LONG BEACH

It’s home to the Queen Mary, the second busiest port in the country, hometown hero Snoop Dogg, and the Aquarium of the Pacific. And the LBC is big – like, 7th largest city in California big – which makes putting together just one day pretty difficult.

The Spanish arrived in the 16th century, but Native Americans had been living in the area that is now Long Beach for thousands of years before that. The town grew into a seaside resort by the early 1900s, but was known as the “Iowa by the Sea” in the 1950s because of the large number of Midwesterners working in the oil industry and at the Navy shipyard.

Today Long Beach is growing into a city all its own – known for its diversity, its contribution of renowned aquatic athletes (swimming, sailing, water polo, diving), the Art Deco ocean liner The Queen Mary, and some really spectacular Thai restaurants. And since there’s so much to see, do, and eat – we decided to narrow our first day down to Belmont Shores, a sweet neighborhood south of downtown Long Beach.

Stop 1: The Attic

Longing to get away from chain restaurants and corporate eateries? The Attic is an adorable Craftsman bungalow home built in 1918, converted to a quaint restaurant, and serving Southern-inspired comfort food. We nestled into a cozy corner of the restaurant and ordered The Berkeley (a soft egg scramble with soy chorizo, spinach, parmesan, tomatoes, and mushrooms – all day breakfast, baby!) and the Veggie Burger (a black bean patty made with farro, poblano peppers and red onion – we added avocado cuz, duh).

(3441 E Broadway, Long Beach)

Stop 2: Iguana Import Gallery

We are obsessed. This place is like Cost Plus World Market, but better. The furnishings, gifts, and jewelry are from all over the world – India, Mexico, and Nepal, to name a few – and everything is incredibly reasonably priced. Jorge, who co-owns the shop, is from Mazatlan and the shop has been in operation for 22 years. As he says, “Long Beach is wonderful. It’s extremely diverse and walkable, and close to Los Angeles AND Orange County.”

(3440 E Broadway, Long Beach)

Stop 3: Bluff Park

Walking in Los Angeles is a treat, and Bluff Park is the perfect place to do it. This neighborhood “park” is really more of a 26-mile stretch along the ocean, and you’ll see lots of people walking hand-in-hand or with cute pooches. On one side, the roaring Pacific Ocean; on the other, big and beautiful older homes. It’s also the site of the Long Beach Museum of Art, and the replica of the Lone Sailor Statue in honor of Long Beach’s naval history.

(Ocean Boulevard and Redondo Ave, Long Beach)

Stop 4: Viento y Agua Coffeehouse

This funky coffeehouse is also an art gallery and live entertainment venue, and serves up some of the best coffee in the area. We admired the colorful drawings of childhood imaginary friends, and started chatting with a group of peace activists who regularly use the coffeeshop as a home base. It had just started to rain, and so we ordered a mug of Mexican mocha with almond milk (the chocolate in the drink was blended BEFORE they steamed the milk), and settled into a comfy couch. The calendar of events had something interesting at least twice a week for the next few months – can’t wait to return!

(4007 E 4th Street, Long Beach)

Stop 5: Panxa Cocina

This moody, Latin-inspired restaurant and bar serves up a mean cocktail menu and a flavorful happy hour, inspired by New Mexico – think chiles, cheese, and meat.

We ordered the calamari taco (housemade tortilla, spicy mayo and pickled cabbage), ceviche (aji Amarillo sauce with fresh tortilla chipos), and a chicken chimichanga (with queso Oaxaca and Christmas salsa). All were rich and filling – the small bites were perfect. We also ordered some seasonal cocktails, just in time for Christmas: the De La Flor (Ketel One vodka, cranberry puree, cinnamon simple syrup and orange bitters) and the Sangria Roja (sangria with cinnamon, star anise, ginger and cloves) – oh, and a Paloma because hey! It’s the holidays and we can double-fist it.

(3937 E Broadway, Long Beach)

Stop 6: Christmas Lights of Naples

Oh my Christmas! Some of the very best Christmas lights in California can be found along Naples Island in Long Beach, a series of beautiful (and bright!) homes located along the canals. Folks in this neighborhood go ALL OUT – snowflakes, life-size Nativity scenes, polar bears, dragons, more dolls and teddy bears than you could ever imagine – Naples has it all.

Insider’s tip: bring cash for hot chocolate (many of the residents sell the stuff outside their homes – donation only). If you’re feeling extra special, take a romantic gondola ride through the canal-ways.

Easy parking in the Mother’s Beach lot.

(5839 Appian Way, Long Beach)

Stop 7: Open Sesame

This isn’t our typical hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern joint. Open Sesame is a trendy but inviting spot, but still serves classic and authentic Lebanese dishes (kebabs, mankoushe, falafel).

As the first page of their menu states, “In Lebanon to eat is to feast and in doing so we evoke celebration. The idea is to share.” So share we did – we ordered the Fried Potatoes with garlic sauce (a must!), Labne (a creamy kefir cheese dip), Baba Ghannouj (fire roasted eggplant, garlic, lemon juice and tahini), Arayes (blend of extra lean ground beef and lamb mixed with parsley, onion and spices). We decided on the Saturday special for our entrée, the Kibi Nayyeh – a Lebanese beef tartare mixed with fine bulgur, onion and mint.

(5215 E 2nd Street, Long Beach)

Stop 8: Frosted Cupcakery

Sprinkles ain’t got nothing on this place. Frosted Cupcakery, a family-owned bakery specializing in cupcakes (of course!) really delivers on unique flavors and a moist cake base. We about died over their Christmas Menu, but we were too early (only served December 23rd and 24th – get over there!) – luckily, we were still able to order Chocolate Peppermint and Gingerbread cupcakes from their regular December menu, which were undeniably delicious. This place is dessert heaven, for sure.

(4817 E 2nd Street, Long Beach)

The Details:

You can take the Metro Expo Line from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach, and then the Long Beach Transit will get you around pretty easily once you’re there.

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