Located south of LA, Long Beach is a great destination to include when vacationing in Southern California. The weather’s always gorgeous, the beaches are kid-friendly and there are tons of fun things to do. Here are SheBuysTravel’s favorite ways to have fun with the family in Long Beach.
When visiting SoCal with kids, you may not want to stay in the heart of Los Angeles. Consider Long Beach, a vibrant coastal community minutes from Disneyland. It’s home to a super aquarium with a really unique exhibit kids will love. The luxurious Queen Mary is docked here and is a must-see. Plus, you can pretend you’re in Italy by taking a gondola ride. Here are all of the fun ways to explore Long Beach with the family.
1. Explore the Aquarium of the Pacific
Kids and adults alike will love visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific. Although the Monterey Bay Aquarium is often heralded as the best aquarium in California, the Aquarium of the Pacific can hold its own! In fact, it is recognized as one of the best in the country.
The Aquarium of the Pacific features numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits (many are interactive). There are over 11,000 animals from 500 species, in more than 50 exhibits that represent the diversity of the Pacific Ocean on display. The aquarium is home to shark lagoon, sea lions, jellies, penguins, seals and the usual array of fish. Catch an educational show or one of the feedings scheduled throughout the day. We loved watching the scuba divers interact with the aquarium’s residents.
The Aquarium of the Pacific has one truly unique exhibit you won’t want to miss! Visit the Lorikeet Forest, a 5,400-square foot outdoor aviary that will transport you to the coastal lowlands of Australia. In this walk-through exhibit, the colorful birds will literally surround you. Purchase a cup of nectar and you can feed them. Birds love this, and will literally land on your hands and shoulder to get a treat! Even if you don’t want to spend the money to purchase nectar, you’ll still enjoy the experience with these very friendly, beautiful birds.
2. Go on a Harbor Cruise
Located right outside the entrance to the Aquarium, a harbor cruise is a great way to see Long Beach from the water. We took an excursion with Harbor Breeze Cruises. These short, 45-minute narrated cruises are relatively inexpensive (around $15 per person for adults) and offer a relaxing way to take in the views. You’ll see the Queen Mary, oil drilling islands, lighthouse, Shoreline Village and learn a bit about the area.
There are also whale watching cruises available certain times of the year.
If you are looking for more of a day trip, Catalina Express will whisk you off to Catalina Island for a full day of fun. Catalina Island is located just 26 miles off the coast of Southern California, making it an ideal quick getaway.
You can find some great deals on Harbor Cruises on Groupon.
3. Stroll Through Shoreline Village
Shoreline Village is Long Beach’s quaint, waterfront shopping and dining village. Nestled along Rainbow Harbor, this is a great spot to grab lunch and do a little souvenir shopping.
We had lunch at Tequila Jack’s Restaurant and Cantina, which had wonderful Mexican food and lovely views overlooking the boats in the harbor. Service was amazing and the food was plentiful and delicious. The menu is a mouth-watering collection of innovative, Baja-style Mexican dishes and the refreshments are unmatched.
Shoreline Village is also home to Parker’s Lighthouse, one of Long Beach’s most renowned waterfront restaurants. In addition to its many shops and restaurants, Shoreline Village has a carousel, an arcade and spots where you can rent boats, jet skis, kayaks, sailboats, bikes and more. In the summer, live music is scheduled to perform.
4. Go for a Bike Ride
With miles of bike trails along the harbor and an extensive beach boardwalk, Long Beach is prime for biking.
We rented bikes at Wheel Fun Rentals, located right in Shoreline Village. They offer surreys, pedal karts, traditional bikes and tandem bikes, so you can choose whatever best fits your family’s needs and ages.
5. See the Museum of Latin American Art
The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) is the only art museum in the United States dedicated to showcasing Latin American art! The museum features paintings and sculptures and has a lovely, expansive courtyard garden. The museum is located in the city’s rapidly developing East Village Arts District.
6. Catch a Show
Long Beach has a number of performing arts venues, offering everything from opera to ballet to live theater and even its own symphony. There are many kid-friendly performances throughout the year.
In addition to Long Beach Performing Arts Center located right downtown and the more intimate Long Beach Playhouse, check out the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, which is located at California State University, Long Beach.
7. Wander through Naples
Naples is a neighborhood in Long Beach comprised of three islands in Alamitos Bay. The houses all line canals and you can walk along the waterfront and under picturesque bridges. During Christmastime, Naples is a magnet for visitors who come to see the decorated homes and boat parade that goes through the neighborhood’s canals.
8. Take a Gondola Ride
Speaking of Naples, the best way to explore it is not on foot but on a gondola ride through the canals. We had the chance to try out this memorable activity on our recent visit to Long Beach and it was a highlight of our trip.
Gondola Getaway brings old world charm and thousand-year-old tradition to Southern California, right down to the singing gondoliers. Authentic Venetian gondolas gently cruise the enchanting canals and waterways of Naples Island. Most people think of this as a romantic excursion and it probably is, but we did it as a family and the ride was just fine! The tours last approximately one hour, and a souvenir photo is included.
9. Go Shopping at the Pike Outlets
Located just steps from the Aquarium, Long Beach Convention Center, Pine Avenue and downtown Long Beach, the Pike Outlets is a shopping and entertainment complex worth a visit! It has 30 stores and restaurants – which is not a ton – but more than plenty if you are just looking to browse and whittle away a relaxing afternoon.
