about the haunted part of the ship and explore the Soviet submarine Scorpion, which is moored adjacent to the Queen Mary. We topped off the day at high tea on the Queen Mary, an irresistible experience. You can find the Queen Mary at 1126 Queens Hwy/Tel: (877) 342-0738. Tickets are a range of prices, depending on the tour you take (self-guided or with a guide). It’s a very touristy experience, so take the experience in stride.
While we were there, we took part in their major holiday event called CHILL. It was literally what it sounds like – a frozen celebration which included a ride on a an original ride from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, the closest I ever came to the man himself, and a walk through a freezing room full of ice sculptures. My daughter even went tubing in the middle of Southern California.
Later we had a really unique experience, riding the canals of Naples Island on Gondola Getaway. Who knew we’d feel so Venetian on our trip, cruising the waterways of the island, near Belmont Shores, a popular part of Long Beach. Our gondola driver was a college student who kept saying “Ciao” to everyone who rode by (his Italian clearly limited) but an engaging storyteller nonetheless. We took the tour at night, but I’d recommend doing it with your kids during the day as the trip is very beautiful, even in the dark, albeit more romantic. Our driver had just witnessed a marriage proposal in his ride before us. You can reach Gondola Getaway at 562-433-9595. Prices are $125 for a Traditional Gondola (4 passengers, $20 each additional person up to 6 total).
Culture Vulture Time
Long Beach is home to a number of impressive museums, including the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA), one of the only museums in the country to focus exclusively on the contemporary art of Mexico, Central and South America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. The Long Beach Museum of Art includes the historic Elizabeth Milbank Anderson house and carriage house (built in 1912), oceanfront gardens and a pavilion with two floors of expansive gallery space for changing exhibitions.
Disclosure: The Long Beach CVB invited me to Long Beach for two days with my daughter and paid most of my expenses, but all opinions are my own. I will be writing on several other sites about our experience.