For a fun family day apart from the hustle of the Disneyland Resort, the city of Long Beach is less than 30 minutes away with plenty of options. As a former resident of Long Beach, I've spent family time visiting every park and museum, and exploring the waterfront and beaches. Here's a list of the most popular destinations in this modest bike and dog-loving Southern California city.
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Waterfront Activities in Long Beach
Long Beach is a beach city after all but more than just the beaches. For more information on Southern California beaches near Disneyland Resort, read up on our best beach recommendations. In Long Beach, the first stop is at the waterfront just west of downtown. The easiest access is to take the 405 freeway south until you reach the 710 freeway then head toward the Port of Long Beach. You can exit toward the heart of the city and signs will direct you to the waterfront area, starting with Long Beach's number one tourist destination-The Aquarium of the Pacific.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific sits on 5-acres on the Long Beach waterfront's Rainbow Harbor and houses fish from varying locations, as well as seals, sea lions, otters, and jellyfish to name a few of the marine life. Expect to spend anywhere from 1-2 hours at the location which includes animal feedings, a touch-and-feel tank, educational activities for children and even a few entertaining shows from the animals. Grab lunch at Scuba Café then afterwards, feed the lorikeets in their own inclusive habitat right next to the shark tank. Prices and hours are listed on the website.
Outside of the Aquarium of the Pacific, enjoy a walk around Aquarium Way up to the lighthouse and around the docks. You'll find locals fishing off the docks or families picnicking on the lawn near the lighthouse. You may even see some sea lion heads bobbing in the harbor. There are a few restaurants nearby if you choose to enjoy a leisurely afternoon after your Aquarim of the Pacific visit.
Whale Watching in Long Beach
Also along the harbor are kiosks selling tickets for whale watching excursions. There are a few different ones from which to choose including Harbor Breeze Tours. These 2-1/2 tours take visitors out to the open Pacific Ocean to search for blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins and other sea life. he whale rotation is dependent on the time of year. Prices and times vary so check the website for the most up-to-date information.
The Queen Mary
Believe it or not, this long-term Long Beach resident has a Disney connection. Disney acquired The Queen Mary and Howard Hughes' behemoth The Spruce Goose (now currently in Oregon) in the 1980's from the company which had held The Disneyland Hotel. The Long Beach sight was a strong contender for the second west coast Disney theme park, possibly a sea-theme. In the end, Disney settled on the Anaheim location which eventually became Disney California Adventure and Disney Seas sailed to Tokyo instead. Disney relinquished its ownership in the early 1990s and a private owner stepped in while the ship remained anchored in Long Beach.
This ocean liner hosts plenty of adventures including tours and exhibits. Go down below to the boiler rooms on the “Steam and Steel Tour” or learn about England's most prolific figure-head in modern times – Winston Churchill – at the most current exhibit. There's even a “Haunted Encounters” tour because you know, those rumors of the ship being haunted are more than rumors.
Expect to eat in style with both casual and fine dining options. For an extra splurge on your visit, make reservations for the “Royal Sunday Brunch”, which I've enjoyed myself. From fresh seafood, delights from countries around the world, and carving stations, it's a spectacular and sumptuous eating extravaganza.
Museums in Long Beach
There are also a great variety of museums for the whole family to enjoy in Long Beach. Here are the most popular museums in the area that are sure to entertain each member of the family.
Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA)
This small but impressive art museum is located near downtown a few miles away from the waterfront area. Housing more than 3000 collective pieces including sculptures, paintings, photography, and mixed media, adults and kids alike will enjoy a visit to the location. Current and rotating exhibits feature local artisans as well as California contributors. Enjoy a behind the scenes docent tour or a light lunch at the popular Claire’s at the Museum restaurant.
Museum prices and hours are listed on the website.
Museum of Latin American Art
As the only museum in the United States dedicated to contemporary Latin American and Latino art, the Museum of Latin American Art holds a strong presence in Southern California. With educational cultural events, rotating Latin exhibits, and the Robert Gumbiner Sculpture and Events garden – which is recognized as the most important contemporary collection of Latin influenced sculptures in the world – MOLAA is an exciting cultural experience.
Learn more about this educational centerpiece, including daily hours, admission prices, and directions by visiting the MOLAA website.
Ranchos in Long Beach
Southern California is full of historical influences including missions and ranchos. Two of the most impactful ranchos are located in Long Beach.
Ranchos Los Alamitos
Rancho Los Alamitos is registered on the National Register of Historic places and is nestled in the Long Beach neighborhood of Bixby Hill. On property sits the original ranch house which offers historical tours to guests. Visitors can view the blacksmith shop or visit the animals in the nearby barn. Be on the lookout for horses, sheep, and plenty of chickens. The grounds however, are the highlight of the ranch exploration. Native flowers and trees of all kinds create a landscape that is popular with photographers.
Rancho Los Cerritos
This second Long Beach area rancho sit near the 701 freeway, northwest of downtown Long Beach. The Los Cerritos Ranch House was “the largest and most impressive adobe residence erected during the Mexican period”. The site is open for public tours which cover the historic home as well as the day-in-the-life of the working ranch including fun and games. Kids will get a kick out of learning some of the old-fashioned games played during this era of this 19th century working rancho.
El Dorado Park
On the east side of Long Beach is Long Beach’s largest park – El Dorado Park. Covering three blocks, this recreational facility offers miles of bike and walking paths, and a lake on which you can rent paddle boats. There is plenty of playground equipment and running space for the younger crowd plus a miniature steam train ride nearby.
On the most southern block of the park is the El Dorado Nature Center – an oasis of natural beauty. Take a hike on the quarter mile, full mile or two mile loops around to spot basking turtles, plenty of ducks and a few herons and egrets along the way. The Nature Center also offers a small learning depot with animal pelts, skulls and other hands-on activities. The easiest way to El Dorado Park is to take Ball Road from Disneyland and head east about 20 minutes (depending on lights). The Nature Center is free but there is a small parking fee when entering the Park.
The Naples area in Long Beach is near Alamitos Bay a bit south of the main waterfront and downtown. It is a neighborhood on three islands all divided by a canal system so you’ll see plenty of boats, paddle boarders and even gondolas floating nearby. There are plenty of walkways to explore this hidden gem within the city.
Nearby Second Street in Belmont Shores is the best place to wind down a busy day. Browse through the eclectic shops or enjoy an early dinner at one of the many vibrant restaurants. Choose from fresh sushi, exotic Mediterranean or delicious baked treats. Be sure to stop and pet the many dogs you’ll see strolling with owners.
Beach Activities in Long Beach
Long Beach is a beach city after all with plenty of outdoor recreational options. Rent bikes, segways, or kayaks for a day of fun in the sun. Several bike companies are located along the Strand (or pathway) and even throughout the city. Kayaks are available near the Belmont Shore area and there’s even a map to guide you to the nearby jellyfish. If you’re athletically inclined, there are volleyball nets across the street from the kayaking rentals.
Enjoy a day at the beach!
Planning a Southern California Vacation
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