There is also a movie theater, which we took advantage of on one of our quiet nights in town. The Pike is also home to the Long Beach Laugh Factory comedy club and a giant Ferris wheel you can take a spin on for only $3 per person.
10. Shop on Retro Row
Go back in time with a visit to Fourth Street in downtown Long Beach, dubbed Retro Row. Retro Row is a specialty district made up of coffee shops, restaurants and shops selling vintage-inspired clothing, record stores and furniture. Were you a fan of the show Mad Men? The show’s set designers frequently visited Retro Row.
11. Hit the Beach
What’s a SoCal beach town without a beach? Long Beach has one and it is pretty nice, but don’t expect giant waves or lots of surfers. The beaches in Long Beach are sheltered, so the water is relatively calm. This actually makes it a great beach for young kids to go swimming.
If you are traveling with your dog, Long Beach has one of the most fantastic dog beaches in Southern California! Long Beach has been recognized four years in a row by Dog Fancy Magazine as one of the most dog-friendly cities in America! Visit Rosie’s Dog Beach with your pooch for a fun day.
12. Visit Belmont Shore
Belmont Shore is located a few miles from downtown Long Beach, but many think of it as the center of town. Belmont Shore is a charming community located on the beach, away from the hub of downtown.
The heart of Belmont Shore is Second Street, which comes alive at night with its boutiques, bars and restaurants. This stretch of Long Beach is right near the water but boasts a vibrant, urban feel. Enjoy patio dining or an adult beverage in the warm evening air.
We had dinner at George’s Greek Café. Greek food is not normally my thing so I ordered the most un-Greeky thing on the menu: grilled salmon. It was so good! Perfectly blackened and served with lots of fresh veggies and pita. My husband had the lamb and said it was good, too.
The restaurant is owned by father and son team George and Demitri Loizides. The call it “A little piece of Greece in Southern California.” Indeed.
13. Take in the Views at the Long Beach Museum of Art
Another fabulous museum in Long Beach is the Long Beach Museum of Art. The museum sits atop a bluff overlooking the beach, so the views alone make it worthwhile! To really enjoy the views, plan to have lunch at Claire’s, the museum’s onsite restaurant offering spectacular ocean views.
14. Ride the Aquabus
Here’s a secret. You don’t have to pay for a harbor cruise or rent a boat to get out on the water. Long Beach Transit offers transportation between waterfront attractions via the Aquabus and Aqualink. It’s a fun and inexpensive way to travel between the Queen Mary, Aquarium of the Pacific, Shoreline Village Alamitos Bay and other waterfront areas of Long Beach.
15. Accura Grand Prix of Long Beach
If you’re planning a spring break trip to Long Beach, you’ll want to include (or perhaps avoid) the dates for the Accura Grand Prix. It’s a three-day, Indy-style car racing event that takes place in the streets of Long Beach.
Each year, the Grand Prix schedule includes kid-friendly activities like rock climbing walls and racing simulators. If you go, check out the Family Fun Zone, where kids 3-6 can race their own cars.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Ear protection is a must. If you’ve never been to a racing event, you might be surprised by the noise. It’s LOUD.
16. Japanese Garden Stroll
Visiting Long Beach with littles? Tuck them into strollers and wander through the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Gardens, located on the campus of California State University Long Beach.
See a Japanese Tea House, traditional bonsai and, when they wake up, they can feed the koi.
17. Take a Tour on the Queen Mary
Sadly, the Queen Mary tours were closed during the pandemic and have yet to resume. But, if and when they do, this attraction, arguably one of the most famous landmarks in Southern California, will once again be a must-visit attraction on your Long Beach getaway.
The Queen Mary is a luxury ocean liner that is now permanently docked in Long Beach. Her maiden voyage took place in 1936 and she came to Long Beach in 1967, and today operates as a hotel and attraction. The Queen Mary offers numerous different tours, annual events and has several restaurants and lounges you can visit. (The Queen Mary Royal Sunday Brunch was named the #1 brunch in the world by Conde Nast Traveler! It is pricey through, so it’s an experience you’ll have to be ready to pay for.)
She is also said to be one of the most haunted destinations in America! Take a ghost tour or sign up for a paranormal investigation if that is your thing! Find all the guided tours and attractions available on the Queen Mary.
Where to Stay in Long Beach
My family and I stayed at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel on our recent visit to Long Beach and had a fantastic weekend. The rooms were nice and the views spectacular, and it was great to be in walking distance to so many restaurants and attractions in Long Beach.
Located in the heart of downtown, this Long Beach hotel is a great place to call home base when visiting Long Beach with kids.
Fresh from a $13 million renovation, the Renaissance Long Beach hotel is an upscale, casually elegant hotel. It boasts a brand-new lobby featuring a bar and lounge with outside patio seating. There is a restaurant, fitness center and lots of family-friendly amenities, including a pool (located on the roof on the third floor) and games on the pool deck.
Rooms at the Renaissance Hotel
Hotel rooms at the Renaissance Long Beach feature one king or two double beds. There are also suites available, as well as Club level rooms. All rooms have a coffee make and flat-screen TV. Request an upper floor for better views of the harbor!
Rooms are pretty standard in size and décor, but the bathrooms at the Renaissance Long Beach are exceptionally spacious. There is a long, marble counter and plenty of space to move around. This is great to have, especially if you’ve got multiple people getting ready in the morning or kids to bathe at night.
For more information on planning your trip to Long Beach, California, check out visitlongbeach.com.